Friday, July 1, 2011

Ravioli a la casa


1.5 cups flour
2 eggs
1 table spoon milk
1 cup Genovese basil
1 cup Ricotta cheese
¼ cup Parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic

It’s a holiday weekend here and I dream of Italy. The work week has been stressful and I am not yet ready to go for my weekly grocery shopping trip to restock my supplies. So making ravioli and filling them with whatever is left seems like a good idea, as does the thought of making something my hand, kneading and rolling and letting my thoughts wander.

To save myself the trouble of having to clean the kitchen counter several times, I have developed a somewhat odd technique. Of course starting with the traditional mount of flour, topping it with eggs and gently producing a dough as smooth as baby skin is a nice idea in theory, but the result of it in practice is sticky dough everywhere (and it does not come off easily...). So instead, I pour the flour, milk and eggs into a bowl and mix it in there, first using a fork to fold more and more of the flour into the eggs, and then my hands. There seems to be a lot of disagreement over how much flour is needed to go with two eggs, and to me what has been working best is to start with one coup and have a second coup of flour ready, and then to use as much of that until the dough has reached the perfect consistency, smooth but still moist. Also I found it useful in the later stages of the pasta making process to have flour directly at hand.

Oh, the sheer physical pleasure of working the dough with my hands, the repetitive movements of kneading and folding, bringing peace to the mind and the body alike. But it doesn’t last long, after five to ten minutes, the dough has to be stored and let to rest for another fifteen minutes. Sometimes it is recommended to use foil, but I found putting it in a plastic storage container more practical - I just make sure to properly close it so the dough doesn’t dry out.

In the next step of ravioli making, designing the filling, only your imagination and the contents of your fridge limit your creativity. From simply using up that last piece of cheese or handful of spinach, to playing around with new combinations of flavors to create a never ending list of new experimental flavors - the world is your ravioli. Today, my goal is to clear out some stuff in the fridge to make room, so I spend a minute taking stock of what’s there and how it might turn out together. Thanks to my Aerogarden, I have a near endless supply of fresh Genovese basil, then there one last clove of garlic, a little leftover Parmesan cheese that already looks rather dry and of course one of the staples of my fridge, ricotta cheese. I throw it all together in my grinder, season it with a little bit of nutmeg (which goes wonderfully with ricotta in general and adds a little bit of dimension to ravioli fillings in particular). Off goes the grinder and out comes a silky smooth paste that fills the entire kitchen with the fragrance of fresh basil.

In the meantime, my dough has had enough time to fully develop and I prepare the work surface - putting some flour on it as well as on the rolling pin and the ravioli maker so it doesn’t stick later. Now comes the fun part! I begin with cutting off a third of the dough, leaving the rest sit in the container. In my first attempts I tried to roll it all out together, but I desperately failed, so I humbly do one portion at a time.

The dough has to be flattened a little on the flour covered kitchen counter, and then stretched out by a rolling motion, turning it from time to time to make sure it doesn’t stick. Once it is thin enough (or cannot be safely stretched any further), I cut it in half and place one sheet on the ravioli maker. Although admiring people who have mastered the art of making ravioli with nothing but a pastry knife, I personally prefer one of these presses that form them for you. In goes the filling, on top the second sheet of dough and some minor adjustments to make sure the sheet sits on top well, and then first very gently to seal the individual ravioli, and then with more force to actually separate them from one another comes the rolling pin again. And suddenly something happens, while you are rolling and the overlapping ends of the pasta sheets fall off, you can see a glimpse of the result, the perfectly square ravioli with a little round belly filled with savory deliciousness. One by one are removed from the press and put on a baking sheet, also sprinkled with flour, and there they will dry, turned over from time to time, until dinner time.

And in the meantime? I am going to explore my fridge and consult my favorite cookbooks and food blogs for what sauce would go best with them and for inspirations on my next fillings. Happy Independence Day weekend to those who celebrate it!

Life is good!

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