Not only have I neglected my blog recently, I’ve also been slightly lax about my physical state. A lot of travel and little exercise left me feeling puffy. And wouldn’t you after being spoilt (read: stuffed) with naan, kebab and kulfi in Pakistan, embarking on a four day pig-out at the gastronomic lollapalooza Salone del Gusto, and doing a ton of empirical research for a book on Dutch fries (with mounds of mayonnaise or kebab meat)?

I decided to have a few sessions with a personal trainer who would help me kick my butt back into shape. Not that I’m aiming for a ‘body machine’ because you know what they say about never trusting a skinny chef, right? Same applies to a bony food writer.

The first session, my trainer made me sweat and curse like a Neapolitan sailor (he’s good!). He also handed me a sheet with dietary advice to follow. One glance was enough to know this diet was doomed. I mean, Italian food is great, fantastic, wonderful, but I’m just not a big fan of the everyday stuff.

The diet prescribes three ‘fette biscottate’ with jam for breakfast (pieces of prefab toast with a cardboardish aftertaste) or one cornetto, the Italian version of a (sugary) croissant. If I have these things I’ll find myself plundering the fridge at 11 am. I prefer the first meal of the day to be a bit more substantial. Lunch is 75 grams of pasta with ‘sugo poco elaborato’, which literally means ‘little elaborated sauce’. A simple tomato sauce of some sort, or just a little oil. I hardly have pasta, just because I rarely find ordinary pasta dishes very thrilling. When I do have pasta, I want it to be ‘molto elaborata’.

So I stayed off the carb champs all week, but made a very special Saturday night version. My roommate and I are getting better at making our own egg pasta, an activity that requires four hands and lots of energy. By kneading, rolling and working the dough through the machine, you’re burning more calories than you’re about to consume. Excellent diet food!

Ravioli di zucca e amaretti con burro e salvia (Pumpkin and amaretti ravioli with sage butter)

A northern-Italian pasta classic, this dish combines sweet pumpkin and amaretti biscuits with the mildly bitter tasting sage.

Fresh pasta (please look here for the technique, I normally use 3 whole eggs, 400 grams flour (di grano duro), a pinch of salt and a little bit of lukewarm water)

  • Small pumpkin
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • 100 grams grated parmesan cheese (and some for serving)
  • 5 amaretti biscuits, crumbled
  • Pinch of nutmeg
  • 50 grams unsalted butter
  • 10 sage leaves
  • Freshly ground black pepper, salt

Preheat the oven to 180 °C (320°F). Cut up the pumpkin (remove seeds) and cut the flesh into chunky cubes. Place them in an oven dish, sprinkle with fennel seeds and olive oil and bake for 40-50 minutes, until the flesh is soft. Let cool slightly and scoop out the flesh with a spoon.

In a bowl, mix pumpkin, parmesan cheese, amaretti, nutmeg, a pinch of salt and some black pepper. Mash with a fork to a smooth purée.

Dust the work surface with flour. Roll out the dough into 2 mm sheets. Cut out round or square shapes with a glass, cookie cutter or a special ravioli cutter. Scoop a teaspoon of the puree on half of the shapes and place the other halves on top. With your fingers, gently but firmly close the ravioli. Use a bit of water or some egg yolk to make sure the filling is completely sealed in, for you don’t want it to escape while boiling the pasta.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Gently add the ravioli to the boiling water and cook for 3-4 minutes. Meanwhile, slowly melt the butter in a skillet until foaming. Add the sage leaves and fry them for just a few seconds. Remove from heat.

Drain the pasta, but keep 1 or 2 tablespoons of the pasta water and add it to the butter. Add the ravioli, toss gently until all pasta is coated and serve. Serve immediately, with some freshly grated parmesan and black pepper.

Fette biscottate picture. Pasta picture courtesy of Luis. Grazie!


Author Irene

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