Saturday, March 21, 2009

Ode to Spring

Ahh spring!

Tired of cold weather. Time for wonderful 60 to 70 degree days, the best days of fishing, and a car full of neon-colored pollen. It's also a time for fresh spring produce, and I've been wanting to cook with some. With my recent hobby splurge on pasta, ravioli sounds like a cool idea, but I don't just want to drown fresh raviolis in some marinara. I want ravioli soup.

Frankly I'm not sure if such a thing even exists. I've had fresh tortellini soups before so why not, eh? At any rate, I figured I'd try something out and see if it was any good.

Okay, here's an obligatory mise en place for the raviolis:

  • 1 1/2 cup semolina flour or bread flour
  • 2 eggs
  • pinch of kosher salt
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 1/4 pound spinach, washed, blanched, and finely chopped
  • 1/4 pound feta cheese, crumbled
  • 2 tbsp fresh tarragon, washed, blanched, and finely chopped
  • 2 tsp coarse ground black pepper
I've already gone over making pasta dough in the fresh pasta blog. Same recipe, no biggie. What we'll concern ourselves with is forming the raviolis. First, the filling. Combine the spinach, tarragon, and pepper in a bowl, and start to crumble your feta into that with a fork or your hands or whatever. You want to make a sort of lumpy paste filling that will stay together.

Mash mash mash.

With your filling ready, go ahead and roll your pasta dough, starting with the wide rollers, and going to the next to thinnest setting. When it's there, you have a lot of options. By a lot, I mean sky is the limit. You can take a pizza cutter and make nice straight cuts to make square raviolis. You can even take those squares and make things like tortellini! You can also take a little drink glasses and make half moons or even round ones. I went with the latter just because it was the first one that crossed my mind.

Making full circles like this, you get two circles to make one ravioli. One on bottom, one on top, filling in the middle. First, lets get the filling on. You want as much in there as you can, but still be able to pinch the edges together.

Once you cover each one up, gently work it to get the air out and make it pretty even. This takes practice and you'll get the hang of it. Now you want to seal it. Use the tines of a fork to press down and get a good seal and a nice pretty little border.

Eventually you get a big spread of ravioli. This is a good 4-6 person spread. You may get more or less, just keep cranking em out. You'll eventually get a wad of dough you can't make raviolis out of. Use your best judgment on how to deal with this.


Okay, now for the second part of ravioli soup - the soup!

Partial mise en place time!

  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 shallots, minced
  • 3 tsp kosher salt
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1/2 cup of dry white wine
  • Juice of a lemon plus teaspoon of zest, reserved
  • 3 quarts vegetable stock
  • 1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms
  • 1 pound fresh (big buds with a twinge of purple) asparagus
  • Pinch cayenne pepper
  • Kosher Salt + Pepper to taste
Take a good look at that asparagus. Little things like that are why I wanted to make this dish. Look at the tips of the stalks, and the buds are tinged in purple and pretty fat. If you see asparagus that looks like that, you should drop everything and buy it, because it's going to be absolutely amazing no matter how you want to make it. If I wasn't making this, I'd smother that asparagus in some olive oil, grill it, and then serve it on a plate with cracked pepper and fleur de sel, and maybe a piece of bread to mop up my drool. The only thing you've got to do is to trim the bottom third of the stalk to get the less tasty woody parts away, and you pretty much can make great asparagus without fail.

Now, confession time. Instead of veggie stock in this, I used water. As I said, this was an entirely conceptual thing, so naturally there were some hitches. From using dried mushrooms before, I knew that they form a flavored stock when they reconstitute, so I wanted to use that. The problem was that the mushroom flavor wasn't quite enough. You want the effect of mirepoix vegetables doing some of the heavy lifting too. Live and learn. Anyways, lets make soup.

Heat your oil in the skillet on medium. Add chopped shallots and salt. Close that up and drop the heat down to low to sweat the shallots for 20 minutes. Uncover that, add your garlic, and chop your asparagus up into little one inch lengths, keeping the tips intact. Toss that in and bring the heat up to medium to get a minute or two of good dry heat before the stock or water.

Add your stock, bay leaf, lemon juice, pepper, wine, and bring it up to a boil. Once it hits boil, add your dried porcini mushrooms. Let those go for about five minutes. What you're doing is letting the mushrooms get nice and chewy again, and flavoring that cooking liquid. You're also ready to add your ravioli! Do it!

With these being a little less delicate than spaghetti, I'd say let them boil for about two or two and a half minutes. The added time also helps to get the filling cooked up, but it still doesn't take long.

You're done! Well, almost anyway. Sprinkle some of that reserved lemon zest on top. Ladle it into a bowl and eat. I like to eat a little stock and veg, pierce a ravioli and let some of the filling linger in the soup, and eat some more, eventually dismantling the ravioli as I go. If that's tedious to you or you want a different experience, try another style of ravioli or your favorite stuffed pasta. You're not exactly limited by anything but your imagination.

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