Contributed by Alexis Popov
As I danced around my Uncle Donny’s basement as a child, I was told to stay away from the long hot peppers that were strung together to dry over the boiler, because both the boiler and the peppers were too hot for my small person to touch. I would watch intently as Uncle Donny used a thick sewing needle to thread together the peppers, attaching them all just below the base of the stem, so that they could dry either by the heat of the boiler in the winter or by the warmth of the sun- kissed bricks in the summer. Once the peppers dried and hardened, the stems are broken off and the seeds removed, before they are placed in extremely hot olive oil to fry for three to six seconds until they are golden and crispy. After he finishes frying, Uncle Donny places the peppers and the oil into a glass container atop the stove so that they are easily accessible, as they are used often and for many different things. The fried peppers get crushed up and mixed into various pasta dishes, my personal favorite being pasta with fresh ricotta, while the olive oil gets used in everything from potatoes and eggs to a midnight snack of dipping with a loaf of fresh Italian bread, for its rich, nutty, tangy favors tastes good on just about everything. My favorite part, however, is the delicious smell that escapes as the peppers fry in the hot olive oil. The aroma of the sizzling olive oil and crunchy peppers fuses together to make such a wonderful smell that as a kid I would routinely bring all my sweatshirts down into the kitchen as my mother fried, so that my clothing would become infused with the scent and I could retain it long after the stove had been turned off. On my last visit to see Uncle Donny, he sat me down at the kitchen table, and with a threaded needle in one hand and a long hot pepper in the other, he demonstrated the first step of the process that has earned him the role of master fryer in my family, a role passed onto him by my great grandmother, Nana. Nana taught Uncle Donny how to string, dry, and fry these fantastic long hot peppers, and in turn, he taught me.
Why go through all the hassle of making your own ravioli when they come prepackaged and stress free in the supermarket? Because making something yourself is not only rewarding, it’s fun. I recently discovered that making ravioli from scratch is not nearly as difficult and time consuming as most people perceive it to be. Although mixing the dough, rolling it out, and filling the ravioli is not something that I would recommend for a Monday night after work and before soccer practice, making dinner with your daughter or girlfriend on a lazy Saturday afternoon sounds like a perfect opportunity to experiment with something new in the kitchen. Instead of using the traditional ricotta filling, try adding spinach to the mix or substituting for fresh mozzarella. Cream sauces compliment ravioli very nicely, so bust out the heavy cream and make the sauce your own by adding an ingredient that makes your mouth water like cognac or tomatoes. So next time you’re feeling like shaking it up in the kitchen throw on some Sinatra, pour a glass of wine, and bust out the big rolling pin for homemade ravioli.
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