Love at First Bite

For Valentine’s Day, share your passion for pasta that’s pretty in pink

 We met Suzanne and Don Dunaway on a Valentine’s Day, while sitting at a small table during a reception for Julia Child’s American Institute of Wine & Food. We began talking and discovered that we had many interests in common, but mostly food, wine and traveling.

At the time, Suzanne was an illustrator for Gourmet magazine, focusing on vignette portraits of restaurants and their chefs. The sketches captured them perfectly, but with a bit of humor. Don was a successful screenwriter and film director and had worked in Italy for many years. They lived in the hills above Los Angeles in a contemporary house with a large, open kitchen, where guests could watch Suzanne cook. Her stovetop faced the dining room, and she would usually be boiling pasta using extra-large skillets and pots, even though she was only cooking for six or eight guests.

“We were married on Valentine’s Day so we would never forget our anniversary,” Suzanne said. “We drank Dom Perignon champagne and then took off for our honeymoon to Desert Hot Springs.”

They have been married for more than 30 years, and each year they celebrate their anniversary in a different manner. “Sometimes we would go out to a restaurant, but mostly we stay at home and get a nice-size can of beluga or Osetra caviar to put on toast with sweet butter, along with icy potato vodka or whatever champagne we manage to find,” Suzanne said.

One year she made an all-pink dinner. First, Ravioli Stuffed With Beets and Ricotta — they came out a lovely pink when boiled — topped with butter and toasted sage. Then a Radish and Beet Salad, with thin slices of sweet onion, dressed with extra virgin olive oil and lemon and decorated with pink nasturtium flowers. For dessert, fresh Strawberry Sorbetto With Pink Genoise baked in her mother’s ancient heart-shaped pan and topped with pink frosting.

Suzanne’s real hobby was baking bread, which she would share with family and friends. She made so much that she often showed up at the local farmers markets with a big basket, passing out samples to everyone. This led to the opening of Buona Forchetta, an Italian artisan bakery in Culver City. It was at this time that Suzanne wrote her first self-illustrated cookbook, “No Need to Knead.” Later, they sold the bakery and retired to Rome, where Suzanne wrote her second cookbook, “Rome at Home.”

The couple also live in the south of France, in Collioure, a tiny fishing village near the Spanish border. This past summer, we visited them at their home, where we ate and relaxed on the outdoor terrace with its vegetable garden. We hiked in the hills carrying bags full of bread and carrots to feed to the local donkeys, and picked ripe green figs for dinner. We shopped and cooked together. We ate in the casual village restaurants, and one evening at sunset, at a place called Le Neptune, our table was on the edge of the dock, giving us a look down at the ocean below. Great memories — can’t wait to return, maybe next year on Valentine’s Day.

Beet ravioli

Illustrations by Suzanne Dunaway

1 pound fresh beets
2 cups ricotta
2 egg yolks
3 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Pinch nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh Pasta Dough
(recipe follows)
1/4 cup unsalted butter
12 fresh sage leaves

Wash the beets well and steam in a pot with a little salt until tender, about 15 minutes, or until a fork pierces the beets easily. Drain well and remove skins (they will slip off easily).

In the bowl of a food processor mix the beets, ricotta, egg yolks, grated cheese, nutmeg, salt and pepper, and pulse just until ingredients are blended.

Prepare the Fresh Pasta Dough. Roll it out into 2 long, thin sheets while the sheets are still moist.

Imagine a checkerboard, marked in 2-inch squares, on one sheet of pasta.

Using a pastry bag or a spoon, pipe out or spoon about 1 tablespoon of the cheese filling in the center of each square. Dip a pastry brush or your index finger into a bowl of water and paint vertical and horizontal lines along the checkerboard pattern between the mounds of cheese filling. Carefully place the second sheet of pasta on top of the first, pressing down firmly around each mound of filling and along the wet lines to seal the pasta sheets together.

With a ravioli cutter, pastry wheel or small knife, cut the pasta into ravioli squares enclosing the filling. Place a kitchen towel on a baking sheet and dust it with flour. Place the ravioli on the floured towel. When they are dry on one side, turn them to allow the other side to dry. When thoroughly dry, the ravioli are easy to separate.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and cook the ravioli for about 3 to 4 minutes.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan, add the sage leaves, and cook just until the leaves are toasted. Drain the ravioli and place in warmed bowls. Spoon the sage butter over the ravioli.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

 

FRESH PASTA DOUGH

The quantities and directions that follow require a large-capacity food processor. If your processor has a more limited capacity, make the dough in two or more batches.
3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons water

 

Place the flour and salt in the processor fitted with the steel blade. Turn the machine on and off once. Then, with the machine running, drop in one egg and, the instant it is blended in, turn off the machine. Repeat with the remaining 3 eggs, until the dough is crumbly or resembles a coarse meal. Add the olive oil and water and process just until the dough begins to come away from the side of the bowl.

Remove the dough to a floured wooden board and knead just until smooth. Divide the dough into 3 or 4 parts for easier handling. When rolling out the first piece, cover the remainder with a large bowl so the dough does not dry out.

To roll out the pasta with a pasta machine, set the rollers at the widest opening. Divide the dough into 4 parts for easier handling. Working with one part at a time, flatten the dough with the palm of your hand into a thick strip no wider than the machine. Dust it lightly with flour and crank it through the machine. Fold it in half or in thirds, pressing it down with your fingertips, dust with flour, turn it 90 degrees (a quarter-turn) and run it through the machine again. Repeat this process 3 or 4 more times, dusting with flour, until the dough is smooth, elastic and no longer sticky. Now the dough is ready to stretch into a long sheet.

Set the machine to the next opening, bringing the rollers closer together, and run the dough through. This time, do not fold or turn the dough. Set the rollers another notch closer and run the dough through again. Continue rolling the dough with a smaller opening each time, stopping just before the next-to-narrowest setting. (The dough strip will become very long, so allow ample workspace, or cut the dough in shorter sheets as it gets longer.)

RADISH AND BEET SALAD

You may add toasted nuts. You may also use radishes that you have marinated in lemon juice and salt overnight. The lemon juice will turn pink and add more color to the salad. 

1 (8-ounce) package baby lettuce
12 radishes, sliced thin
Salt and pepper to taste
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Several drops balsamic vinegar
4 cooked beets  (skins removed), sliced thin and tossed with a pinch of sugar
1 sweet onion, sliced thin
Juice of half a small lemon

In a salad bowl, toss the lettuce, radishes, salt and pepper with the olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Arrange the salad on two plates, distributing the beet and onion slices on top. Squeeze lemon juice over each plate before serving.

Makes 2 to 4 servings.

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