Anna Cowart fell in love on her honeymoon. Rather, she fell in love with making pasta. Cowart, who grew up in Bay Minette and Spanish Fort, had never been to Europe but dreamed of traveling to Italy. When she and her husband, Michael, got married in January, they decided to wait until summer so they could enjoy perfect weather during their two-week honeymoon through Rome, Tuscany, Florence and Lake Como. The entire trip, Cowart says, “felt like a food tour.”
The couple enjoyed pasta in Rome that contained “a waterfall of truffle,” drank wine at vineyards and sampled the spicy kick that comes from pure extra virgin olive oil in Tuscany. The food and wine-loving couple found themselves entranced with the cuisine and the rolling hills of Italian wine country. The trip culminated in a pasta-making class in Florence where she and Michael learned to make homemade pasta, rolling out dough and shaping it, employing the use of olive oil and fresh produce to create a delectable three-course meal. There, they learned to make panzanella, Bolognese, and ravioli, followed by panna cotta for dessert. The couple relished the process of cooking and eating the result of their efforts.
Upon returning home, Cowart, a speech and language pathologist at Springhill Medical Center, furthered her knowledge of food and wine as a pastime, earning her sommelier certificate and perfecting her recipes. She posted photos of the dishes she prepared, along with her recipes on Instagram with no real expectation of anything beyond a few likes. The posts instantly drew attention, and family and friends started asking Cowart to host wine dinners for them. “When I started The Cowart Kitchen on Instagram,” she says, “I had no intention of turning it into a business. I’m thinking, ‘wow, people want to pay me to feed them and talk about wine?’ The whole purpose of The Cowart Kitchen fully came to light.”
Now, she hosts wine dinners for clients in their own homes, creating fresh food and accompanying it with carefully selected wine pairings.
An appreciation of food and wine has always been in Cowart’s blood. Her family taught her how to make a roux at an early age; she has always delighted in helping in the kitchen. Her grandfather has a fondness for cooking and has amassed a large folio of recipes, while her father boasts an impressive wine collection. “I have been known to steal a few bottles when I’m there for a visit. Sorry, mom and dad,” she laughs.
In fact, she and Michael met on a blind date over two bottles of wine and a cheeseboard shared at Red and White in Mobile. The weather was bad, and the power went out in downtown Mobile, so the pair ended up taking shelter at the restaurant. She describes it as love at first sight.
“I knew I was in love,” she says dramatically.
Now the couple lives in Ravine Woods in a home that they have completely renovated over the last year. She served as the contractor for the project, bringing new life to a structure that had not been updated since the 1960s. They converted the drab wood kitchen into a bright white, inviting space with modern appliances.
Cowart’s evolution in the kitchen hasn’t always gone perfectly, and she is not afraid to improvise when needed. She had a failed attempt at growing her own herb garden. “It just didn’t work out,” she says. “It all died when we didn’t get rain for six straight weeks. Everyone thinks they can grow an herb garden, but it is so much work.” And, while she always prepares dishes from scratch for The Cowart Kitchen — “fresh pasta is softer and more natural” — at home, she sometimes substitutes refrigerated pasta from Fresh Market after a busy day at the hospital. She was also able to find a creative second use for her wine bottles, using them to roll out her pasta when she discovered she didn’t have a rolling pin.
“My biggest tip,” she says when asked how to manage cooking for a large group, “is to relax and enjoy the process. Drink wine while you cook! Most recipes are never required to be exact. Substitute and make changes however you want to.”
Cowart has found a great sense of purpose in Cowart Kitchen and in growing her business. Her approach to serving a crowd is a lesson to any home cook navigating holiday entertaining. “The most important thing to keep in mind is that everyone seated at the table is there to have fun and fun is contagious,” she explains. “If I’m relaxed and having fun, I set the stage for an enjoyable experience. Thankfully, this is truly my passion, and I’m in my element when I’m serving these dinners.”
“It’s a little time-consuming to make your own pasta but it’s really rewarding, especially if you do it with your spouse or kids for a fun night together in the kitchen. And it tastes so much better than the boxed stuff!”
2 cups all-purpose flour
1⁄2 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1. Add the flour to a medium bowl and create a small well in the center. Crack the eggs into the flour and use a fork to break them up. Add the olive oil and mix with the fork until almost combined.
2. Dust your countertop with flour. Turn the dough out on to the floured surface and use your hands to form it into a ball. At this point it should feel like playdough. If it’s too wet and sticky add more flour. If it’s hard and crumbly, and having trouble staying in a ball, add 1/2 teaspoon of olive oil.
3. Using the heel of your palm of your dominant hand, press and stretch the dough away from you. It helps to use the fingertips of your other hand to hold the end of the dough closest to you in place. Once stretched, roll the far end of the dough back towards you. Flip the dough over so the bottom seam is on top and rotate 90 degrees so the dough is now vertical. Repeat the kneading process: press and stretch, roll, face seam upwards and rotate. Do this until you can press your fingertip into the roll and
it bounces back without leaving
a deep indentation.
4. Tightly wrap the ball of dough with plastic wrap and allow it to rest for 30 minutes. Use this time to work on your sauces or fillings. Once the dough has rested, unwrap and cut into 4 equal pieces. Working one piece at a time, use a rolling pin to flatten the dough. Then flour your pasta maker and place the end of the dough into the roller set on the widest setting. Roll out your dough, being careful not to let the dough fold over itself underneath the roller (use your left hand to gently stretch it away from the pasta maker as you use your right hand to crank). Continue this process, decreasing the width setting each time, until desired thickness is achieved.
Fettuccine and Linguine
Once you have a long flat piece of dough, crank the dough through the noodle roller accessory and then use your finger to toss the noodles in a little flour before setting to the side. This gives them a nice shape and prevents sticking. You may want to cut the long, flat piece of dough in half prior to running it through the noodle roller in order to more easily handle it. Boil the pasta in salted water for about 3 minutes.
Use a cutter to form your shape, or invert a small bowl on the dough and cut around the edge using a sharp knife. Take a small amount of filling, being careful not to overfill, and place in the center of the dough round. Dip your finger in some water and run it around the edge of half of the dough round. Fold the dough in half, covering the filling, and pinch the dough to seal. Set aside on a floured board or work surface until you have made all the ravioli. Boil the pasta in salted water for about 3 minutes.
Follow instructions for ravioli up until cooking, being extra careful not to overfill the pasta. Then take the two corners and bring them together, using just a tiny touch of extra water to seal the ends together. Set aside on a floured board or work surface until you have made all the tortellini. Boil the pasta in salted water for about 3 minutes.
For the best result, make the pasta the same day you wish to eat it. However, you can make the dough and store the plastic wrapped ball in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. Formed and finished pasta should be tossed in extra flour and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 or 2 days.
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup yellow onion, diced
1 cup carrot, diced
1 cup celery, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
salt and pepper, to taste
3⁄4 cup dry red wine
1 pound ground beef
1 28-ounce can puréed tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1⁄3 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon dried basil
2 bay leaves
4 cups cooked linguini pasta
1. Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan. Add onion, carrot, celery, garlic and a pinch of salt and pepper. Let cook for about 7 minutes, or until the onion is translucent and the carrot and celery are starting to soften. Add red wine and use a spoon to scrape any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Let simmer for about 5 minutes, allowing it to just slightly thicken. Add ground beef and season with more salt and pepper. Once the meat is browned and almost cooked through, add the pureed tomatoes, tomato paste, milk, basil and bay leaves. Stir to fully combine. Cover and let simmer for at least 20 minutes. Taste and season with more salt and pepper, if needed.
2. Arrange cooked linguini pasta on serving dishes. Top with sauce and serve.
Ricotta & Herb Tortellini with Crispy Prosciutto
2 cup ricotta cheese
2 cups freshly grated Parmesan
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, minced
1 tablespoon fresh basil, minced
1 tablespoon fresh oregano, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1⁄2 – 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, to taste
prepared pasta dough
1 3-ounce package sliced prosciutto
2 tablespoons truffle oil
2 tablespoons lemon zest
Chopped fresh basil, parmesan shavings and fresh cracked pepper, for garnish
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a small bowl, combine all ingredients up to red pepper flakes. Follow tortellini instructions on page 26 to form and cook pasta. Then set uncooked tortellini aside.
2. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Separate each slice of prosciutto and curl up to form a small nest. Place on prepared pan and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and set each prosciutto nest on a paper towel to remove excess fat.
3. Arrange prepared and boiled tortellini on serving dishes. Top each serving with the pieces of prosciutto. Drizzle with truffle oil, a pinch of lemon zest, fresh Parmesan shavings, and a pinch of fresh cracked pepper.
Lobster Ravioli with Saffron Cream Sauce
4 lobster tails
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 cups ricotta cheese
1 cup freshly grated asiago cheese
4 teaspoons lemon zest
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 teaspoon pepper
prepared pasta dough
4 tablespoons butter
2 shallots, thinly sliced
2 cups dry white wine
4 cups heavy cream
large pinch of saffron
juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon salt
1⁄2 teaspoon pepper
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and add lobster tails. Cook for 1 minute per ounce. Remove and set aside to cool.
2. In a large mixing bowl, add garlic, ricotta, Asiago, lemon zest, salt and pepper. Stir to mix well.
3. Set one lobster tail on a cutting board and then use a large, sharp knife to cut down the center of the shell. Reach in and pull out all the meat. Roughly chop the lobster meat and add to the filling, mixing well. Follow ravioli instructions on page 26 to form and cook pasta.
4. Melt butter in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add shallot and cook until translucent and soft, about 5 minutes. Pour in wine and use a spatula to scrape any bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Let simmer for about 5 minutes, then add heavy cream, saffron, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Return to a low simmer for another 7-10 minutes, until the sauce is slightly thick and creamy.
5. Arrange prepared and boiled ravioli on serving dishes. Top with sauce and serve.
Pairing Wine With Pasta
with Mobile’s Anna Cowart
Beef Bolognese with Les Gentilhommes, Macon-Peronne, France 2020
This wine is a Tuscan blend, also known as “Super Tuscans.” They typically contain a combination of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and some others. This particular wine contains mostly Montepulciano (cousin of Sangiovese), Cabernet Sauvignon, and Sangiovese. The high acidity of the Sangiovese, as well as the Montepulciano in this case, can stand up to the acidic tomato base, while the Cabernet compliments the beef that is in the sauce. Other great pairings: Chianti Classico, Primitivo or Pinot Noir.
Ricotta and herb tortellini with Paitin di Pasquero-Elia, ‘Serra,’ Barbera d’Alba, Piedmont, Italy 2020
This wine light, acidic and fruity. It is perfect for salty meats and cheeses, as it works as a palate cleanser between bites and the acidity brightens the flavors of the food. You will find red fruit aromas, like cherry and raspberry, and soft tannins. It’s an easy drinker and will pair well with a variety of foods. Other great pairings: Sangiovese, sparkling wine or Sauvignon Blanc.
Lobster ravioli with Les Gentilhommes, Macon-Peronne, France 2020
This white Burgundy, also known as Bourgogne, is top tier in the world of Chardonnay. The Chardonnay grape varietal, which is grown all over the world, originated from the Burgundy wine region in France. Even if you don’t love a Californian Chardonnay, give the French a try. Chardonnay is very malleable to wine-making practices and regions, and no two producers will give you the same experience. I enjoy this pairing for lobster ravioli because the minerality of the wine suits the natural sweetness of the lobster. Hints of honey and apple compliment the decadent ravioli. Other great pairings: Gruner Vetliner or Pinot Grigo.