Along with cycling the walls of Lucca on a “gear bike,” the absolute best part of our trip to Tuscany according to my five year-old was learning how to make “noodles and sauce.”
I thought maybe I should correct him – actually we made tagliatelle, ravioli, ragu, and marinara – but I decided against it. These are kid-friendly recipes, so let ’em call the food whatever they want!
T-Rex had a hand in every part of the recipes below from cracking eggs to pulsing the food processor to rolling pasta dough to cutting ravioli.
To create your own Tuscan pasta feast, whip up the pastas and sauces above. Add a green salad tossed with balsamic vinegar and olive oil and a loaf of rustic Italian bread. Don’t forget a bottle of Chianti for the adults. Bonus points for adding a cheesecake and coffee for dessert.
So.. are you ready to make your own “noodles and sauce,” Tuscan style? Bring on the recipes!
Tuscan Ragu with Tagliatelle
1 medium carrot, peeled
1 small stalk celery
1 medium yellow onion, peeled
3 sprigs flat parsley
1/4 c olive oil
350 g (12 oz) ground beef
60ml (1/4 c) red wine
2 – 400g (14oz) cans whole, peeled tomatoes
500g (1 lb) tagliatelle pasta*
Parmesan cheese, for serving
Cut the carrot, celery, and onion into several pieces so that the vegetables fit in the bowl of a food processor. Remove the leaves from the parsley sprigs and add them to the vegetables. Pulse until fine.
Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium low heat, and add the chopped vegetables. Saute for about 5 mins until they begin to soften. Add the ground beef and crumble. Cook covered on low heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender. Add the red wine, and let the alcohol evaporate.
While the meat mixture cooks, place the tomatoes in a food processor using a fork (do not add the tomato juice), and puree.
When the vegetables are tender and the meat is fully cooked, add the tomato puree. Bring to a simmer, and cook uncovered for 1 hour. Add a little water (no more than 60ml or 1/4 c) if the sauce looks like it is drying out. Salt to taste while the ragu is still warm.
To serve, make a small nest of tagliatelle (recipe below) on a plate or in a bowl. Ladle the ragu over the nest, and top with Parmesan cheese.
If you don’t have time to make Tagliatelle from scratch and you can’t find it in your local grocery, fettuccine is a fine substitute. Make sure to cook it al dente!
Quick & Easy Italian Marinara
3 whole cloves garlic, peeled
60ml (1/4 c) olive oil
4 basil leaves, washed
2 – 400g (14oz) cans whole, peeled tomatoes
salt, to taste
Place the tomatoes in a food processor (do not add the juice) and puree. Set aside.
Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium low heat, and add the garlic when hot. Let the garlic sizzle for 1 minute, stirring constantly (don’t burn or brown it).
Carefully add the tomato puree to the hot garlic oil, and bring to a simmer. Add the basil leaves, and cook on low heat for about 10 minutes until the flavors blend.
Serve with any pasta that strikes your fancy.
Basic Tuscan Pasta Dough
150 g all-purpose or type 00 flour*
50 g semolina flour*
2 pinches of salt (optional)
Measure the flours into a medium bowl. Whisk to combine the two types (if using). Pour the flour into a small pile on a large, clean work surface. Sprinkle the salt on the flour.
Make a well in the center of the flour, and crack the eggs into the well. Using a fork, carefully scramble the eggs, and then gradually work the flour into the eggs until a dough forms.
Knead the dough with your hands until it become smooth. Use the heel of your hand to form the dough into a ball. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rest 15-30 mins.
This sounds a lot harder than it actually is. To see pasta making in action, The Italian Dish has a short video demonstrating how to make the dough.
Using a large rolling pin, roll the dough out on a well floured surface in a large rectangle. Make it as thin as you possibly can, all the while checking to make sure the dough does not stick to the work surface. When the dough is about 1-2mm (1/8″ to 1/16″) thin, leave it alone for 15-20 mins to dry it out a bit.
From here, you can make ravioli (filling recipe and cutting instructions below) or continue on with tagliatelle.To make it easier to cut into strips, fold the dough inward in two inch sections starting from the outer edge and alternating sides until the two folded sides meet. Use a large, sharp knife to cut off sections of noodles, about 6mm (a little less than 1/4″) wide. Toss with a sprinkling of semolina flour on a large baking sheet or plate until ready to cook.
Cook the noodles in a large pot of boiling, salted water for 2-3 minutes or until al dente. Drain and serve hot with the sauce of your choice.
* Italians use Type 00 flour and semolina, but you can substitute all-purpose flour for the Type 00. Semolina is fairly easy to find (try Bob’s Red Mill), but in a pinch, you can simply use 200g of all-purpose flour. Also, it’s best to weigh the flour for this recipe, but if you don’t have a scale, use 2 cups of flour with 2 eggs.
Spinach and Ricotta Ravioli
45 ml (3 Tbl) olive oil
1 clove garlic
200 g (7 oz) frozen spinach
80 g (~3 oz) grated Parmesan cheese
200 g (7 oz) ricotta cheese
Basic Tuscan Pasta Dough, doubled (recipe + instructions above)
Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium low heat. Add garlic when hot and swirl for 1-2 minutes to flavor the oil. Carefully add the frozen spinach. Add 60 ml (1/4 c) water and cover. Cook on low until the spinach is heated through. Salt to taste, and let cool to room temperature.
Place the Parmesan in a food processor. Add the cooked spinach and puree until smooth. Add the eggs and pulse until incorporated. Remove the mixture to a medium bowl, and stir in the ricotta cheese.
Separate the pasta dough into two equal portions. Keeping one covered in plastic wrap, roll the dough out on a well floured surface in a large rectangle. Make it as thin as you possibly can (1-2mm or 1/8″ to 1/16″), all the while adding more flour as needed to make sure the dough does not stick to the work surface. Repeat with the second ball of dough, and leave both pieces alone for 15-20 mins to dry it out a bit.
Use a ravioli cutter to trim off any rounded edges to form a rectangle. (Pass the scraps to the kids and let them make their own creations.) Fold a strip of the dough over to indicate how large you’d like to make the ravioli. Gently use the cutter to press a guideline along the cut edge of the folded strip of dough. Unfold.
Drop teaspoons of filling along the inside of the fold in small piles where the center of the raviolis will be. When the row of dots is completed, again fold the dough over, lining the cut edge up with the previously pressed guideline.
Using a ravioli cutter, slide along the guideline, pressing firmly to seal the edges of the dough. Now use the cutter to separate the pasta pillows from one another. Set on a lightly floured baking sheet in a single layer to rest while you finish making the rest of the ravioli.
Fill a large pot with water and salt generously. Add 45ml (1 Tbl) olive oil, and bring to boiling. Cook the ravioli for 2-3 minutes or until al dente. Drain and serve hot with the marinara or ragu.
This post is part of Our Tuscan Family Adventure: Two Weeks of History, Culture, Food, and Fun in Italy series. Click on the link to view our bucket list and recaps of each excursion!