Italy has been on top of my mind recently. I have finished reading Bill Buford’s “Heat” on his pursuit of real food at the Italian kitchens in NY and Italy. My sister has reported on her yet another trip to Italy and shared a plan to return this summer for more. Russian TV-chef celebrity Julia Vysotskaya has launched a new culinary show she films in Tuscany. Piled up these facts translated into an urge to get on a plane and savor Italy. Until it occurred to me that I live in Italy .. simply of another kind.
Italy has done what Turkey has never bothered to accomplish: it has established itself as a culinary super-power and destination. Who does not want to follow the path set by the character of Gilbert’s “Eat.Pray.Love” and head out to Italy to indulge? And there is a lot awaiting there.
My memories from the visit to Rome for my friends’ wedding are very characteristic. After the big day me and another friend of mine stopped by a vinoteca by Navarro Piazza where we sat down amidst the shelves with hundreds and hundreds bottles and shared some unpretentiously priced yet absolutely remarkable red over a plate of artisanal cheeses and prosciutto. I remember sound of the knife cutting through the thick crust of the longest loaf I have ever seen as the waiter was preparing bread to serve us. Rustic wooden tables, sheets of paper instead of tablecloths. That’s Italy: effortlessly delicious life with real and literally down-to-earth food – taken straight from the field, forest, animal – and cooked without mush fuss.
Such food has been around throughout the history of the mankind but we have seemed to notice the fact very recently. Backward becomes hip, rustic becomes trendy. Making fresh pasta at home and such has been elevated to a hip endeavor no self-respecting home cook has passed on.
We want to relearn making and enjoying simple food and Italy has become at the forefront of the movement. Without much metaphor as Slow Food Movement has originated in Turin. Which has not at least benefited the country’s tourism industry that is happily selling this effortlessly delicious life to the visitors. Last time I looked there are so many cooking programs in Tuscany that I failed to choose one.
Turkey has not done so well. Did not bother to on the first place. Turkey has coast too long, all-inclusive hotels to many and ambition to get more tourists too small. Turks would complain that their food traditions has been expropriated by the other nations (Greeks and Armenians to blame, as usual) but would do too little to claim their own territory. Tulum peynir, pastırma, indigenous grapes of Kalecik Karası and Narince, Urfa pepper flakes are all world-class products the world knows too little about.
When I’ve come to Turkey I have discovered a wealth of culinary heritage and was taken aback by the fact virtually no one else in tourism industry seems to notice. Besides a few enthusiastic foreigners like myself. Turks, merchants for centuries, are fantastically skilled in sales but have a long way to go in marketing. Because Turkey has everything to become next destination with effortlessly delicious life and in a more specific way – culinary vacations, cooking classes, gourmet getaways.
In Turkey I have learned that delicious food is often times made with humble ingredients and not at least leftovers. That the most rewarding meals are cooked for many with little. I have found Turkish everyday cooking simple: it lacks elaborate cooking techniques (with a few exceptions of dishes mostly inherited from the Ottomans) and very much relies on what’s available on the particular season. The most of the effort is spent on preparation where you nurse those ingredients by trimming, peeling and cutting them as if preparing them to speak in the dish. And this is the very premise of the simple food Italy prides itself.
Contemplation on Italy and its similarity with Turkey I felt like another round of fresh pasta. Because pasta is core to both cuisines – Italian and Turkish. I consulted with my Turkish cookbooks: besides the more known mantı, Turkish tortellini, I have found another Turkish pasta dish – piruhi.
Piruhi is clearly borrowed. Marianna Yerasimos in her “500 Years of Ottoman Cuisine” says that it did not appear in the recipe books until 19th century. The name interestingly reminds of Polish dumplings called pirogi and Poland which is just next to Ukraine and over the Black Sea from Turkey. Now how Turkish that gets? But then there are speculation that pasta is not really native to Italy either and Marco Polo might have brought it from China?!
Just to mix it up even more when making piruhi I used the rule Buford got from his Italian pasta teacher and shared in “Heat”: 1 egg for 100 g of flour. One could say that such squandering with so many eggs is completely foreign to the Turkish kitchen. But let me remind of classic Turkish pasta dish su boreği extremely rich on eggs and what’s more – suspiciously looking like lasagna.
Now I am convinced who was first matters least but who will be the next is the question. Will Italy continue to be a major exporter of effortlessly delicious life of Turkey will stand up to the challenge and learn to market its deliciousness to the world?
Cousins of Italian ravioli and Eastern European dumplings, these Turkish piruhi are stuffed with garlicky green peas and served with the sauce of butter, red pepper flakes and thyme and strained yoghurt
Prep Time: 2 Hr
Cook Time: 7 Min
Total Time: 2 Hr 7 Min
- 5 cups all purpose flour (600 g)
- 1/2 cup all purpose flour for rolling
- 6 large eggs at room temperature
- 1 large egg lightly beaten, for brushing
- 4 tbsp vegetable oil
- 4 cups fresh green peas
- 8 cloves garlic
- 1 tbsp red pepper flakes
- salt to taste
- 3 tbsp butter
- 1 tbsp red pepper flakes
- 2 tbsp dry thyme
1. Prepare the dough: Follow step-by-step photo manual on how to make fresh pasta dough. This time it’s only 5 cups flour and 6 eggs which can be slightly hard to knead in the beginning but will result in the perfectly soft elastic dough once its kneaded and then rested for 30 min or so.
2. Prepare the stuffing: Saute garlic in the hot vegetable oil for a few seconds only to release aroma, immediately add fresh green peas, red pepper flakes and saute till soft (about 15 min). Puree the sauteed peas with an immersion blender and salt the peas to taste. Set aside to cool.
3. Roll the dough: If you don’t use pasta machine follow detailed instructions on how to roll pasta dough. If working with the machine get your dough to the really fine – the last but one setting: my machine goes from 7 (thickest) to 1 (thinnest) so my ravioli dough will eventually be rolled on 2.
Start with dividing the dough into 8 small pieces and then keep all of them but one covered with the cling film: by no mean you want your dough to dry and get those unappealing cracks on its surface.
Sprinkle that one piece of dough left outside with flour, flatten it with your palm and pop into the machine open at the thickest setting. As the dough comes us dist it with the flour again (if needed, you will feel if the dough feels slightly too soft and sticky and needs flour or not) and fold it twice and feed into the machine. Repeat the procedure 5-6 times: do the favor to your dough and instead of following recommendations of 5-minute fresh pasta enthusiasts give yours a little bit more time and love. It is pretty amazing to watch how the dough becomes smoother and silkier every time it comes rolled out of the machine.
Eventually fold the dough twice and and feed it into the machine – yet this time rotate the folded dough 90 degrees so you will be popping it into the machine with the other side facing it. Fold and feed again – 2-3 times. It should give you really smooth edges with no cracks.
Now change the setting to medium, dust the dough with flour and pop it in the machine. Now repeat the same at the last but one setting. Marvel your perfectly silky thin sheet of dough and dust it on both sides – and you are ready to shape your ravioli.
4. Shape ravioli: Prepare a large tray generously sprinkled with flour. Spread out the rolled dough sheet on the clean dusted with flour working surface and in your mind cut the dough in in half. Slightly brush the right half of the dough sheet with beaten egg: you want to put too much egg as then the dough will become too moist to get sealed and your stuffing will escape as you boil ravioli.
Now put 1 tsp of filling on the right hand side in two rows (or three, if practical) 4 cm apart.
Fold the dough sheet so the left half to cover the right one – as if closing a magazine. Press the dough lightly to get rid of any air pockets around the pea stuffing: first go vertically with the ribs of your palms and then horizontally.
With a pizza slicer cut the dough sheets into squares and arrange them on the tray. Continue with the rest of the dough.
5. Cook ravioli: Generously salt water and boil in a huge bowl on high heat. Reduce the heat to medium so that water simmers gently and then cook ravioli for 5 minutes – check for doneness often. Drain.
In the same emptied bowl melt the butter and add red pepper flakes and dry thyme. Transfer the drained ravioli in the sauce, mix gently to coat, let simmer for 1-2 minutes and serve immediately – with a dollop of strained yoghurt, if you want to go Turkish.