Thursday, December 17, 2009

Jenny's Italian Forest Ravioli

I never follow a recipe exactly - if I use one at all - but yesterday I quickly jotted down the ingredients as I threw them together, surer with every addition that this would be an exception and a recipe I would happily follow next fall.

I started with the pasta dough because it would need to rest. To be efficient, I planned to make the filling while the dough was resting in the fridge.

Pasta dough:
Recipe called for 200g of all purpose flour, but I didn’t have any so I used 100g pastry flour and 100g bread flour…which is what all purpose is anyways.

Then the recipe called for ¼ cup of white wine and as tempting as it is to open a bottle of your only white – a Chardonnay - just past noon, I decided to use ¼ cup of water. To make up for lost acidity, and to match with my chestnut filling, I decided to use something that would be in season at the same time because what grows together goes together. So, I zested in some orange…about one teaspoon.

Then I added one egg and 2 teaspoons of olive oil and kneaded it all together with my hands until the dough was shiny and smooth. Wrapped up tightly in cling film, my dough went into the fridge for some relaxation time.

I had wanted to do chestnut soup but for that I required whole chestnuts – and even though I could carefully read the excerpt in my Larousse about how to properly de-shell chestnuts without causing mini explosions in my oven and even though I knew that Fiesta Farms sells whole, shelled chestnuts – the Metro is closer and I know they sell canned, pureed chestnuts.

Imagining the chestnut tree forests around La Petraia (in Italy) gave me a direction for the flavours of my filling. Thinking Forest lead to a brunoise (about 1 ½ cups) of cremini mushrooms, which I browned in olive oil and butter. I browned them by heating the pan, adding the oil then butter and then the mushrooms, 1/3 at a time. If you crowd the pan then all the heat will go into steaming the mushrooms and result in a soggy pale mess. Season after they are browned. Chuck the mushrooms into a small mixing bowl.

Thinking about the necessity of textural variation, I brunoised ½ a large onion and sautéed it gently in butter with a little (less than a teaspoon, for you measuring types) brown sugar for good measure (and to match the sweet earthiness of the mushrooms). Tasting little spoonfuls at regular intervals, I added the onions to the mushrooms when they were soft and deliciously caramelized. At this point I started worrying about the sweetness of the filling and was thankful for the orange zest I had added to the dough.

Still needing more to offset the sweetness, I crushed half a clove of garlic (centre stem removed) and added that. Then soaked one small dried morel mushroom (we’ve had a bag of dried morels in the pantry - ignored - for almost half a year) in boiling water twice (and would have more if the bottom of the bowl still looked sandy, but it didn’t.). I chopped up the morel first into julienne and then into tiny brunoise. If the pieces of morel were any larger, they wouldn’t be evenly distributed and they would end up intruding instead of contributing.

The morels were a special ingredient that brought me to another: truffle paste. Another wonderful random forgotten ingredient, lost in my fridge for over a year – waiting for a special occasion to be opened. I made an executive decision even though the truffle paste wasn’t mine and added a little less than a teaspoon.

I opened up my can of dark brown chestnut puree (which was more like condensed chestnuts than ‘puree’ ) and added about 1 cup. After stirring it in and tasting, I decided to add some finely chopped thyme (about ½ tsp) for some floral notes to lighten up my rich, nutty mixture. Oh, and I added some grated parmesean for a little bit of salt and a little more Italian flavour. Italy *sigh*

Next, I made a beurre noisette. Aptly titled, 'nutted butter’ I thought it would be the perfect, simple sauce to go with my chestnut ravioli. It is easy to make ahead of time so that when plating you don’t have to worry about one million things plus burning butter. In a small pot, I melted about ½ cup butter with some (1tsp) dried sage from Trevor’s garden. Slowly heating the butter and keeping an eye on it, I let it slowly turn golden brown. Then, I strained it through a little sieve and left it in the fridge. Sage is always a friend of brown butter, and often paired with carotene-y vegetables like squash, sweet potato and pumpkin.

It's a lot of fun playing nonna and making ravioli and once you get into it, it is more fun than work. I promise.

Rolling out the pasta wasn’t as arduous as I had thought it would be – until my hard work amounted to only 17 raviolis. The trick to rolling out dough is patience. Divide the dough in three so that each piece is the size of the palm of my hand ( or yours, but mine are littler). Dust the piece lightly in flour and then roll in through on the largest setting (#1 on my machine). Then roll it through on size 2 then 3 then 4. Stop and re-dust and then continue rolling the dough through each size until size 6. If you work palms down, using the back of your hands to lift and move the dough then you are less likely to rip it. Put the rolled out piece on a surface lightly dusted with flour. Work faster without being careless so that you finished the next two pieces of dough before the first dries out too much.

I used a cutter about 2 inches in diameter to cut out as many circles as possible, then I lined them up in a grid to make sure that I had an even number and to be more efficient.

I used a measuring spoon and placed 1 tbsp filling into the centre of every other circle of pasta.

Using my finger, to drew a circle of egg wash around the filling of the first three soon-to-be-raviolis. Then I put the top sheet of pasta on and sealed the cardinal points. Making sure all the air had escaped, I sealed the spaces between the North, South, East and West of my ravioli. Placing them onto a tray lined with cling film, I moved onto the next three. Working in threes makes everything go faster.

Lightly dust the completed ravioli with flour and then cover with more cling film. Keep on the counter - or wherever - until you are ready. I kept mine out for a good 2 hours and they stayed happy.

Boil some salted water in a big pot about 20 minutes before you want to serve (this is enough time for the water to boil and for you to plate). If your pot is too small, your water will stop boiling when you add the ravioli and it will not cook as fast and you will be fucked with soggy ravioli. So use a big pot, like I said OR add your ravioli in two shifts (adding half, scooping out with a slotted spoon and then adding the next half batch).

Earlier, I crushed up some walnuts and toasted them in a frying pan with a little bit of butter. Then I took them off the heat stirred in some more orange zest. This step can be done while you are waiting for the water to boil. Or you can do it before hand and instead you spend this time drinking red wine and feasting on bread and olives like I did.

Once the water boils, it is time to start thinking about plating. Get your plates ready, or get someone to set the table for you. Reheat your beurre noisette in a large frying pan.

Boil your ravioli until it floats. It only needs 2 minutes. Add the ravioli to the warm butter and fry quickly then plate about three ravioli per person, topped with those walnuts you toasted earlier.

Light some candles and drink some wine (an oaked Chardonnay with nutty aromas would match well).


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