Homemade Ravioli

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The month of August is here! Well…it’s been here for awhile actually. I’ve been meaning to sit down to write this blog post for sometime now but with our garden churning out tomatoes on the daily, we have been in full sauce making mode here at Villa Mazzotta.

Also, with September just around the corner, this is our month to prep meals for the freezer which saves us LOADS of time once school and fall sports are back in session.

One of my most favorite Italian meals to prep and freeze is our homemade ravioli. And these aren’t just ANY ravioli. My father-in-law used to make these at his Italian restaurant and they were famous!

At most Italian restaurants when you order the ravioli, you end up with 4-5 little pockets with nice neat edges cut with a fancy ravioli cutter. Sure they look pretty, but do they taste good? Do they actually fill you up? Usually the answer is no.

My father-in-law’s ravioli are HUGE and the taste? Well…just ask my picky little children. They devour these like I’ve never seen!

The recipe may seem a little unorthodox, but this is how my in-laws cook. When you’re Italian, there is no set measurements, you just know. LOL.

Pasta Recipe:

  • Flour (no set amount, you just keep adding until the liquid is absorbed)
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 dry measuring cup of milk
  • 1 dry measuring cup of warm water

Meat Filling:

  • ~1 pound of mixed Italian ground (beef, pork, veal)
  • 1 can of peeled Italian whole tomatoes
  • 1/2 of a yellow onion finely diced
  • Salt, pepper, and dried basil to taste

 

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Step 1: 

Brown meat in a frying pan. Drain fat (only if there seems to be an excess amount). Set aside.

 

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Step 2: 

Finely dice 1/2 a yellow onion. The smaller, the better.

 

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Step 3:

Heat approximately 1 1/2 Tbsp of olive oil in a sauce pan over medium heat. Add onion and cook for about 5 minutes or until very light brown.

 

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Step 4:

Add the meat to the sauce pan with onions. Add one can of peeled plum tomatoes to the mixture. This is the brand of tomatoes we prefer. We like to save our homegrown garden tomatoes for the sauce.

 

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Step 5:

Squish tomatoes with your hand and mix into meat mixture. Add salt, pepper and dried basil to taste. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook it down until most of the water is gone and the mixture seems dry. Set aside to cool.

 

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Step 6: Making the Pasta

Pour approximately 4-5 cups of flour in a bowl or directly on the counter. The reason I don’t use a bowl is because this is how my in-laws taught me so why mess with the process right? It’s also much easier to knead the dough with your hands when it’s not in a bowl.

Add 4 eggs and mix with hands.

Add 1 dry measuring cup of milk and continue mixing. If the dough seems really wet, add more flour.

Add 1 dry measuring cup of warm water and continue mixing.

Add more flour as needed, add more water as needed.

*Side note: If you have a stand mixer, you can do this step in the mixer using the dough attachment. I’ve done it both ways, by hand and with the mixer. Either way is fine.

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Step 7:

Once dough is thoroughly kneaded,  cut into 3-4 separate balls and cover with plastic wrap. Let sit on the counter for about 30 minutes.

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Step 8:

Roll out the pasta dough. If you have a pasta attachment for your stand mixer you can use that. However, I believe the old school hand rolled method yields much better results.

Instead of a rolling pin, I use a sawed off piece of broom handle. Weird, I know. When my in-laws showed me this method I thought it was a bit odd, but honestly, using a thin rolling pin (or broom handle in this case) gives you more control over the dough and allows you to roll  it out thinner, bigger and flip it over as necessary.

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Step 9:

Add the meat filling. I like to use a cookie scoop to make it a little cleaner, but you can use a spoon as well. Space the filling about 2 inches apart and leave about 3-4 inches of dough clear on the left side.

Before proceeding to the next step, take a wet piece of folded up paper towel and lightly wet the edges in a square shape around the meat filling.

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Step 10:

Fold dough over filling from left to right. Press down dough around filling making sure to get all the air out before sealing. Cut along edge with pizza cutter or knife.

Repeat the process until all meat filling and dough has been used.

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Step 11:

Before cooking, make sure all sides of ravioli are sealed tightly.

Bring large pot of water to a roaring boil. Once water is boiling, add ravioli about 5-6 at a time. Boil until ravioli float. When they float, they are done.

Spoon into large bowl full of cold water and let sit for a few minutes. I keep the bowl in my sink because in between batches you will need to refill it with cold water.

After letting the ravioli sit in the cold water, strain and serve with delicious tomato sauce.

*Freezing Instructions–  After straining, place ravioli in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Parchment paper can be placed on top and another layer of ravioli added to the cookie sheet. Freeze until frozen solid then store in a freezer bag. When cooking frozen ravioli, add to pot of boiling water until ravioli float. Strain and add tomato sauce.

*If any ravioli break open during boiling, set aside and eat right away or freeze separately. When cooking broken ravioli which was frozen, do not boil. Defrost in microwave until piping hot.

Fried Zucchini Blossoms

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Ooooooooh, it’s that time of year! The garden is in full bloom and so are the zucchini blossoms.

I had no idea you could eat these until one fateful night 10 years ago on our honeymoon.

We arrived in southern Italy late at night. We were jet lagged and starving. We were spending the first part of our honeymoon with my husband’s family for a few days and his zio had whipped up a simple yet FABULOUS meal!

Seriously, this was probably one of the best meals I have ever eaten in my 39 years on this planet!

One of the items on our plate included what the Calabrese call bee-tuh-lee-dee. I have absolutely no idea how you spell that in Italian because my husband’s family speaks a dialect. But what I DO know is that these taste DELICIOUS!

The following summer, we had some of these growing in our garden and I asked my mother-in-law if she would show me how to make them. I couldn’t believe how simple it was!

If you look up fried zucchini blossoms, most recipes you find are usually stuffed with ricotta, or some other cheese. We are not big cheese fans in our house so this recipe works great for us!

I know what you’re thinking. An Italian house that doesn’t eat cheese?!?! I know, I know, it’s practically sacrilegious. We do however eat mozzarella on our pizza, so we aren’t THAT bad.

We use these as an appetizer, or as part of a nice summer lunch. They are super easy to make and don’t take a lot of time. You also do not need to just use zucchini blossoms. We use the flowers from our squash and pumpkins as well. They are all basically in the same family and all produce the same type of edible flower.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup of flour
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • 1 egg
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • a touch of oregano

*makes approximately 4-5 flowers

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Step 1:

Pick flowers during the morning hours while it is cooler and they are open. You can store them in the fridge until ready to use. When ready to use, remove leaves and stems and thoroughly rinse under cool water.

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Step 2: 

In a bowl mix together flour, egg, water, and salt, pepper and oregano to taste. The thicker the mixture, the thicker your cooked flowers will be.

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Step 3:

Add zucchini blossoms to mixture. Gently coat all sides using a spoon, taking care not to tear the flowers.

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Step 4:

Fill a frying pan with about 1/2 an inch of canola oil. Raise heat to medium temperature. Drop battered flowers into the hot oil one at a time. Try to keep them as flat as possible. Fry them on each side for about 2-3 minutes or until they are golden brown. Remove from frying pan and place on a plate covered with paper towel to help absorb the excess oil.

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MANGIAMO! I paired mine with a freshly picked garden salad and some classic patate fritte (fried potatoes) which I also picked from my garden. Oh, and don’t forget the glass of wine!

Buon appetito!

Butternut Squash Gnocchi

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Several years ago, we were cleaning out our garage and I came across some butternut squash seeds that my mother had given to me. They were pretty old and I wasn’t sure they would produce anything so I just chucked them in a pile of dirt by our driveway in a “discard pile” that was going to be excavated that fall.

Well, I’m not quite sure what exactly was in that pile of dirt, but whatever it was made those butternut squash grow like crazy! It was like the magic beans from Jack and The Beanstalk and before we knew it, we had butternut squash growing EVERYWHERE!

Before the seed tossing episode (as we now refer to it as) we never ate much butternut squash. Now that we had an abundance of it, we were on the search for some new and interesting recipes.

We roasted it with other veggies, made soups and stews and froze some for later use. Still, we had sooooooo much. Then I remembered, my husband’s aunt once made pumpkin gnocchi in her Italian restaurant. Since squash and pumpkins are basically the same thing, I figured I would give it a try. After all, we are BIG gnocchi lovers in this family!

This recipe is an adaptation of my Italian mother-in-law’s recipe for traditional potato gnocchi (thanks Rose!) You’ll notice that it does not contain exact measurements of ingredients. Why is that you ask? Well, that’s how the Italians cook. They don’t follow “recipes.” They simply keep adding the ingredients to a dish until the spirits of their ancestors whisper, “that’s enough my child.”

All joking aside, that is how I learned to cook from my mother-in-law. This recipe relies more on feeling than it does exact measurements of ingredients. One time I asked my mother-in-law, “well how do you know how much you need.” Her response (in a very thick Italian accent) “Kristen, you just know.”

Keep in mind, this recipe takes quite a bit of time to prepare so make sure you have blocked out enough time in your day. Trust me, the final product is totally worth the time and effort it takes!

Ingredients:

  • 1 large butternut squash
  • 1 egg yolk
  • salt
  • flour

Step 1:

Preheat the over to 400 degrees. Peel and slice the squash in half. Remove the seeds.

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Step 2

Cut up the squash into small pieces and place on a baking sheet. Toss with a Tbsp of olive oil and lightly sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake in oven at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes until lightly golden brown.

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Step 3:

When the squash has cooled, put it into a stand mixer or a large bowl if you don’t have a mixer. Use the mixer (or your hands) to blend the squash into a mashed potato type consistency.

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Step 4:

Now this is the part where you have to rely on feeling. If you prefer your gnocchi to be a bit on the firm side, you are going to add the rest of the ingredients while the squash is still a little warm. If you prefer a softer more chewy gnocchi, you will need to put the squash in the refrigerator for several hours until it is cold.

The warmer the dough, the more flour it will hold. Colder dough takes less flour. It just boils down to basic Italian chemistry.

Once you have decided on how you’d like your gnocchi, you are going to dump the squash straight onto a clean counter top. Why not mix all the ingredients in a bowl you ask? Well, because Rose said so that’s why. And when it comes to cooking the Italian way, you always, ALWAYS listen to Rose.

Add the egg yolk to the squash and mix in about 1/2 tsp of salt. Then you are slowly going to start adding the flour. Doubling the dough over and adding flour as you go. Keep kneading and folding the dough with your hands while continuously adding flour until the dough is no longer sticky.

 

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Step 5:

Once the dough is at the consistency you want, cut the dough into several smaller pieces and roll out. For a more firm consistency, the dough should feel similar to play-dough. For softer gnocchi, it should feel a touch softer than play-dough but not as soft as cookie dough.

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Step 6: Cut the rolled out dough into 1/2 to 3/4 inch pieces.

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Step 7:

After the dough is cut into pieces, you can use the bottom of a basket or the backside of a folk to made the design on the gnocchi. This little fancy schmancy contraption is a small gnocchi roller my mother-in-law gave to me but you can use whatever works best for you.

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Step 8:

If you plan on cooking all of the gnocchi the same day you prepare it, you can skip this next step. However, this recipe does make quite a bit so you may want to freeze it.

To freeze, take individual gnocchi and place them on a baking sheet, close together but not touching, in a single layer. Put them in the freezer for 1-2 hours. Once frozen, you can then scrape them off of the cookie sheet using a spatula and store them in a freezer bag in the freezer.

To cook, bring a pot of water with added salt to a boil. Once the water is boiling, add the gnocchi. When they begin to float, they are ready. Easy peasy. Strain the gnocchi and set aside.

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Step 9:

Now if these were traditional potato gnocchi, I would add some tomato sauce to them and BAM you have yourself a tasty pasta meal. However with these gnocchi, we like to prepare them in a sage butter sauce and serve them as a side dish.

While your gnocchi are straining, add 1 1/2 Tbsp of butter to a frying pan. Once the butter has melted add the gnocchi and sprinkle with salt and pepper and ground sage. Cook until the gnocchi is just beginning to brown on the sides. It’s the perfect combo of crispy on the outside and soft and flavorful on the inside.

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For this meal, my husband cooked up some nice pieces of steak filet with a red wine mushroom sauce, the butternut squash gnocchi, and a fresh organic salad right from our garden. Top it with a nice glass of Merlot and Buon Appetito! Happy cooking my friends!

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The Beginning

Hello my friends! I hope you enjoyed our garden tour from my last post. Everything we have done so far has taken a LONG time and definitely was not something that happened overnight. Which is why I thought I’d take you all on a little trip back to the beginning of where this all started.

For those of you who are just beginning your own homesteading journey, we were once there too! A lot of blood, sweat and tears have gone into building what we have today. And when I say tears, I mean A LOT of tears! Especially mine 🙂

Just remember, it’s a marathon not a sprint.

The house we live in, our homestead (or as we lovingly refer to it – Villa Mazzotta) was not supposed to be our forever home. This is the house where my husband and his brothers grew up. It has a great history and some awesome memories. But, it wasn’t our dream home.

Ten years later, we never thought we would still be here raising our children, chickens, bees, bunny, tending to our garden and harvesting maple syrup. But…here we are, and we aren’t leaving anytime soon 🙂

The backstory of this house is somewhat of a novel, but long story short, we “officially” bought this place not long after we were married. Our original plan was to only live here five years, make some minor renovations and then sell it when we found our forever home.

Well, one renovation turned into another, which turned into another, and so on and so on. It was about 30 years old when we bought it and it needed quite a bit of updating.

Here is a little slide show giving you an idea of what we began with. Some of these pictures were taken when we had already begun the renovations such as new windows and the shed, but it’s pretty close to what we started with.

 

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As you can see, it needed a lot of work! We slowly chipped away at things. First a master bath expansion, then a new furnace, central AC and shed. In the meantime we looked at properties and couldn’t find anything we liked.

We found big beautiful homes with brand spanking new everything but….the yard was awful, or it was way too close to the neighbors. So then we began replacing windows, doors, moldings, garage doors, and some landscaping, all while continuing our property search.

We found BEAUTIFUL yards with gorgeous pools, but the interior decor was totally not our taste and needed a complete upgrade. We looked, and we looked, and we looked but something was holding us back. So then we made a big decision. What if we stayed? What if we kept doing the upgrades and made this house our home?

It wasn’t the biggest home in the neighborhood. So what? It didn’t have the big cathedral ceilings and the in-ground pool. OK. But you know what it did have? Land. Seclusion. Privacy. Silence and beauty. Check out this picture I took at the bottom of our driveway! No filters, no editing, just 100% raw beauty!

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Once we made the choice to stay put, we made another big decision. The patio!

Ahhhh yes! our pride and joy (aside from our children of course)! We are so happy we did this project. May through October we pretty much live out here! The features of our outdoor space include:

  • Built in grill
  • Side burners
  • Outdoor fridge
  • Storage
  • Bar seating
  • Wood fired pizza oven
  • Fire pit with seating area
  • Built in lights

Below are some of the pictures from the project. The stairs and side retaining wall were built in the fall of 2016, and the main patio/ kitchen was built in the spring of 2017.

 

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After completing the patio, we moved on to some other exterior projects.

  • New Hardie Board siding
  • All new gutters
  • New front doors

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In the spring of 2019, our next project was to redo the small patio on the side of our house and connect it to the main patio. We also decided to purchase a hot tub and thought this was the perfect spot for it as it has easy access to indoors for those colder months.

 

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Now, I bet you are wondering what that hideous mess of a garden is doing in the background of some of our pictures when we have a big beautiful brand new garden sitting up on top of our hill.

Well, that’s the old garden. The one we began many, many years ago. The one I refused to step foot in because it was such a flaming hot dumpster fire.

When we first began, my husband revived the old garden which once belonged to his parents. It wasn’t pretty, but it was functional. He planted straight in the ground and it produced a decent amount of vegetables.

At one point, my husband decided to build some raised beds to attempt to cut down on the weeds and to clean things up a bit. He built 6 cedar boxes himself and now with it much cleaner, I began to take an active role in gardening.

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Luckily, this hot mess will soon be history! Now that our new garden is in place and is in full use, this one will be torn down (as soon as the peas we planted in here are finished) to make way for an in-ground pool! We are hoping to complete that project sometime between 2021/2022.

Our new garden project began back in the fall of 2017. My dad and husband took down somewhere around 30 trees and we spent the following year cutting, moving and splitting the wood. In the fall 2018, we hired a company to move any additional logs, and to excavate the land.

In the spring of 2019, we hired a local fence company to build the fence and we spent the following year painting the posts, building 10 cedar boxes, adding chickens, building a new chicken coop, transplanting some fruit trees, and adding a beehive.

Here are some pictures of what the new garden looked like before.

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So there you have it. See, I told you it was a lot of work! But…it was totally worth it! We live on 10 beautiful, secluded acres on a dirt road. We have fantastic seasonal water views and we have been able to get the most out of what our land can provide us.

As far as we have come, there is always more to do! Some upcoming projects include:

  • New roof with solar shingles
  • Renovate the guest room
  • 2 new windows and sliding glass door in basement
  • Full basement renovation
  • New driveway
  • Fixing up our front stone wall and adding pillars and lighting
  • New front pathway with new landscaping and lighting
  • Taking down a few more trees (which pose a threat during storms)
  • Building a tree house for our kids
  • In-ground pool
  • Baseball batting cage
  • Creating hiking trails through our woods
  • Creating our Christmas Tree “farm” and planting the trees

One day we will finally be done and can sit  back and relax 🙂

My First Blog Post!

So, I began this blog a little over a year ago with every intention of sitting down to post, share, upload etc. However, being a full time working mom, with a 2 hour round trip commute each day, a mini photography business to run, and a homestead to tend to, I got a little busy and this whole blog idea was put on the back burner for awhile.

You know when life gets in the way and you are just running from day to day on auto pilot? You’re not exactly sure what day it is, and your blood consists of 93% coffee?

Yeah. That was me.

But my friends, here we are. June 6, 2020. Still in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, in the state of NY where I live, we have been in lock down for 86 days now. You’d think in those 86 days I would’ve managed to type something, ANYTHING related to our homesteading journey for this blog but….nope.

Like many of you, these past 86 days have been spent working from home, being my children’s personal assistant, housekeeper, nurse, hairdresser, personal trainer, and waitress, all while trying to run our homestead. Is anyone else as exhausted as I am? And while I’m at it, why do these kids eat so much? Like. All. Day. Long.

Anyway, here we are. Day 86 and I have written my first blog post. Go me!

The first thing I’d like to share with you all is our brand spanking new garden! It’s what we have been working on most this spring and we love it like it is our third child.

Our Italian Garden 2.0 is approximately 4,000 square feet and includes:

10 cedar raised beds, a mini orchard with 8 fruit trees, a chicken coop with 9 chickens,  and a bee hive. We had a fence company build the fence 2 years ago and after last fall when a raccoon climbed the fence and stole one of our chickens, we have since added on extra security with an electric fence attached to the wood posts.

I had my children provide the tour for your entertainment. Enjoy!

Welcome!

This is the story of our little Italian family living on 10 acres in downstate New York. Follow us in our adventures as we run our very large organic garden, make our own maple syrup, tend to our egg laying chickens, and raise our 2 free range children.

If you are looking to live a more simple, sustainable and organic life, we can help. This blog contains our tips and tricks, our triumphs and failures plus a whole lot of laughs! Thanks for joining us!