Saturday, August 12, 2017

Recipe of the month: Ricotta, Mushroom and Spinach Ravioli in a Tomato Cream Sauce

This has got to be the most elaborate and photo-heavy savoury recipe post on the blog so far! Phew! 😅

This has been a long time coming. Finally I can cross it off my culinary bucket list! Italian cuisine is a compendium of crowd-pleasing comfort food and like most of the world, it has enslaved my tastebuds for as long as I can remember. Pasta makes an appearance on our dinner table at least once or sometimes twice a week. If I am dining out, 70% chances are it will be an Italian restaurant. I experiment with different Italian dishes frequently and I don't see that changing any time soon! Recognizing my love affair with pasta, my husband bought me the pasta attachment for my Kitchenaid stand mixer ages ago and it had been sitting in the pantry unopened and gathering dust. Every time would I tell myself to open it and at least glance at the instruction manual but I would end up procrastinating. Not to mention, making fresh pasta at home had always seemed like such a daunting task that my hesitation was compounded by a sense of intimidation.

It so happened that one weekend, me and the husband were watching Master of None on Netflix. Anyone familiar with the series knows that Dev, the main protagonist, is a big foodie and completely obsessed with pasta. The inspiration to finally bring out the pasta attachment came after I watched the episode shot in Modena where he enrolls in a pasta-making course in a quaint little shop under the watchful eye of an Italian nonna. After that, there was no way I could put it off any longer!

Who says watching tv is bad when it motivates you to do something unprecedented and totally cool, right? 😁

Turns out, making pasta from scratch isn't really difficult. It is time consuming, sure, but it really isn't that big a deal. The experience brought me to the realization of how different fresh pasta is compared to those mass-produced packets of dried pasta you buy at the grocery store. The silky-smooth texture, the tenderness and the ability for it to be the star of the dish is unparalleled. Not to forget, the cooking time which is drastically reduced. For delicate, creamy, dairy-based sauces, it is THE pasta you should use. So, now, if anyone asks me why I take the "trouble" of going through all that work, I think I need to make them this ravioli dish or else a fettuccine with an alfredo or carbonara to make them understand the difference! 😜

I must also add that making pasta at home is quite addictive. The very first time I tried it, I was hooked! My intention was always to make ravioli which to my sheer luck turned out great on my pasta-making debut. With the scraps of the pasta dough, I decided to make fettuccine and was delighted when the kids relished it like none other! The first time I made them fettuccine in a pumpkin cream-based sauce which they polished off within minutes. After that I whipped up a basil-walnut pesto and that was devoured with equal gusto. Next on my agenda is spaghetti which I am sure the troops will enjoy!


I found a recipe for a ricotta spinach ravioli in a tomato cream sauce on the internet. I followed it and it was appreciated by everyone who tasted it. What I liked most about it was how well balanced the sauce turned out. I am not a fan of intensely tangy tomato sauces because it registers too sharp for my taste buds. On the other hand, overindulgent and creamy sauces tend to be heavy and gluggy at times. This one strikes a perfect balance between the two. I tweaked the original recipe a tiny bit and the result is what you see here. I like my ravioli to be smothered in a fair bit of sauce and so that is how I prepared and plated it. Delicate ravioli stuffed with homemade creamy ricotta, mushrooms and spinach and dunked in this mildly tangy and creamy sauce perfumed with basil is a posh, moreish and hearty dish that is bound to please your family and friends.

I have tried to make this recipe post as simple and easy to understand as possible. I took my time to make this dish, precisely jotting down measurements and taking a gazillion photos in the process. At the end of it, the kitchen was a colossal mess, my hair was in disarray, beads of sweat had started to form on my forehead, I was dusted and streaked in flour and there were bits of dough clinging to my clothes. Yet I was as happy as I could possibly be! Ravioli is a labour of love and so worth it 😊

This happened to be the third time I made fresh pasta within a span of 3 months so I can say that I am reaping the culinary rewards on a pretty regular basis! I hope I have inspired you to do the same if you haven't yet. Be sure to let me know how it goes you guys 🙌

Ricotta, Mushroom and Spinach Ravioli in a Tomato Cream Sauce

Prep time: 90 min ; Cook time: 30 min
Total time: ~ 2 hours
Makes 14-16 ravioli
Serves: 2-3
Recipe category: Italian/Main Course
Recipe level: Moderate (requires practice)
Recipe source: Adapted from here

For the homemade ricotta cheese:
(Makes: ~1 cup)

Ingredients:

1 litre whole milk
1/2 tsp salt
Juice of 1 lemon

Method:

1. Line colander with 2 layers of cheesecloth; set in sink.

2. Add the milk to a heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Let it warm gradually to 200°F, monitoring the temperature with an instant read thermometer if you have one (I didn't use a thermometer). The milk will get foamy and start to steam; remove it from heat before it starts to boil.


3. Remove the milk from heat. Pour in the lemon juice and the salt. Stir gently to combine. Let the pot of milk sit undisturbed for 10 minutes.



4. Using a finely slotted spoon or skimmer, scoop curds from pan and transfer to cheesecloth-lined colander. Let the ricotta drain for 10 to 60 minutes, depending on how wet or dry you prefer your ricotta. If the ricotta becomes too dry, you can also stir some of the whey back in before using or storing it.


5. Store in a container and keep refrigerated until use.


For the pasta dough:

1 and 1/4 cup plain or all-purpose flour
1 egg
1/4 cup hot water
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Mix flour with salt in a large bowl.

2. In another bowl, stir water with egg until well mixed.

3. Now make a well in the centre of the flour, pour the egg-water mixture and mix until well incorporated. Knead the dough until well-textured and firm. The dough should not be too wet or too sticky. It should only stick to itself, but not to your hands. However, it should not be too dry, either. Make the dough into a ball and cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough stand for 1 hour at room temperature before using (I left it overnight in the fridge and the next day left it out at room temperature for 30 min). This allows gluten to work. You will be using this dough in the instructions that follow below.


For the spinach and ricotta cheese ravioli filling:

2 tbsp olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
100gm (4-5 large) mushrooms, washed and finely chopped
125gm spinach, washed and finely chopped (I used baby spinach)
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
250gm (1 cup) ricotta cheese
Salt to taste

Method:

1. Heat olive oil on medium heat, add minced garlic and saute for 1-2 minutes until fragrant.


2. Add the finely chopped mushrooms and cook for another 3 minutes.


3. Now add the spinach and cook stirring occasionally, until the spinach has wilted, about 10 minutes. Cook further (if required) to ensure all the liquid has evaporated.


4. Place the mushroom and spinach mixture in a bowl and allow to cool. Add Parmesan cheese and ricotta cheese, salt to taste and mix well. Check the seasoning and adjust accordingly. Keep refrigerated until further use.


Assembling and cooking the ravioli:

You will need to roll the pasta into a very thin sheet. You can do it the old fashioned way using a rolling pin or you can use a hand-cranked pasta-maker or a pasta attachment that comes with a stand mixer. I have used the last method but have outlined both manual and assisted methods here:

1. Divide the pasta dough into 3 equal sections and roll each into a very thin sheet with a rolling pin in a steady and consistent manner. Make sure to have flour on hand and dust the working surface or rolling pan when necessary, because the dough will be sticky. It is important that the ravioli dough be rolled very thinly (paper-thin), otherwise ravioli will be too solid when cooked as the dough expands during cooking.

If using the flat-roller pasta attachment on the stand mixer, flatten each dough section with your palm and turn the dial to setting 2 and turn the mixer on medium-low speed. Feed the first dough section into the roller. You'll want to gently support the exiting end with the flat of your hand or your index finger. Dust with flour, fold it and pass through the roller again. Do this three times. Move the dial to setting 3 and feed the dough sheet through the rollers three times. You'll notice it getting quite a bit longer as you increase the setting. Continue to increase roller setting until you reach setting 5 and the pasta sheet is paper thin. Repeat with the remaining two sections of dough. 





2. Separate sheets with a thin towel or piece of plastic wrap dusted with flour, so the dough doesn't dry out too much.


3. Once you rolled sheets of dough, shape individual raviolis. To shape ravioli, use can do it the following ways:
  • Manually with a sharp knife to cut out squares and a fork to crimp the edges or else use a cookie cutter
  • A ravioli mould/tray 
  • A ravioli press/stamp
I have used a ravioli press but previously have also tried it using just a knife and fork and it works (although it is more time consuming!).

4. Lay out a pasta sheet on a floured surface and spoon the ricotta mixture on it. Make sure you don't waste the pasta dough by assessing the maximum number of ravioli that can fit on it.


5. Cover this with a top layer of pasta sheet. press around the ricotta mixture so that you remove air bubbles and get a good seal.


6. If using a ravioli press, place it at the centre of the ravioli and apply pressure so that you get a nicely cut individual raviolo. If using a knife, cut a square around the filling and crimp the edges with a fork. Keep doing this until all the pasta sheets are used up.


7. You can gather the scraps of the dough and use it to make additional ravioli. I, on the other hand, used the scraps to make fettuccine for my kids!


8. When you are done making all the ravioli, dust them with flour and store them in an airtight container until ready to cook. You can even stash them in the freezer if you are not going to cook them immediately.


9. When you are ready to cook the ravioli, bring a big pot of water to boil, add salt and oil to the water. Gently place the ravioli in the boiling water and cook for 5 minutes. You will see the ravioli float to the top. Drain the water.



For the tomato cream sauce:

Ingredients:

1 tbsp olive oil
2 big ripe tomatoes, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
10 fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
1/4 cup white wine, Optional but recommended
1/2 cup heavy cream
20 grape or cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1/4 tsp sugar
Salt to taste

Method:

1. Heat olive oil in a pan over medium heat.  Chop tomatoes and garlic and add to the pan. Cook covered for about 10 minutes until tomatoes soften.


2. Add white wine and chopped basil. Bring to boil and cook uncovered for 5 more minutes until half of liquid evaporates. Remove from heat, let it cool.


3. Then transfer to a blender and puree the tomato mixture. As you can see, I let the green bits of basil remain. Transfer the puree back to the pan, reheat to medium heat and add in the heavy cream. Stir until well incorporated.



4. Cut each grape tomato in half and add all of them to the pan with the tomato cream sauce. Add sugar and salt to taste. Cook for 5 more minutes.


5. If you have remaining ricotta mixture, you can mix it into the sauce. I did have extra since I used the dough scraps to make fettuccine instead of making more ravioli. This step is optional though. It makes the sauce more rich and indulgent but alters the original vibrant color and velvety texture of the sauce.

Your call!


To serve:
Add cooked ravioli to the sauce at the last minute. Allow both ravioli and the sauce achieve same temperature. When serving on the plate, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and crushed black pepper (if desired) and garnish with fresh basil.



Notes:
  • While making the ricotta cheese, if the milk has not curdled after adding the given quantity of lemon juice in the recipe, you will have to add a bit more until the desired effect is achieved
  • You can use the whey leftover while making the ricotta cheese to make smoothies, fruit juices, to make bread or roti dough, in salad dressings etc
  • You may feed the pasta scraps again into the roller attachment to make additional ravioli but if you find it diffucult to manipulate, hand rolling it would be your best option
  • You can use dried thyme instead of basil in the tomato cream sauce
  • Keep in mind that the ravioli increases in size when you boil them. Make the ravioli small to medium sized and make sure there isn't excess pasta dough around the filling
  • You can cook the ravioli and then refrigerate the cooked ravioli. They keep well for 4-5 days
  • You can freeze uncooked ravioli right after you make them. They keep well for up to 2 months. To cook them, you just toss them in a pot of salted boiling water to which a little oil has been added


Cheers,
Megha



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