Monday, December 29, 2008
I am sometimes guilty of getting a bit carried away with doing things in the most time-consuming fashion.
I'd appreciate it, family, if you would stop laughing now. Thank you.
It's just that I enjoy making things myself - whether it be a gift, artwork, a note card, or a meal - and so I often strive for the end result in equal parts for the end itself and as a means to execute its components. I find the making gratifying, which keeps it from feeling tedious. This meal is one such effort, and so I will walk you through the protracted instructions for constructing the dish, less the make-your-own-ricotta step, which was truly unnecessary as Narragansett Creamery makes a perfectly fluffy and sweet version that is readily available nearby my house. I'm sure there's a good cheesemaker making fresh ricotta near you as well, and so you, too, can forget you even heard of making your own ricotta, which requires you to stand over the stove for one hour while the lemon juice slowly works with the heat to create what seems like infinitesimal curds out of the half-gallon of whole milk. Yes, we will skip that step entirely, and when you are done reading through the instructions, you will realize that you can just as easily purchase butternut squash or pumpkin ravioli, or, if you want to go with that semi-homemade trend, you could purchase won ton wrappers and already pureed butternut squash and still experience the joy of assembling your own ravioli. I, however, did it this way:
Butternut squash ravioli in maple-cream sauce:
For the pasta:
3 to 3 1/2 cups Italian "00" flour (a specialty flour for pasta, but if you can't find it, go ahead and substitute all-purpose flour)
6-7 large eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
For the squash filling:
2 pounds squash, cubed and roasted - please see the butternut squash lasagna post if you aren't certain of the technique for cubing and roasting - and then mashed. If purchasing, you want approximately 2 cups of pureed or mashed butternut squash.
1/2 cup fresh ricotta, preferably not made in your own home
1/3 cup grated Pecorino Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 tablespoon thyme
pepper to taste
For the sauce:
4 tablespoons butter
1 large shallot, diced
2 cups light cream
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon thyme
salt and pepper
1 slice of bacon per person being served, cooked to desired crispness
In a mixing bowl, combine 3 cups of the flour, oil, salt, and five eggs. Mix to combine. If the dough is not coming together, add another egg. If it is still not coming together, add another. Then, if the dough is too sticky, add additional flour by the tablespoon until you have a cohesive dough that does not adhere to your fingers each time you touch it. Knead the dough, either by machine or by hand, until it is silken and smooth. Form it into a ball, wrap it in plastic wrap, and place it in the refrigerator to rest for 30 minutes, allowing its strands of glutens to relax. You will have around two pounds of pasta.
While the glutens are in a state of repose, mix the mashed roasted butternut squash, ricotta, grated cheese, and thyme in a medium mixing bowl. Pepper to taste. Salt if you so desire, but I skipped this because the overall salt can be adjusted - in my opinion - in the saucing phase.
Once the pasta dough has sufficiently rested, roll it out into long sheets. I use a pasta-roller attachment on my stand mixer for this. I roll it out twice on the first setting, twice on the second, twice on the third, and twice on the fourth. The resulting thickness is what I consider ideal for lasagna noodles and ravioli.
There are many ways to form ravioli, and I have been making a valiant attempt to try them all. There is the machine-way, which involves another attachment for the stand mixer, and this is quick, provides you with small, uniform ravioli, but wastes a lot of pasta in the process. You can also use ravioli cutters and stamp out the shapes before filling them, resulting in you creating your own won ton wrappers, but this also results in much waste of the pasta. The easiest and least-wasteful way I have found is to roll out the sheets, place them on a well-floured surface - pasta dough is always wanting to stick to itself or the counter if allowed - and create a half-way mark on the short end of the dough as your guide. Place mounds of filling - approximately 1 tablespoon each - an inch or so apart from one another all on the same side of the dividing line. So you have a row of filling mounds, and a row that is naked. Take some warm water in a small bowl, dip your finger in it, and moisten the edge of the dough all around the perimeter. Next, make a line in the same fashion down the length of your dough on your imaginary dividing line, making it real. Then draw a water line between each mound all the way across the dough, such that the line is equidistant from the mound on either side. Gently fold the naked side of the dough up over the mounds, being careful to push out all of the air prior to sealing. This may take a little bit of practice, and you may wind up with an air bubble or two, but neither lack of practice nor air bubbles will ruin the dish. If you have a pasta crimping tool, roll it across the edges to crimp them together and be sure the ravioli are sealed. If not, use the tines of a fork to crimp all around the edge of each ravioli.
If you are using won ton wrappers, the idea is the same, only the wrappers are already ravioli shaped for your ravioli-constructing convenience. Put a mound of filling in the middle of the square, moisten the edges of the wrapper, then moisten the edges of a naked wrapper, and press the moistened edges of each together to seal, also being careful to push out all of the air.
If using neither of these techniques, get thee to a nearby Italian market and purchase some butternut squash ravioli.
With this amount of pasta, which for me was slightly over two pounds, I had 30 ravioli, plus 6 ounces of fettuccine from the remainder of the dough, so using that as a guide, one and a half pounds of pasta dough should yield you enough to make 5 servings of ravioli. They're filling, remember, and the cream sauce is fairly light, but it is still cream sauce, so 6 ravioli per person is more than ample.
In a large sauce pot, bring salted water to boil. At the same time, if using bacon, cook it to your desired crispness.
Just before the pasta water is at a boil, melt the butter in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the shallot, and cook until translucent, approximately 2 minutes. Add the cream, and allow to simmer for one minute to meld flavors. Add the maple syrup, stirring to combine, then add thyme, salt and pepper to taste, and cook sauce over medium heat, stirring occasionally until ravioli are done. Even fresh, the ravioli will take approximately 7-10 minutes to cook through. The ravioli should be entirely pasta-colored when fully cooked. If they have butternut squash color coming through in the filling area, they aren't quite done. Add the cooked ravioli to the saute pan and allow to simmer in the sauce for a minute or two, spooning sauce over top to coat.
Transfer to serving plates, garnish with salt, pepper, and bacon, and serve them forth. As you may have noticed, this is a very quick recipe if you make it with purchased ravioli, so this could be a weeknight dinner if you go that route, or it could be a lazy winter Sunday meal if you want to make your own pasta and take on all of the making tasks yourself. The sauce comes together in 10 minutes, and would also be good with pork or roasted chicken, so don't miss the opportunity to use it elsewhere. That's part of the fun, after all.
If you have leftover ravioli, you can place them on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper and place in the freezer for 2-3 hours, or until frozen through. Then, transfer them to a freezer storage bag and use them within a month or so.
Dinner tonight: Ribollita, which is a Tuscan vegetable soup and an important dish in cucina povera, which translates roughly as "the poor-person's kitchen" and which is peasant cuisine. The soup is comprised of beans, celery, carrots, onion, garlic, leeks, and tomato, and the broth is made as it cooks, so it is only water that is added to create the broth. Estimated cost for two: $3.04. The beans were purchased at the Providence Winter Farmers Market, which is in the most amazing renovated mill building, so even if you don't need bread, cheese, grass-fed beef or pork, shellfish, apples, other veggies, or locally-grown beans, you should still check it out. In any event, the beans were $1.25. The celery, onion, and two carrots were no more than a dollar. The leeks were $1.75. The garlic was 12-cents if you consider it was less than a quarter of the 50-cent head of garlic. The can of tomatoes was $1.67. I did buy bread because I was all from-scratched out after making the ravioli AND ricotta myself, so we'll use about a quarter of a loaf that cost $3.39. That's 85-cents. The bread is toasted, then rubbed with garlic and placed at the bottom of the bowl of soup to make one bad-ass garlicky crouton. The cavolo nero, or dinosaur kale, was $2.49. This results in 6 servings at a cost of $9.13 for a grand total of $1.52 per person. Poor-person's kitchen, indeed.