This ravioli recipe is brought to you by a scientist and bunch of strangers who teamed up to make pasta on an Autumn Sunday.
[Scroll down to go straight to the recipe or keep reading to learn its story]
In 2016 As Soup As Possible started a small event branch in Amsterdam, after the great experience of sharing sourdough starter with readers.
Starting a Meetup group came as a natural consequence of my desire to explore the many ways food can be seen as the expression of a network of relationships.
Eating – be it absentmindedly picking from a bag of crisps or gratefully sipping recovery soup somebody made for us – instantly plugs us into this network.
Food defines our relation with ourselves, (our) culture(s), environment, economic system, and others.
As a matter of fact, is is that “otherness” that feeds us and keeps us alive.
In times of pervasive spectacularization of the simple acts of cooking and eating, in which we often watch food being cooked on TV while eating pre-cooked meals on our own, the ambition of these events is to help people get back in touch with both the live matter that food is and the meanings it stands for, and to do so through fun and rewarding social experiences.
Before gaining the capital ‘F’ that made it an industry and lately a branch of show-business, food is something that belongs to every living being. Its self-production and preparation reclaim that connection in the most powerful and direct way.
The acts of transformation that make ingredients into a dish depend on the ability to feel and understand their substance, an ability that makes us human and can be learnt, shared and cultivated in our home kitchens every day.
By learning more about ingredients and recipes, we can feel more empowered about cooking, more confident in our sensorial competence, engage more senses than just sight, and pass down stories, skills and direct knowledge.
This may involve food professionals and producers or simple home-cooks. Either way, it needs to begin with reactivating our own senses and experiencing food in a deeper way.
As Soup As Possible events aim at creating the conditions for strangers in search of good food and meaningful experiences to connect in a convivial atmosphere, while learning something useful and satisfying in the process.
It is about getting together to cultivate skills and relationships, creating good memories and tasty experiences, rather than Instagrammable pictures.
To me, cooking is closer to brewing a love potion than it is to staging some #foodporn.
I will start sharing recipes from some of these events, hoping to spread that love these gatherings are unleashing in Amsterdam, NL.
The guest cook: Alessandra.
While most of the times I share my own home-cooking or invite food professionals to teach us about a specific food, my ambition is to encourage more people who don’t work in the food industry to step up and share their own cooking, family recipes and tricks.
There’s a wealth of knowledge and stories in our kitchens, that I’m trying to gather and share through this programme as well as my Kitchen Stories series.
This time I invited one of the most affectionate members of our growing cooking-community to teach us a specialty she has learnt since a young age: pasta all’uovo (egg-based pasta).
Alessandra Scala is a biotechnologist by profession, but was happy to change from lab coat into a kitchen apron to show us how you make proper ravioli. She proved to be a perfect teacher for our diverse and cheerful group of international home-cooks.
Alessandra is Italian, from Mantua, a city between Bologna and Milano, and near Emilia-Romagna, the realm of fresh pasta all’uovo.
Pasta North and South.
Pasta is without a doubt the most recognisable symbol of Italian cuisine, but what comes to your mind when I say “pasta”? Spaghetti, ravioli, lasagne, fusilli, garganelli, pizzoccheri, linguine, tortellini,…?
Do you think of a dry or a fresh type? based on which grain? filled or plain, long or short, with or without eggs?
When you take a closer look to this apparently simple food, it shows its complexity, rooted in the territories it developed in.
One first division is between dry and fresh pasta, the former being generally associated with durum wheat flour, the latter with soft wheat enriched with eggs.
As a general principle, durum wheat pasta is more common in the central and southern regions of the country, where durum wheat of different varieties was traditionally grown.
Durum wheat is much richer in the type of non-dissolvable proteins that create gluten and absorbs more water than soft wheat. This makes it easier to knead it into a coherent dough and explains the tendency of durum wheat pasta (be it dry or fresh) to better maintain its shape when cooked.
Soft wheat, on the other hand, is more starchy and requires the addition of eggs (egg lecithin in particular) as a binding agent.
This is the main reason why fresh egg pasta is historically less common in the South, where dry pasta prevails and even fresh pasta – like orecchiette or lagane – is generally made with just water and durum wheat flour.
Ravioli ricotta e spinaci, a recipe.
Here’s an adaptation of Alessandra’s family recipe for classic ravioli ricotta e spinaci, with some notes from my own research and experience with pasta making.
Ingredients for 4-6 portions:
- 3 very fresh eggs (from the best source you can find)
- 300g white wheat flour
- 1 spoonful of extra virgin olive oil
- (semolina flour for dusting)
- 250g fresh ricotta
- 400g spinach
- grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- nutmeg (whole)
- sea salt
- Fresh sage leaves
- grated parmigiano
Prepare the filling beforehand (even the night before), so it settles in a good consistency while its flavours develop fully.
Step 1 _ Start by removing the stiff part of the stems from the spinach and wash the leaves thoroughly before cooking them.
Alessandra’s way: she cooks them for 2-3 minutes in boiling water, then drains them.
My way: I prefer drying the leaves in a salad spinner, then cooking them in a hot pan with a spoonful of extravirgin olive oil and the lid on, until they soften. I find this makes them less soggy and preserves their flavour a bit better.
Either way goes, as long as you make sure to squeeze out as much water as you can, after cooking the spinach.
Step 2 _ Sift the fresh ricotta if you want a fluffier consistency.
Step 3 _ Once they cool down, mince the spinach with a knife or in a food processor. In the latter case, use the pulse mode and stop when the bits are still visible: you don’t want a spinach puree!
Step 4 _ Mix ricotta, spinach and grated cheese, and add nutmeg (ground at the moment), then salt to taste.
Tip! Keep in mind that the filling will taste milder eventually, once it’s cooked inside our ravioli, so don’t be afraid to add more flavour in the beginning.
Weigh the flour and keep some aside. As I always say, kneading (be it gnocchi, bread, pizza or pasta) always involves some dough whispering: flours are different to one another and they also respond to the current environmental conditions (humidity above all). It’s up to us to feel to consider whether our dough could use a little more or a little less flour than expected.
Step 1_ Start by sifting the flour on a smooth clean counter or a kneading board.
Create what Italians call “fontana di farina” (a fountain of flour). You might call it a volcano, if you like… Whatever you call it, dig a wide well in the middle of the mount of flour.
Step 2_ Crack the eggs in the middle of the fountain, then add a spoonful of olive oil and start mixing with a fork, thus gradually incorporating flour from the sides of the well. Be carefull not to break the sides and spill the liquid.
Step 3_ Little by little, the dough will become firmer and you’ll be able to start kneading it. Push from the heels of your palms. Remember mechanical energy is one of the main ingredients of any dough, so don’t be too dainty.
If you need to add flour, do so gradually, by sprinkling it on the kneading board and incorporating it as you knead.
When the dough becomes smooth and firm, stop kneading and let it rest for at least 40 minutes.
You can wrap the ball in clingfilm and put it in the fridge (Alessandra’s style) or leave it at room temperature, in a food box or under an upside down bowl (my way).
In any case, it should be protected from drying up.
The resting time will allow the protein in the flour and those in the eggs to develop a stable network that will ensure our pasta is easy to shape, flexible and coherent enough, and that our ravioli will have the right bite after cooking.
Once ready, cut out a portion of the dough and roll it out into a thin layer. You can either use a wooden rolling pin without sliding parts or a machine.
Using a rolling pin is tiring and more time-consuming, but it has its upsides: the jagged surface of the wood, especially in combination with a wooden kneading board, will make the texture of your pasta slightly rough, more pleasant and suitable to hold condiments.
It also spares you the purchase of a cumbersome machine and makes great exercise against chicken wings!
That you use a machine or not, roll out the dough into a very thin sheet and prepare to fill it immediately, so that it doesn’t dry out and its edges stick together easily when you close the ravioli.
Tip! Make sure the dough you’re not using is always covered.
The filling should be distributed evenly. To place it, you can use either a piping bag or two teaspoons to scoop and lay it a spoonful at a time.
As for the shaping, there are different ways to close ravioli and we experimented as many as we could.
Here a few options:
- make two large sheets of dough, then cover the first one with blobs of fillings placed at a regular distance, then cover with the second sheet. Gently push the air out and press around the filling to make sure the two layers adhere. Eventually, use a cutter to cut out the ravioli.
- Cut a large sheet of dough into squares, place the blobs of filling at the middle of half of them, use the others to cover and seal them.
- Cut the dough into squares, place the filling, then fold and seal the squares to make triangular ravioli.
- Make rectangular strips of dough, line up the blobs of filling on top of an ideal line splitting the hight of the strip in two halves, then overlap the bottom part to close. Cut out the ravioli, which in this case will have three cut edges and a filled one.
Tip! Whichever technique you go for, make sure to push out all the air in between the layers of dough and seal the ravioli accurately. This will prevent them from breaking open while cooking.
Lay the ravioli on a clean tablecloth or a tray, using semolina flour to prevent them from sticking together or to the surface. Let them settle for about 30′.
Meanwhile, melt some butter in a frying pan, add clean dry sage leaves and let it aromas develop for a minute or two.
Eventually, cook the ravioli in a cooking pan with salted water for about 5′. The cooking time may vary between 4 and 8 minutes, depending on the thickness of the dough.
Taste a raviolo to check.
Tip! Ravioli are very delicate and you don’t want them to break while cooking. Turn the heat down just before gently placing them into the boiling water and then turn it up again, to minimise accidents.
Once ready, drain the ravioli carefully and move them to the frying pan, mix them with the butter and sage condiment and serve them. Garnish with grated parmigiano to taste.
Share with friends and enjoy!
This workshop is available as part of a dinner party or team building programme.
Get in touch for more info.
Thanks to Alessandra Scala for her time, cooking and enthusiasm, to Daniela Peroni for some of the pictures included in this post and to each end every home cook who took part in this event, making me some delicious ravioli!