Eating With The Eyes

For the love of Italian Food (+ a recipe for Ravioli with Ricotta Cheese, Courgettes and Giant Red Shrimps)

Reading Time: 7 minutes

A pasta machine has been relegated to the bottom shelf of our kitchen cupboard for longer than I am prepared to admit due to the fact that neither of us have time to use it.

My husband and I are consumed daily by all that is required to run our own company and cooking often feels like a bothersome distraction. I do my best but I didn’t grow up with an enthusiasm for cooking. My family background was sadly lacking in this department unlike ‘La famiglia Rossi’, who unlike me, all learned to love food and cook together as children, under the watchful and somewhat critical eye of their highly talented Madre.

As a child I partook of largely unimaginatively prepared meals alone in front of the TV. It was the 70’s which saw the birth of the supermarket and convenience food. Mom would open a packet of a dried substance which became mashed potato with a quantity of hot water.

Reverence for eating home prepared meals and an appreciation of eating together as a family are things I have learned since marrying into my Italian family, who believe that ‘families who eat together stay together.’

I clearly remember a 70’s advert with aliens that thought that humans were hilarious beings because they peeled potatoes by hand when they could have made their lives easier. The caption was ‘With mash get smashed!’

My elder siblings, who all left home when I was quite small, were more fortunate because food additives were not as prevalent during the late 40’s and 50’s when they were children. Interestingly I am the only person in my family to have food allergies and allergic asthma.

Reverence for eating home prepared meals and an appreciation of eating together as a family are things I have learned since marrying into my Italian family, who believe that ‘families who eat together stay together.’

My inspirational sister-in-law is a Food Stylist and Photographer. She recently came to my rescue when I panned out. Rossella is married and lives in Rome. A Legal Secretary by day and food fiend by night, she loves to capture the beauty of cuisine on camera before it touches the palate. Rossella believes that a marriage between attractive presentation and culinary skill is a matter of good taste. As the Italians say, ‘Per far assaggiare la tua cucina devi farla mangiare prima con gli occhi’ which translated can be translated as ‘Before you allow them to taste the results of your labour in the kitchen first they should eat with their eyes.’

On a recent visit I asked her to inspire me. While she set out the ingredients to make sea food and courgette filled ravioli we chatted about our diverse experiences; “My grandparents hailed from a long line of chefs and catered for local weddings many years before wedding catering became a recognised profession. We’re talking about the late 19th and into the early 20th century. My parents owned one of the first electric flour mills in the 1960’s and my earliest childhood memories are of being awakened by the deep growl of mill engines – a sure sign that my Father was already hard at work in the basement. I would race downstairs before breakfast to bid him good morning, inhaling the pungent aroma of freshly milled flour as he worked.”

A fundamental staple of the Mediterranean diet is of course pasta and there is nothing quite like the home made variety. I lamented my lack of time and confidence in achieving great results. Rossella assured me that all I needed was patience and organisation – two things I lack.

“Every Sunday my Mother would miraculously throw together water, salt and flour to make fresh pasta. I will always remember the succulent smell of freshly made tomato sauce as I stood on a chair by her side.”

“I felt excited just watching her and impatient to knead the pasta dough between my tiny fingers. I loved ravioli in particular, which she would fill with all manner of ingredients; small dumplings called ‘gnocchi’, orecchiette and ferricelli. My Mother learned many original dishes that were created by her parents and grandparents but being crazy about food, my Mother also invented many recipes herself. To this day she remains quite secretive and reluctant to share certain recipes!”

A post shared by Rossella (@occhioallapentola) on

I asked Rossella how she fell in love with photographing her creations to share on instagram.

“In 2007 I bought my first camera. I was a student and money was tight. I couldn’t afford a photography class initially but I purchased several books meantime and slowly began to teach myself. Marrying an interest in photography and food didn’t occur to me immediately but a few years later I discovered the concept of ‘food styling’ by chance and was instantly hooked! I embarked upon a few initial photo shoots and played around with the most effective forms of dish presentation within a framed image. Food styling is concerned with transforming a simple culinary concept into a work of art.. a designer dish if you will.”

As a dedicated foodie with chef inspired genes, Rossella found cooking for family and friends fuelled her creative interest. She enthused about the sanctity of the kitchen space.

“My kitchen is my temple. It’s where I am most relaxed and free to let my imagination run wild. My Mother is my muse but I find ideas everywhere and spend hours trawling through both antique and modern recipe books. Over the years I have gathered a fascinating catalogue which reflects pride in my southern Italian roots.”

I confessed how drained I become after a long day writing in front of the computer and how relieved I usually am if it’s my husband’s turn to prepare dinner. In stark contrast Rossella feels positively energised by creating dishes to photograph; “It’s the only time I have available to do something entirely for me. When I get home from a long and stressful day at the office I look forward to finding something new to try. Food styling helps me to unwind.”

I love the vibrancy and colour of Rossella’s photos. Her parents are very proud of their daughter’s website. Since she created her instagram account @occhioallapentola (which roughly translated means ‘look what’s cooking’) and has already attracted over 4,000 followers.

Each shoot on Rosella’s Instagram feed is lovingly prepared and presented in the most attractive way possible in order to stimulate the imagination and desire of those who will hopefully be encouraged to dish out a little magic in their own kitchens.

“It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a lot of space.” she encouraged enthusiastically, whilst wringing out the pasta dough through the gritted teeth of what I always think of as a kind of old fashioned mangle.

Here is the very simple sea food ravioli recipe that Rossella prepared. I hope you enjoy!

Ravioli with ricotta cheese, courgettes and giant red shrimps

INGREDIENTS

Pasta

  • 200g white durum wheat pasta flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • A small bowl of warm water

Filling

  • 150 g ricotta cheese
  • 5 giant red shrimps
  • a little finely chopped parsley
  • ½ tsp parmesan cheese
  • 2 grated courgettes
  • black pepper and salt to taste

Fish or Vegetable Stock

  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 shallot
  • 1 carrot
  • 2 tomatoes
  • parsley
  • giant red shrimp heads

Method

  • Weigh the flour and pour it onto a surface in a pile. Then using your fingers, make a hole in the centre and add 1 egg, ½ teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon olive oil and a small quantity of warm water.
  • Using a fork or your fingertips, gradually start pushing the flour into the pool of egg. Keep adding flour until you have a single mass.
  • Begin kneading to obtain a smooth ball of dough and then cover with a plate and leave to rest for 30 minutes.

  • In the meantime place vegetables and previously well cleaned giant red shrimp heads with a tablespoon of olive oil and cold water in a small pot. Bring to the boil and after 30 minutes filter the fish stock.
  • Place two pans over a medium heat, add the olive oil and cook the giant red shrimps and grated courgettes separately.

  • Mix the ricotta cheese in a bowl, add chopped parsley, parmesan cheese, a pinch of black pepper, grated courgettes and giant red shrimps.
  • Then, turn to your pasta maker! (“Yes Diane, don’t be frightened.. it’s teeth won’t bite you!”)
  • Supporting the exiting end with the flat of your hand, send the dough through the first setting until it passes through without resistance. Pass the dough through the rollers more than once and finally turn the pasta maker to the thinner setting (typically second to last setting on the roller).
  • When the dough becomes thinner and longer, lay it on a lightly floured surface and cut into little squares measuring the same size. Place a small amount of filling on each square using a teaspoon.

  • Wet the edge of each square dough with egg yolk and join them so they meet in the centre.
  • When the water is boiling, gently slide the ravioli into the pan. Boil for a few minutes in salted water.
  • Transfer 4 or 5 ravioli to each plate, add the fish stock, a spring of parsley, a ratatouille of carrots and courgettes and decorate with   edible flowers.
  • Buon appetito!
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7 Comments

  • How inspirational! This makes me feel like getting in the kitchen and cooking up some delicious dishes!

  • The recipe sounds exquisite! I think I’ll have a go this weekend! It’s true we are severely lacking in culinary skills and interest in England but I think the interest is increasing due to social media accounts like Rossella’s. Any more recipes???

    • Thanks a lot Zane! I hope I’ll be an insipiration for you. Some recipe are really simple and i’m at your disposal for anything.

  • Thanks Zane:-) I’m not sure there is a severe lack of interest in cooking in England. Sales of recipe books and interest in TV cookery programmes is consistently high.

    I think Italian cuisine is wonderful if it’s made with authentic ingredients and by someone who really knows their (food) stuff… Rossella is incredible and I love her photography. I’m so happy that you feel inspired!

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