Sunday, June 03, 2007

A Mystery Un-ravioli'd

For a few years now, I've been intrigued by the idea of making my own pasta. I'd see photos of pasta ribbons or ravioli and such in magazines and cookbooks, and I'd think, that doesn't look so difficult -- I could do that!

Until earlier this year, though, I never got around to testing that belief. And once I did, I decided -- I was right. It's not that difficult!

When I picked up all sorts of good produce at the farmers' market yesterday, I had the idea to make fresh pasta to go with the first fresh vegetables of the season. It seemed a natural fit to add fresh dill to pasta ribbons to accompany fresh asparagus, but I saved some of the dough for tonight's experiment: spinach-cheese ravioli.

Seems simple enough, right? But I wanted to add another twist to the whole experience by making the cheese to go into the filling.

Now some of my friends will tell you that I have a tendency to go a little too far in the direction of Martha Stewart by making so much from scratch, and some might even pointedly repeat the quote attributed to Carl Sagan: "If you wish to make an apple pie truly from scratch, you must first invent the universe."

In short, they like to keep me humble and down to earth, which is, believe it or not, a quality I value in them ('cause heaven knows I need the reality check at times). But there's a reason I go to such lengths in cooking sometimes: I want to learn.

I want to understand how things work, how flavors combine, how things are made. And above all, I want to know how much better making something myself can taste when I know exactly what ingredients and effort go into it.

So when faced with the challenging idea of making ravioli, I say, "Why not?"

Since I had already made the dough and refrigerated it yesterday, I started around lunchtime today by making the cheese. I couldn't find my recipe for ricotta offhand, so I simply used my paneer recipe, following the proportion of 4 parts milk to 1 part yogurt, and after draining the whey off the curds, I opted not to press the cheese into a block.

I set the cheese aside to cool while I prepped vegetables for the filling: a fresh spring onion, a few cloves of garlic, and one bag of spinach leaves, neatly
trimmed and washed. I sauteed them just long enough for the spinach to wilt into a fraction of the original volume.

Both the cheese and the spinach went into my handy little food processor to be chopped and blended together for the filling, and once that was done, I could tuck the container into the refrigerator to cool so that I could handle it comfortably later in the day. Having completed my prep work, I headed off for an afternoon of pleasant and relaxing pursuits!

By the time I was ready for dinner, I only had to assemble the ravioli and cook them. So I donned my apron, scattered flour on the counter, and rolled out the pasta dough. I spooned the filling onto the dough at what I thought were small intervals:

Then, having used only half the dough in laying out the filling, I brushed water in between the spoonfuls, folded the other half of dough over this, pressed out the air, sealed the ravioli, and cut them out:

Whew! Giant ravioli! Guess I'll make them smaller next time!

After that, it was a simple step to boil them briefly in salted water, spoon them onto my plate, and top them with a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkling of parmesan cheese, and a dollop of garlic-shallot jam.

Now, truth be told, when I do this the next time, I'll make a couple of changes. I won't roll the dough so thin, because some of the ravioli came apart (and not necessarily at the seams). And I definitely hope to make them smaller. But I'll be happy to try some different fillings and different toppings at a future date, because the overall result was delicious and tender and so much better than store-bought ravioli.

It's no mystery that fresh is better, and I look forward to trying this little experiment again sometime!


At 6/04/2007 10:19 AM, Anonymous Kim U said...

That looks tasty! I've always wanted to try making pasta, but I've never gotten around to it.

At 6/04/2007 10:26 AM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

It's definitely worth a try, Kim. I started with making gnocchi, like dumplings, then moved on to the sheets of dough and cutting out strips and such. I've meant to borrow a friend's pasta machine, but all of this recent pasta making has been totally low-tech... rolling pin!

See if you can try it this summer with fresh produce from your CSA... and fresh herbs, too! You'll enjoy it.

At 6/04/2007 3:06 PM, Blogger ambrosia ananas said...

Mmmmm. That looks great.

At 6/04/2007 3:09 PM, Blogger The Baklava Queen said...

Thanks! I'm glad I managed to save and freeze some for later. Maybe later this summer I can make and freeze more. Unless, of course, I decide I'm hungry for ravioli... tonight..... ;-)


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