Back in the 1970's when I was wee I didn't really know what 'pasta' was. Sure we had Macaroni from Marshalls and we always had a packet of Spaghetti in the cupboard, although I don't remember ever eating it. It was next to the tub of smelly Parmesan Cheese. We certainly never called it 'pasta'. It certainly wasn't 'fresh'. Anything more exotic was to be found in tins, especially a firm favourite of mine, Ravioli. It may have been thick and claggy, in a radioactive looking tomato sauce, but that was all I knew. At the same time, unbeknown to me, Fanny was on a mission to educate the good folks of 'this island' to the culinary delights that Italy could offer. She was such a fan she even wrote a whole book about it. But, did she really know her Rigatoni from her Tortellini or was it all 'Fanny-ised'?
The first recipe in the Pasta Partwork leaves me wondering if I'm honest. It's Ravioli, but not as I know it. Not even as I knew it. Maybe it's because I regularly make my own pasta, but this recipe is certainly not one that I am familiar with. I was almost tempted to switch things round a bit and use at least the ingredients I know. But I didn't - I've followed Fanny's advice and made my pasta from, deep breath, Self-Raising Flour and Butter. No eggs. It's like no pasta I have ever known.
Fanny starts by sifting the flour (I can still barely believe I am using Self-Raising instead of '00' but I'm going with it) with some salt and rubbing in butter until it's very fine. Then a small amount of cold water to bind it all together, mixed with a small knife. I know what you are thinking, I was thinking the same thing, but just when all we can think about is pastry Fanny says the next step is to knead the dough for 3 minutes. You don't knead pastry. But remember, this isn't pastry. This is so counterintuitive, but what the heck. As I knead, the dough really softens up and becomes very stretchy, even beginning to resemble pasta dough as I know it. Maybe Fanny is not as daft as she seems. Or maybe I'm easily fooled.
Following a wee rest for 30 minutes in the fridge, and a swift lie down for me, the dough is divided into two and rolled out very thinly into two sheets. I really wasn't sure if it would roll out thin enough with an ordinary rolling pin, but you what - it did. It rolled really well. Really well. Fanny suggests a familiar filling of Spinach and Ricotta Cheese, using freshly cooked spinach. Being Fanny of course she suggests piping it onto the 'pasta' sheets which are first brushed with beaten egg.
Fanny employs a very complicated system for ensuring neatness. She marks out a checkerboard of small squares on a sheet of greaseproof paper and places it over the pasta sheet, pricking the centre of each square with a skewer. When the greaseproof paper is removed it's easy to spot the dots and pipe 'blobs' of spinach and ricotta onto them. It's all very neat, and makes the next stage a little easier. The second sheet of 'pasta' is carefully placed on top, pressed down between the blobs of filling and then cut into neat squares of Ravioli. They sit happily in the fridge for another rest, and a cold flannel applied to the head for me, while a large pot of salted water boils for them. 'Pasta is no good in puddles' Fanny reminds us. Only a few minutes until they float to the surface and are ready. Fanny makes a Genoese Sauce - or Pesto - to go with it. Nothing Fanny-ish about this, just yummy. She uses a pestle and mortar to bash it all up, but I whizz it in my processor. The finished Ravioli are actually very good. A little thicker than normal, a little more puffed, a little more gloopy maybe but very tasty. Way better than those tins I remember, and using ingredients readily available at the time. It may all seem odd today, but Fanny was doing her best to get us all pasta-crazy. Mamma Mia it's bonkers, but strangely it works. Just like Fanny herself.