The Veg and the Playdough Pasta

As the first rays of sunlight shimmer through the curtain, I go through my mental checklist of things I need to do today: laundry, empty the dishwasher, clean the bird cage, make ricotta cheese, pasta, and tomato sauce for dinner, and do tasting notes on the Cabernet Franc for Mom (that's Debbie of the tasting room to you). I promptly roll over and try to go back to sleep but my attempts at laziness are thwarted by the "stomp-stomp-stomp" of Aiden flying down the stairs, ready to start the day. The promise of wine later in the evening pulls me out of bed and I trudge down the stairs. Aiden always remembers what I tell him and so the second he glimpses me on the stairs the onslaught of questions about dinner ensues. "Are you making noodles for dinner? Can we make cheese now? Noodles need sauce.... Are you making tomato sauce?" Still asleep, I stumble to the kitchen ignoring his questions for now and mentally reminding myself to stop telling Aiden my plans in advance. I pull out my coffee press and boil water while Aiden rambles on about how I'm making dinner wrong, "Noodles definitely don't have coffee and water in them." "Patience," I tell him. With a "hmph" he leaves the kitchen to build the world's tallest tower and I'm able to wake up in peace. Eventually I complete my morning routine and with the help of Aiden's relentless reminders, I know it's time to start the cheese. Ricotta cheese was one of the first things I stopped buying at the store; the gritty flavorless store-bought variety made me demand something better and I discovered how incredibly easy it is to make cheese. The transformation that takes place in a pot of milk and lemon juice excites Aiden and me both and we hover over the pot watching the curds form. "Can I taste some?" he asks every five minutes. Once the ricotta is formed and the whey drained, we pop it into the fridge to cool down. Sometime later, as if he has a psychic connection to the cheese, Aiden runs into the kitchen hollering that's it's cold enough to make noodles. When it comes to making homemade pasta, I've learned to give myself extra time or be prepared for a late dinner, so I relent and follow him. I use the food processor to make quick work of mixing the ingredients and plop the green spinach pasta dough on the counter for a little kneading. "Are we making playdough noodles?" Aiden asks. While the dough rests on the counter, I get started on the tomato sauce. I generally view it as sacrilege to use high quality wines for cooking, but I only need a little to deglaze the pan and it gives me an excuse to start drinking before dinner. The first taste of the 2008 Cabernet Franc is so-so and I'm disappointed it isn't as bold as previous years. However a few minutes later, I'm able to discern underlying flavors and complexities the older years lacked. With a definite vegetal quality about it, I'm excited to not only taste it in the tomato sauce but being paired with dinner it promises to be a match made in heaven. Now that the sauce is ticking away it's time to start rolling out the noodles, a task I tend to dread but excites Aiden immensely. I roll out the dough into a big round, cut out little nuggets, and roll into little asparagus tip shaped noodles. Aiden proudly eyes his handiwork and declares he can't wait to eat the noodles he's made. While I wait for the noodles to cook, I sip more wine and try to place my finger on the mysterious berry notes but to no avail. Frustrated, I sit down to eat and take my first tentative drink of Cabernet Franc paired with dinner. The Cab definitely comes alive next to the tomato sauce and transforms a first so-so taste into an extraordinary wine. With the vegetal backbone, mystery berry notes, and dare I say a hint of cinnamon, I would pair this wine with any roasted or grilled meats and even fish. However, I think the real stars that brings out the best in this Cabernet Franc is delicious tomato sauce, homemade pasta, and time spent with a 5 year old clown.

Homemade Spinach Garganelli

(From Rachael Ray's My Year in Meals with a few adjustments from me)

1 (10 ounce) box frozen chopped spinach, thawed and wrung dry

12 ounces ricotta, drained of excess liquid

Freshly grated nutmeg

Salt and pepper

1 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 large egg yolk

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup semolina flour, plus more for dusting

Place the spinach in a food processor and pulse-chop it even further into little bits. Add the ricotta to the food processor with a little dusting of nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Drizzle in the olive oil; add the yolk, and flours. Process until combined. Remove the dough from the processor and knead it lightly, then cover with a kitchen towel and let it relax for 30 minutes.

Roll the ball of dough out into a long oval, a couple of feet long and 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. *I had to cut the dough in half and roll it out twice due to lack of counter space* Cut into thin ropes about 1/4 inch wide. Cut the ropes into little 1 1/2 inch pieces. Use your hands to roll out a thin noodle, about 2 inches long.

Dust a big baking sheet with semolina flour. Once the pasta is rolled, you throw it onto the backing sheet until you're ready to cook (or freeze for later). Cook for about 5 minutes in boiling, salted water or until they float just like gnocchi and don't taste gummy anymore.

Sicilian Sauce

(From Rachael Ray's My Year in Meals)

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

6 to 8 anchovy fillets

1 red chile, seeded and finely chopped

6 cloves garlic, finely chopped

2 tablespoons chopped fresh oregano

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 cup red wine

1 (28 ounce) can plum tomatoes

8 to 10 fresh basil leaves, torn

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the anchovies, cover the pan with a lid, and shake until the anchovies begin to break up (they'll stop spitting so violently). Reduce the heat a bit, uncover, and stir until the anchovies melt into the oil. Add the chile, garlic, and oregano. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes.

Add the tomato paste and let it cook out for a minute before deglazing the pan with the red wine. Add the tomatoes and basil. Simmer until thick, about 30 minutes.

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