Tuesday, February 17, 2009
"Is making homemade pasta easy?" my friend Ian asked during a rare midday phone call.
"Sure it is," I replied, "what are you making?"
"I want to make ravioli for our Valentine's dinner," he said, meaning his and his wife, Kristin's, dinner.
We discussed his options; won ton wrappers ("won't that be gross?"), purchasing pasta in sheets and rolling it out himself ("the recipes I've been looking at mention stretching the dough - what does that mean?"), before finally settling on a solution.
"I'll come over on Friday night with my pasta attachment and ravioli tools," I said. There. Settled.
JR and I arrived around 7:30pm, bag o' ravioli tools and a pasta rolling attachment in a brown paper grocery bag - my make-shift Doctor Ravioli house call satchel. Ian had promised to buy the wine - note to you, dear reader: should you ever desire a house call from Dr. Ravs (aka: me), free wine is a powerful incentive. Just so you know.
We immediately set to work, Ian's wife, Kristin, wondering aloud, "So, how did you get roped into this?" Apparently, she didn't notice me fillilng my glass with wine from the open bottle on their counter, but no matter. We set up their stand mixer and blended the Italian "tipo 00" flour, which is made specifically for pasta-making and pizza crusts, along with a splash of olive oil, a pinch of kosher salt, and five eggs. Once the dough came together, we took turns kneading it.
"How long do we knead for?," Ian asked.
"Until it's silken."
"Could you spell that?"
"Silken. S. I. L. K. E. N."
"Yeah, right," he responded. I thought I detected a hint of sarcasm in his voice, to be perfectly honest.
About ten minutes later, with JR barking out commands from his seat at the kitchen table - commands that would eventually earn him the moniker of Foreman - Ian took up the last leg of kneading and brought the dough to a silken consistency. Everyone was thrilled and amazed. Ian especially. And not in a sarcastic kind of way, either. As an added bonus, Ian and Kristin's four-year old daughter found the dough fascinating; she did not miss an opportunity to make indentations into it with her fingers. Her younger sister wasn't so confident that it wouldn't grab back, so she passed on her opportunity to poke at the dough.
With everyone content with their interaction with the dough, we wrapped it in plastic wrap and set it in the refrigerator to rest for a half-hour while Ian made his filling, and JR assaulted him with instruction - generally in terms of what he was doing wrong.
Ian had chosen to make a lobster ravioli for his and Kristin's dinner, but had gone a bit hog-wild with his lobster purchase and brought home double what was required for the recipe he had selected. We watched as he placed the lobster in the food processor, added the ricotta, the shallot, and the egg, JR commenting all the while. When it really got good was when JR began instruction on how to cut, peel and pit a mango, proceeding to relay a brief story that began "you know, when I lived in Hawai'i, I picked mangoes off the trees in my backyard." Showoff. But he was repaid with many unkind words, such as showoff, and even more descriptive terms, to the point where I think Ian, Kristin, and I were ok with the fact that we had never lived in Hawai'i.
Still, in spite of the torment - both being told how to make the filling and being regaled with talk of Hawai'i when we live in cold and dreary New England - Ian successfully finished making the filling, and we started into the rolling-out-the-dough process.
We cut the ball of dough into four pieces, shaping them - to the best of our ability - into rectangles. We then used a rolling pin to flatten the dough out such that the edge would fit into the widest setting on the pasta roller attachment, and began rolling the dough out through the attachement. We passed it through twice on each of the first 4 settings, and then began cutting out the ravioli squares with a ravioli cutter. This is by far the most time-consuming way to make ravioli in my experience, but the ravioli look much more lovely, and for a Valentine's Day dinner, it's worth the effort to make them pretty. It didn't hurt that we now had three people working on the ravioli-creation: Ian, Kristin, and me. Ian rolled out the pasta, I cut the ravioli shapes, and Kristin moved the squares to a baking sheet lined with plastic wrap and dusted with flour. When the ravioli squares covered the entire surface of the baking sheet, she dusted them with flour, draped another sheet of plastic wrap over them, and dusted that with flour. Because Ian had such a large quantity of filling for his ravioli, we made 84 ravioli squares, and then the three of us set to the task of filling the ravioli squares, but not without JR chiming in with instruction now and again, this time from the couch in the adjacent living room as he watched George Lopez or some other golfing celebrity/celebrity golfer speak directly to the camera at the Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
For each ravioli, you, of course, need two squares of pasta. Kristin perfected the wetting-the-dough technique, and so it goes like this: get a small bowl, like a cereal bowl, and fill it part-way with warm water. Dip your index finger into the bowl to wet slightly. Run your finger around the edge of the pasta square to lightly moisten it - the pasta does not need to take a bath during this process - wetting your finger as needed to moisten all edges of both squares. Now, choose a square and place about a tablespoon of filling into the middle of it. Take the non-chosen square (the one without the filling on top of it), and line up one edge of the square against the edge of the chosen square. Now take one of the two perpendicular edges and seal the two squares together along that edge. At this point, you may need to use your fingers or a small spoon to tuck the filling back into the ravioli so that you can successfully close the remaining two sides. Before you seal the fourth side, be sure to gently expel any air from the inside of the ravioli. Viola! You've made a ravioli by hand. Now place it on a baking sheet that is lined with plastic wrap dusted with flour and repeat until you have constructed - ideally through teamwork - 42 ravioli. If you aren't serving until the next night, place the baking sheet containing them in the freezer for at least an hour and then transfer to a freezer-safe container or large plastic storage bag. If you cover them well enough on the baking sheet and are only going to cook them the next night, you can leave them on the baking sheet.
We were all a little exhausted after the pasta-making was completed - even JR, who seemed pleased that we didn't mess up the ravioli, thanks, of course, to his instruction. We had consumed less wine than we had hoped, given all the hands-on labor involved, but we had 42 very lovely looking raviolis, a third of which were made in Ian's style, a third of which were made in Kristin's style (the most restaurant-worthy of the bunch, I think), and a third of which were made in my style - lots of pasta around the edges and a golf ball of lobster-mango filling in the middle. Perhaps it was the influence of the Pebble Beach Pro-Am? Or just the instruction of the man watching it. Who can know? Ian agreed that pasta-making was easy, if labor-intensive, but he pointed out that I didn't measure the ingredients for the pasta dough recipe, so he wouldn't know how to do it on his own. I'm tricky when I know there could be free wine in my future, you know.
JR and I did wind up eating the lobster ravioli with Kristin and Ian - leaving many, many for a future dinner, might I add, and on Sunday, I made a batch of much-less-expensive-than-lobster Artichoke Ravioli which we served with a Lemon-Cream sauce. This recipe won't make 42 ravioli, but it should make in the 28-30 ravioli range, and 5 of these ravioli is certainly enough. Very, very, very filling.
2 1/2 to 3 cups Italian "tipo 00" flour
5 large eggs
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
Combine 2 and 1/2 cups flour, eggs, salt, and olive oil in a large mixing bowl and mix until the dough comes together. If it is too sticky, add flour a tablespoon at a time until it is not sticky, but does hold together. If you have a stand-mixer, the paddle attachment works well for this task.
Gather the dough up into a ball and transfer it to a lightly-floured surface. Knead it until it becomes silken. S. I. L. K. E. N. Like silk. You will be incredulous at first, but eventually it gets there and your four-year old will exclaim that it feels like Silly Putty. That is what we're talking about.
Wrap it in plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator to rest for a half-hour.
Meanwhile, make the filling for the ravioli:
1 cup fresh ricotta - please, please, please, I implore you, do not use the type that is shelf-stable for three or four months. You will be missing out on a sweet, fluffy, lovely fresh ricotta experience.
(1) 8.5-ounce can artichoke hearts packed in water - not oil - diced into small pieces (1/4-inch or so)
1/4 cup grated Pecorino-Romano
the zest of one lemon
salt and pepper to taste.
In a large bowl, mix the ricotta, artichoke hearts, Pecorino-Romano, and lemon zest together. Salt and pepper to taste.
Feel free to refrigerate the filling as you probably still have 25 minutes to go while the pasta rests. Once the pasta has had its nap in the refrigerator, proceed to make ravioli as you have read above, OR, if you'd prefer an easier method, you can do this, which I have apportioned from the Butternut Squash Ravioli in a Maple Cream Sauce post:
Roll out the pasta sheets and 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.
You can also use won ton wrappers, which are not gross, to answer Ian's question. 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.
Place ravioli on a plastic-wrap lined baking sheet that has been dusted with flour and either freeze until set and then transfer to freezer storage bags or otherwise, or, if you are going to use them that night, place in the refrigerator until ready to boil.
So now, it's time to boil these bad boys. Once the pasta-cooking water is just about to boil, make the sauce:
3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium shallot, diced
the juice of one lemon
2 cups light cream (a one-pint container is equivalent to 2 cups, no need to dirty a measuring cup for this)
salt and pepper to taste
In a large skillet or saute pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the shallot and saute until translucent, approximately 2 minutes. Add the lemon juice, stir to combine, and cook for 1 minute. Slowly add the cream, stirring constantly. Cook over medium heat until sauce thickens, approximately 5 to 7 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste. If the ravioli are not yet cooked through, remove the pan with the sauce from the heat until the ravioli are ready to go.
When cooking the ravioli, you want to be sure that the pasta is cooked properly. While fresh pasta takes far less time than dried pasta to cook, the edges of these ravioli are doubly-dense with pasta. They should take between 5 and 7 minutes to cook, but I like to test the edges of the ravioli for doneness before stopping the boiling. The easiest way to do this without burning yourself is to remove a ravioli with a slotted spoon, run it under cool water and squeeze the edges with your fingertips. If it feels too firm, return it to the pot and cook until a test-ravioli comes out with soft edges.
Transfer cooked ravioli to the Lemon-Cream Sauce pan and spoon sauce over to cover the ravioli. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, salt and pepper additionally if you so desire, and serve them forth.
Yields 28-30 ravioli, enough for 5 to 6 servings.
The Lemon-Cream Sauce in conjunction with the Artichoke Ravioli really helps to break up the monotony of winter with its bright, tangy flavor. If you'd like to go all-out, you could sprinkle each serving with a little bit of grated Pecorino-Romano and toasted pine nuts, but it's delicious all on its own as well, and costs only $11.85 for the ravioli and sauce.
The fresh pasta breaks down as follows: approximately 1 pound of a 2.2 pound bag that cost $2.59. We'll call that half of the bag to account for all that flour for dusting, and that's $1.30. The eggs should be in the range of $1.25 for 5. The olive oil is 11-cents. That totals $2.66.
The filling is as follows: 1 cup fresh ricotta from a 3-cup container that cost $5.99 is $2.00 per cup. The can of artichoke hearts in water was Whole Foods store brand, and cost $2.39. The Pecorino-Romano was $7.99/pound. We used 1/2 ounce in our 1/4 cup, so that's 50-cents. The lemon we'll tally up as half of the cost of the whole lemon being used in this recipe, and that's 25-cents, for a total of $5.25.
The Lemon-Cream Sauce consists of 45-cents in olive oil, a 25-cent shallot, the other "half" of the lemon at 25-cents, and a pint of cream for $2.99, so the tally here is $3.94.
You could also choose to stuff cooked pasta shells or roll cooked lasagna noodles with the filling for an faster take on this meal, then top with the sauce and bake to warm everything through, if you're looking to get out of the whole handmade pasta task, that is.
Dinner tonight: Leftover Artichoke Ravioli in a Lemon-Cream Sauce. Estimated cost for two: $3.95. Even JR cannot eat more than 5 ravioli, so this is 6 servings in my house. And you can see how it all breaks down above, so I won't bore you by repeating those details again.