A friend of ours bought a cottage about a year ago. He knew this cottage was a little bit ‘tired’ and saw it as a little fixer-upper. Something he could live in whilst he pottered around renovating individual rooms one by one – a project certainly, but no great invasion to his single life and no great weight upon his finances. He had a few surveyors in prior to the purchase, they indicated that his plans seemed reasonable (caveat, caveat, caveat) and he went ahead and bought the darling little building at a steal.
The first time he drilled into a wall, however, he realised that this may not have been a wall. It may have just been a structure made of mud. He called back a surveyor and was informed that, actually, yes, this ‘cottage’ was simply built of mud, was entirely structurally unsound and required total demolition. Somehow the previous elderly owner had lived in this rather precarious home for many decades, bombarded by wet, Welsh winters.
So our friend’s little fixer-upper has now become a full rebuild. The sweet little building he bought, he has had to knock down, draw up new plans and live in a caravan that is so cold that his jam freezes. Since his initial plans entailed him approaching the project by himself, he is having to soldier on and do the rebuild himself. It turns out that the previous owner (and a few owners before that) was something of a ‘collector’ and everytime he thinks he must have taken the last box of crap from the crumbling ruins of the walls or the now collapsed cellar or from being stuck up the chimney, another appears. He has found everything from a box of 1850s medicine vials to a neolithic axe, to a scythe to a suitcase of, what he hopes is, pig bones.
The strangest thing about his story is not boxes of bones or a house to be found made of mud, but the fact that the man in question remains the happiest man in the world. He is re-building a cottage from scratch by himself, living in a caravan so cold that canned baked beans freeze and rattle like pennies in a jar and, in the process of having a caravan on the site of a home, having to pay two lots of council tax and yet the man is so merry about everything. He is never wearied, he is never overwhelmed, he is just excited and keen to see what the next day brings.
People like my friend amaze me. I’m, I must admit, a tad of a stress head. If plans fall apart then I flounder. If something seems long and endless then I cry. If I was told my precious new home was an unstable heap of mud, I might have gone out shooting surveyors. I am in the process of planning a wedding and I have deliberately chosen three bridesmaids that I know, from past experience, can control my level of dramatic reaction (generally by saying ‘Juls, you’re being a tit. Have a drink and then we’ll sort this.’) Vinnie thinks, however, I have myself wrong here. He says that, yes, the tears, the shouting, possibly the shooting might occur but whilst that goes on, I am apparently already dealing with the issue.
He claims I have moaned about the lack of a ledge in our kitchen since moving in because a lack of a ledge means I cannot clip a pasta machine onto anything and have to roll pasta by hand. I have now complained about this for three years. In those three years, he points out, I have still made the pasta, albeit by hand, and become more successful with it than I was before.
I do not know about the increasing success being true, but I have been elbow greasing the pasta dough for three years now. I have possibly forgotten how to work the pasta machine.
So, for those who want to make their own pasta, but feel the absence of a machine inhibits them, do not let that put you off. As long as the mixture is good to begin with, rolling it out by hand may take more time but is not difficult. You are looking for a supple and elastic, but not tacky or sticky dough. It will, and it should, spring back slightly as it is rolled out, but keep turning the dough on a well floured surface and you will get there eventually.
The great thing about ravioli is that is can be filled with anything. Here is just a pinch of crab with some light seasoning. Being in the middle of our short asparagus season, some grilled asparagus adorn the plate and a few spoonfuls of buerre noisette add a biscuity depth.
Serves 2-3 (about 24 pieces of ravioli)
Preparation Time: 40 minutes (including 30 minutes resting)
Assembly and Cooking Time: 20 minutes preparation, 10-15 minutes cooking
For the pasta:
- 1 egg + 1 yolk
- 100g tipo 00 flour
- 50g semolina flour
- black pepper
- 1.5T olive oil
For the filling:
- 50g cooked white crab meat
- 50g cooked brown crab meat
- 1/2t-1t lemon juice
- 1/2t dried chilli flakes
- 1T olive oil
- black pepper
For the garnish:
- 60g butter
- 5 asparagus spears
- a few sage leaves
- To make the pasta, make a well in the sifted flour (and generous grind of black pepper) and beat the egg, yolk and oil in the centre, bringing in the flour locally until a supple, elastic but not tacky dough is formed. Wrap in clingfilm and leave to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
- For the filling, bring a pan to heat and toast the chilli- do not let it burn – and then take off the heat. In the hot pan, add the crab meat, a squeeze of lemon, the olive oil and a generous amount of black pepper. Season to taste and put to the side.
- Roll out the pasta dough to 1mm thick using a pasta machine or good old fashioned elbow grease. Place 1/2 teaspoonfuls of the filling equidistant from each other and dab around these blobs with a little water. Place over another strip of pasta, press around each covered filling part to seal, cut and put to the side on a tray dusted with semolina.
- To cook, heat up the grill (broiler?), break the asparagus at it’s natural point and split in half lengthwise. Put under the grill for 3-5 minutes until cooked. Meanwhile place the butter in a pan and put to a medium heat, letting it melt and darken until the solids turn toffee brown and rise – at this point at the sage leaves. Heat up salted water to cook the pasta.
- Cook the ravioli in the boiling, salted water for about 2 minutes each – when they float to the surface, take out after a minute (they are then cooked).
- Serve with the pasta on the base with the asparagus on top and drizzle the buerre noisette on top. Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice and serve.