Italian cuisine is known for its olive oil, garlic, tomatoes and wine. It’s about quality of ingredients and freshness. It’s about candlelight, aromas and strong flavors. It’s about appreciating simple dishes.
We find, most times, when it comes to a romantic meal for two, we always turn to Italian.
Have some garlic piadina and a glass of red wine by candlelight to kick off the evening. Get into the kitchen together to roll out sheets of fresh pasta*. Fill with a mix of chicken, mushroom and garlic and press into adorable squares of ravioli to be boiled for six minutes. Perfect, fresh pasta for two!
Don’t limit yourself when it comes to pasta fillings. Spinach and ricotta, prawns and chilli, pumpkin and sage, mushroom and chicken. The filling can be kept chunky, or pureed to a paste. I lightly browned sliced chicken with onion, garlic and chopped mushrooms before whizzing in the food processor.
*Note: A hand cranked roller will likely help insure against killing the romance with complaints of aching triceps. But if you’re into trials, tribulations and triumphs then totally own it. And show off those muscles.
Mushroom & Chicken Ravioli
Basic Fresh Pasta Dough
300g (2 1/3 cups) plain flour
3 large eggs
30 ml olive oil
pinch of salt
To mix by hand, mound the flour on a work surface and make a well in the centre. Break the eggs into the well and add the oil and salt. Using a fork, begin to whisk the eggs and oil together, incorporating a little of the flour as you do so. Gradually blend the flour with the eggs, working from the centre out. Use your free hand to hold the mound in place and stop leakage if any of the egg escapes. Knead the dough on a lightly floured surface with smooth, light strokes, turning it as you fold and press. It should be soft and pliable, but dry to the touch.
It will take at least 6 minutes kneading to achieve a smooth and elastic texture with a slightly glossy appearance. Put the dough in a plastic bag or cover with a tea towel and let rest for 30 minutes. The dough can be made in the food processor or a mixer.
Divide dough into four. Leaving remaining dough covered with a damp teatowel, roll one of the quarters as flat as possible into a large, long rectangle. Get those elbows in there; you want it as thin as the blade of a knife. A pasta roller will do the trick but we aren’t all so lucky. If you have a ravioli mold (which I so happen to have been given) lay the sheet of pasta carefully over the mold and fill with Chicken and Mushroom Filling (recipe below) in gaps provided. If not, just dollop filling evenly along the pasta leaving a 2cm gap between each lump of filling. You should get 12 portions. With a finger or a pastry brush, spread water in between the filling and around the border. Roll out second ball of pasta dough as thin as the first and lay gently on top. Press down between the mounds of filling and cut into ravioli!
Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Drop ravioli in, six at a time and cook until al dente – about 6 minutes if pasta is hand rolled quite thinly. It may cook more quickly if rolled super thin using a mechanic roller. Remove from water using a slotted spoon and repeat with remaining pasta. Divide between bowls and top with Sundried Tomato Pesto (recipe below). Grate over Parmesan and plenty of freshly ground pepper.
Chicken & Mushroom Filling
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small chicken breast, sliced
500g mushrooms, chopped
1 onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
sprinkle herbs (optional)
grated Mozzerella or Parmesan
Heat oil in a pan over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, chicken and mushrooms and pan fry until golden brown. Remove from heat and let rest. Place in food processor with cheese and whizz until well combined and finely chopped.
Sundried Tomato Pesto
3 sundried tomatoes
1/4 cup roasted cashews
1/4 cup olive oil
Place tomatoes and cashews in a food processor. Whizz. With motor running, drizzle in oil until emulsified but chunky. Grate in a handful of Parmesan.