Last Sunday my dear friend Brooke and I sat on the curb underneath an old avocado tree a few blocks from the Hollywood Farmers’ Market and flipped through the Chez Panisse Café cookbook before heading into the dizzying array of farm fresh fruits and vegetables. It seemed apropos, really, looking at recipes from Alice Waters, the woman who inspired a generation to get back to cooking in season, who praised farmers’ efforts by putting their names on her menus more than 30 years ago.
I love the idea of cooking what’s in season. It’s a wonderfully satisfying act with political and economic undertones—putting my money where my mouth is. And the more I read about the current state of our food economy, the more important that becomes to me. But moreover, it tastes better. And this is why I love Alice Waters. She reminds me that I don’t need to rant and rave and jump around to create change—though sometimes I still do. It starts by asking simple questions about where your food comes from and how it was raised and continues at the dinner table, with good friends and good food.
So that’s what I did this week. I made my political statement for dinner. I bought organic, heirloom tomatoes from Givens Farms, fresh green and purple basil, marjoram, thyme and Italian parsley and invited Brooke and her husband over to join Neal and I for homemade cannelloni a la Alice Waters. I persevered, even after slicing my hand on a broken glass, rolling out fresh pasta dough, mincing the garlic and chopping up fresh herbs. I used the amazing Buffala milk ricotta from Bubalus Bubalis in the filling and pasture-raised eggs from Lily Farms in Santa Barbara. And finished the night off with homemade ginger ice cream, but that’s another post.
adapted from Chez Panisse Café by Alice Waters
1lb fresh ricotta
½ cup grated Pecorino Romano
salt and pepper
a dash of cayenne pepper
4 tbsp chopped herbs (basil, marjoram, thyme and parsley)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 ½ c 00 or AP flour
pinch of salt
2 eggs lightly beaten
1 lb fresh heirloom tomatoes, diced
1/3 c extra virgin olive oil
2-3 cloves of garlic, chopped fine
green and purple basil
salt and pepper
Heat oven to 425 degrees.
Mix ricotta, parmigiano, salt, pepper, cayenne and herbs together. Taste for seasoning. Add eggs and mix again.
Make pasta dough following your favorite method. I like to mix it until it just comes together with the paddle attachment on my Kitchen Aid, combine it into a ball by hand, then knead it with the dough hook for about 10 minutes. Let pasta dough rest at least 15 minutes before rolling it out.
Roll dough into 12 rectangles about seven inches long and six inches wide. Cook one at a time in salted boiling water, keeping the noodle firmly al dente. Cool in a cold water bath, then lay on a clean cloth. If you stack them they will stick!
Spoon about two tablespoons of the ricotta mixture onto each rectangle and roll into a loose tube shape. Place in a buttered baking dish in one layer (you may need two baking dishes). Brush the tops with melted butter. Bake in 425-degree oven for about 15 minutes, until puffed up and lightly crisped.
While the cannelloni are backing, heat olive oil in a non-reactive pan over medium high heat. Add garlic and let sizzle for about 30 seconds without letting it brown. Add diced tomatoes and cook until they just start to relax and give up their juice, about three to five minutes. Add a little chopped green and basil, salt and pepper to taste, stir and remove from heat.
Serve the cannelloni with the tomato sauce and more chopped basil.