This week I figured it was time to try making something new. A chance to expand my skills and push the edges of my comfort zone. The new Everest to summit: ravioli.
Last October was my first attempt at making pasta, using my handy Kitchen Aid mixer pasta roller attachment. It was easy enough… a little bit of work but the end result was well worth it. What I really wanted to try, though, was raviolli.
After our wedding reception at Lidia’s Kansas City, the first restaurant of Italian chef Lidia Matticchio (of public broadcasting fame), we were given a copy of her cookbook “Lidia’s Family Table” as a thank-you gift from the restaurant. Thumbing through the recipes after returning to Krungthep, I came across one for Potato, Leek and Bacon Ravioli. Just thinking about that combination of flavors made my mouth water.
Since I had guests coming over for brunch on Sunday, I decided this might be just the thing to serve them and prepared a midweek test batch to familiarize myself with the process.
3/4 pound Yukon Gold potatoes (our potatoes here aren’t identified, so I went with a waxy one that looks similar to a Yukon)
3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
5 ounces bacon, cut into small pieces
2 medium leeks, finely chopped (I used a locally grown “Japanese onion” that looks like a leek but has a slightly stronger flavor)
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano cheese
The first step was to boil the potatoes, whole and unpeeled, in a pot of unsalted water until they were just cooked through, about twenty minutes. After pulling them out and letting them cool a bit, I peeled them then sliced them into approximately 1/4-inch slices.
Next up, I heated the oil in a skillet then cooked the bacon for a few minutes until most of its fat had rendered. Then I added the leeks and cooked a few more minutes until they were wilted and sizzling. Then I arranged the potatoes in the pan, seasoned them, and stirred them around, breaking the potatoes into smaller pieces but still keeping some chunks.
After the mixture was softened and starting to caramelize, I pulled it off the heat. Then, deviating from the recipe (because I can’t seem to resist improvising), I added some frozen green peas and a bit of ricotta cheese. I also shaved in some Parmigiano cheese then tasted and corrected the seasoning. It needed a bit of a bite, so I added several generous pinches of dried chili flakes.
While letting the filling cool, I started the pasta making process, making one pound of pasta dough with a two-egg recipe that combines both semolina flour and all-purpose flour. The goal is to get the pieces about five inches wide.
Laying out the strips, I dropped heaping Tablespoons of filling about four inches apart. Lesson I learned: better to work with only a quarter or half the total batch of dough at a time, keeping the rest of it wrapped in plastic so it doesn’t start to dry. By the end of this process, I was suffering from some cracking dough.
Brush with egg wash between the mounds of filling, add the second layer, press to seal and then cut with a pasta cutter or a knife. The end result looks like a ravioli, right?
I was going to make a butter and sage sauce but didn’t have sage, so instead did a butter and olive oil sauce with sauteed mushrooms. Again, improvisation seems to be the name of my game when I’m in the kitchen.
Boil the pasta for just a few minutes until done. This was a pain as I couldn’t boil enough of these big ravioli at a time, so then I couldn’t sauce enough at a time, so if I had to serve more than two people at once, some of the ravioli would sit on the plate, cooling, while the others were being cooked. I’ve got to get my timing down better.
Sauced them up with the butter and olive oil, added some Italian herbs and pepper flakes along with the mushrooms. These were really tasty. I also prepared some with a traditional tomato sauce (from a jar!) which were also very nice.
Satisfied with my test run, Saturday afternoon I prepared two more batches of dough as well as some more filling. For the dough, I made one batch with the basic dough and a second batch with beet root that produced a lovely magenta hue. I wrapped the dough in plastic and let it rest in the regrigerator overnight.
Sunday morning I was up early and amidst a thunderstorm rolled out and filled the ravioli. Everything looked to be coming together nicely and I laid the ravioli on wax paper sprinkled with semolina flour, wrapping the trays with plastic and setting them out to await cooking.
Sadly, something went terribly wrong. Maybe it was because they were out for too long (about three hours before cooking) or maybe the filling was too wet (I don’t think so, though, as it seemed very dry) or maybe the dough had been refrigerated too long (although it seemed to have a good body to it as I rolled it), but my ravioli started to disintegrate before cooking.
While sitting on the trays, the dough around the filling literally came undone, turning gummy and tearing when I tried to remove the ravioli from the tray. I discovered this after my guests had arrived and already enjoyed an appetizer of white bean and olive bruschetta and were well into the Bloody Marys.
Sadly, I had no Plan B. There was no dry pasta in the cupboard and nothing else I could whip together as a main course. Sadly, I had to apologize to the guests, who were all very understanding, and Tawn called Pizza Mania to have some pies delivered. While waiting for the pizzas, we continued with the salad of oven-roasted vegetables and feta cheese accompanied with homemade bread.
In fact the bread, which I also used for the bruschetta, is kind of a pleasant surprise. On a whim, I decided to use my baguette pan again. You’ll recall that a year ago June, I had a terrible experience where my loaf of bread stuck to the pan, expanding through the thousands of perforations and taking a good hour of manual labor to remove and clean up.
Suddenly, while preparing these loves and shaping them, I realized what I had done wrong. Out of the blue, the light went on in my brain: the mistake I had made was putting the dough in the pan for its final rise, giving the dough the opportunity to rise into the perforations. Instead, I covered the pan with a well-flowered tea towel and let the dough rise on the towel. Then, when it was time to bake, I just lifted the dough off the towel and back onto the pan. The result: the loaves baked in the baguette pan without a hitch.
The four-hour brunch ended up a success, despite having to order the pizzas. The company was wonderful, including Doug’s brother Alex, who had kindly spent a day showing us around his neighborhood in Tokyo when we were there this past Spring. Bob joined us as did Benji, so we had a really interesting mix of people.
The roasted vegetable salad was a hit – I was pretty pleased with it, myself – and the bruschetta and bread were well-received, too. For dessert, I made a mango and blackberry clafoutis, pictured above. I really like clafoutis but I need to revert to my original recipe, which was lighter than the one I used. The addition of some baking powder would be helpful to give it some lift.
So the cooking experience this week was mostly positive, but with a nice dose of humility kicking me in the teeth, just to keep me honest.