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The cheat: fresh pasta

Whole, sliced or cut into rounds, sheets of fresh lasagne are the answer when you crave a fix of egg pasta but lack the time to prepare the dough.

Let's get this straight (or wiggly or tubular or whatever shape you prefer your pasta) - we have equal love for fresh and dried pasta. Neither is better than the other; they each have their place in the kitchen.

There's a lot to be said for the convenience of dried pasta - and it's often the best choice with robust sauces. Sometimes, though, the only thing that satisfies a pasta craving is the silky texture of fresh pasta. Although it's not difficult to make, it is time-consuming - all that kneading, resting, rolling and folding. Thank goodness, then, for the increasing availability of great commercially produced fresh pasta (although we recommend avoiding the mass-produced stuff, which can have a tough, thick texture).

There's everything from fettuccine to gnocchi, pillows of ravioli and half-moons of tortellini but, for our money, we love the versatility of fresh lasagne sheets. They can be cut into whatever shape you like - tear them into rough rags of stracci or slice into strands of angelhair. Cut out rounds or squares and stuff them with all manner of fillings or take those same fillings and roll them into cannelloni. And they make for a much quicker lasagne than dried sheets, so layer them with ragù and béchamel, or spinach and ricotta and a simple sugo. Who said midweek dining had to be boring?

Pine mushroom and silverbeet brodo with stracci
Serves 4
Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat, add 1 thinly sliced leek, 2 finely chopped garlic cloves and the finely grated rind of 1 lemon and sauté until tender (4-5 minutes). Add 1.5 litres chicken stock, 2 thyme sprigs and 1 fresh bay leaf, and simmer until well flavoured (10-12 minutes). Add 4 thickly sliced pine mushrooms and 1 cup torn silverbeet leaves and simmer until just tender (1-2 minutes). Blanch 200gm fresh lasagne sheets, torn or cut into rough pieces, in a saucepan of boiling salted water until al dente (2-3 minutes), add to soup, discard thyme and bay leaf, season to taste and serve hot scattered with extra thyme and chopped flat-leaf parsley.

Gnocco fritto with prosciutto and goat's curd
Serves 4 as a snack
Pound 1 tsp sea salt, ½ tsp thyme leaves, a few black peppercorns and the finely grated rind of 1/2 lemon using a mortar and pestle and set aside. Cut 200gm fresh lasagne sheets into rough 5cm-6cm squares. Preheat 3cm vegetable oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat and deep-fry pasta squares in batches, turning occasionally, until golden and crisp (3-4 minutes). Drain on paper towels, season with thyme and lemon salt and serve hot topped with thinly sliced prosciutto, a dollop of goat's curd and finely grated parmesan.

Crostoli with honey mascarpone
Serves 4
Cut 200gm fresh lasagne sheets into rough strips about 2cm x 8cm. Heat 2cm vegetable oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat and deep-fry pasta strips in batches, turning occasionally, until golden and crisp (2-3 minutes). Drain on paper towels, dust heavily with icing sugar and a pinch of ground cinnamon while still hot and serve alongside an espresso, or with a bowl of honey mascarpone (whisk 200gm mascarpone with 50gm honey, or to taste, and scraped seeds of 1 vanilla bean until smooth).

Spinach and ricotta tortellini
Serves 4
Blanch 1 bunch trimmed spinach until just wilted (30 seconds), drain, refresh, then drain well and squeeze out excess water. Process in a food processor with 300gm firm ricotta, 1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley, grated rind of 1 lemon, 1 chopped garlic clove and a pinch of nutmeg. Cut out 6cm-diameter rounds from 500gm fresh lasagne sheets, place 1 tsp of filling in the centre of each, brush edges with water and fold over to form a half-moon, pressing edges to seal. Cook in a saucepan of boiling salted water until they float (3-4 minutes), drain and serve with your favourite sauce (we like burnt butter and parmesan or light sugo).


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