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PRIMO PASTA

Versatile pasta comes in all shapes and sizes. It is a reliable standby for quick workday meals but can also be transformed into formal dinner party delights.

The shapes are for a reason. It takes less sauce to cover pasta formed into parcels than it does to cover the same amount of pasta that has been rolled out and cut into strips. Ribbed or shaped pastas hold more sauce than smooth ones and chunky sauces need the ribbed pasta to trap the sauce as it travels from plate to mouth. Tubes are best served with smoother sauces.

Dried pasta is generally made from hard durum wheat flour which gives it a firmer texture — it won't go soft if slightly overcooked — although if seriously overcooked it will become flabby. Pasta should be cooked until it is ‘al dente’ — still a little firm when you bite it.

Pasta machines are now relatively cheap and readily available. It’s fun to make your own pasta and it doesn’t take much practice to become an expert. I like making my own because I can make it as thin or as thick as I like. For lasagne or cannelloni I like pasta a little thicker and for ravioli or tortellini slightly thinner.

High-grade flour plus eggs are mixed until a stiff dough forms. It is kneaded for three to four minutes then rolled out thinly using a pasta machine or by hand.

GERRARD’S RAVIOLI WITH CASHEW NUT RICOTTA

Based on a recipe developed for World Vegan Day on 1 November by Gerrard O’Keefe, the Heritage Auckland’s exec chef. Gerrard makes his own pasta using 1 cup roasted pumpkin purée and 3 cups of high grade flour. You can use commercially-prepared pasta sheets but choose thin sheets or roll out thinly.  

Filling: 1 1/2 cups raw cashew nuts
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 teaspoon onion powder
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups diced roasted pumpkin  
Sauce and garnish: 1 teaspoon saffron threads
2 tablespoons boiling water
8 tablespoons Olivani
finely grated rind 1 lemon
1/4 cup small sage leaves
70g hazelnuts, roasted, peeled and coarsely chopped
Pasta: flour for dusting
500g fresh pasta sheets

Soak the cashew nuts in enough water to cover for a few hours. Drain and purée in a food processor until smooth and creamy. Add the lemon juice, garlic and onion powder then season well. Purée the pumpkin separately.

Soak the saffron in the boiling water for 5 minutes. Melt the Olivani and add the lemon rind, saffron and sage leaves.

Dust the bench lightly with flour. Lay one strip of pasta on the bench and place teaspoons of the cashew nut ricotta on the pasta about 8-10cm apart. Place a teaspoon of the roast pumpkin purée next to it. Season well.

Lightly brush a little water around each pile of filling. Lay a second strip of pasta over the top, pressing down around the filling and removing the air pockets. Use a cutter to make your preferred pasta shape.

Bring a saucepan of salted water to a gentle boil. Cook the pasta gently in batches for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon. Serve topped with the sauce and chopped hazelnuts. Serves 6 as a starter.

ORECCHIETTE WITH ANCHOVIES & ASPARAGUS

This is one of my favourite quick meals. Broccoli florets can preplace the asparagus. Orecchiette is a distinctive Puglian pasta roughly shaped like small ears — hence the name.

150g orecchiette
8 asparagus spears, trimmed
3 tablespoons olive oil
6 anchovies in oil, chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1 small red chilli, seeded and sliced
finely grated rind 1 lemon
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs

Cook the orecchiette according to the packet instructions. Add the asparagus during the last 2-3 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the olive oil plus 1 tablespoon of the oil from the anchovies in a frying pan. Add the garlic and chilli and gently cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the anchovies, lemon rind and juice. Cook for 1-2 minutes until the anchovies are mushy. Add the breadcrumbs and stir well.

Drain the pasta and asparagus well. Add to the frying pan and mix well. Serves 2.

KUMARA, SPINACH & RICOTTA CANNELLONI

The cannelloni can be filled then covered and refrigerated for several hours before being topped with the sauce and baked. Do not overcook or the sauce will evaporate.

400g orange kumara
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed
300g bunch spinach, washed and stalks removed
salt and pepper to taste
500g ricotta
2 eggs lightly beaten
200g cannelloni tubes
3 cups good tomato-based pasta sauce
125g fresh mozzarella, grated

Peel and grate the kumara. Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Sauté the kumara, until softened. Add the garlic.

Finely slice the spinach and add to the pan. Cook until wilted. Season well.

Combine the ricotta and eggs until well mixed. Season. Add half to the cooled kumara mixture.

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Lightly oil a 28cm x 20cm baking pan.

Using a teaspoon, fill the cannelloni tubes with the kumara mixture. Place in a single layer in the baking pan. Top with the tomato pasta sauce then the remaining ricotta mixture. Sprinkle with the mozzarella.

Cover with foil, and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking for 10 minutes or until golden. Stand for 10 minutes then serve immediately. Serves 6.

SEASHELL PRAWN REMOULADE

1 cup small shell pasta
500g large cooked prawns
Sauce:1 cup mayonnaise
1 teaspoon dried tarragon
2 large gherkins, diced
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon prepared mustard
4 tablespoons chopped chives
salt and pepper to taste

Cook the pasta according to the packet instructions. Shell the prawns.

Combine the sauce ingredients.

Place the drained and cooled pasta in a large bowl. Add the prawns and enough sauce to coat well. Mix gently. Cover and chill for up to 2 hours. Serves 4-6.