Sunday, March 24, 2013

Sunday Recipe: Swiss Chard and Potato Ravioli

Every Christmas and every Easter, I make ravioli from scratch, as my great-grandmother did. Gram was from the tiny village of Pietransieri, in the Abruzzo region of Italy. Her ravioli are stuffed with cheese (ricotta, parm, romano, egg and parsley.) I grew up eating those ravioli and only those ravioli. Cheese or Bust! [I tried, once or twice, ravs filled with meat and never liked them, but have had more success in recent years with meat filled ravioli, in Rome and in Buenos Aires.] And so, I grew up making Gram's ravioli with my grandmother and when she died a few years ago, the tradition passed directly to me.

Working in my own kitchen with all day (or several days) to prep, I decided to experiment. While I always make a batch of Gram's cheese filled ravioli (recipe here), in the last few years I have also made:  ravioli stuffed with pear and mascarpone cheese, ravioli stuffed with chicken livers and swiss chard, and ravioli stuffed with mushrooms (recipe here.) All were delicious, by the way.

This Christmas, I got La Cucina, the ultimate compendium of all the foods from that glorious geographical boot known as Italy. The recipes contained therein are for cooks who know their way around the kitchen. They don't give very specific instructions. Or maybe it only seems that way because some of the recipes in this 2,000 page collection are so basic and simple or maybe they're just guidelines, realizing that food varies not only from region to region but from kitchen to kitchen.

Thus armed with an idea more than instructions, I set to work to make ravioli filled with swiss chard and potatoes. They were such a smashing success this Christmas, I've decided to bring them back for an Easter encore.

For the filling you will need:
one bunch of swiss chard
two small potatoes
one-half cup of grated parmesan cheese
two eggs
freshly grated nutmeg

For the dough, you will need:

3 cups unbleached all purpose flour, or as needed
4 large eggs + 1 extra egg yolk
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
Warm water as needed

The Labor:
Spoon 2 2/3 cups of the flour into a large food processor fitted with metal blade. Beat the eggs (plus the extra yolk), olive oil and salt together in a small bowl until blended. With the motor running, pour the egg mixture into the feed tube. Process until the ingredients form a rough and slightly sticky dough. If the mixture is too dry, drizzle a very small amount of warm water into the feed tube and continue processing. Scrape the dough out of the bowl onto a clean, lightly floured surface. (I do it right on my kitchen counter.)

Knead the dough by gathering it into a compact ball, then pushing the ball away from you with the heels of your hands. Repeat the gathering and pushing motion many times, for about 10 minutes. You want to stretch it as you roll and alternate between kneading and sort of stretching. Flour the work surface and your hands lightly any time the dough begins to stick while you are kneading. Conversely, if the dough seems too dry, run your hands under warm water and knead the dough while your hands are wet.

The dough will take on a smooth, silky texture after 10 or 15 minutes. It should be very elastic. Test it by pressing your fingertip into it. If the imprint springs back up, you've probably achieved delicious dough. Roll the dough into a smooth ball and wrap it in saran wrap. Let the dough rest for at least 45 minutes and up to two hours at room temperature. (It can rest longer if you put it in the fridge, but if you refrigerate it, let it stand at room temperature for about an hour before rolling and shaping.)

While the dough is resting, mix up the filling.

Peel and cube your potatoes. Add to a pot of water. Cook on high heat until it reaches a boil. Add a pinch of salt and reduce heat to a simmer. Let the potatoes cook until they are falling apart soft. At this point, strain them and let them cool.

Meanwhile, bring a second pot of water to a boil. Salt liberally. Coarsely chop the swiss chard and add that to the pot. When the chard becomes fragrant (you will smell it), remove from the water immediately and give it an ice bath to stop the cooking process.

Put the cooled chard into your food processor and mix until it's a paste. Clean the food processor and add the potatoes. Mix those until they are soft -- nearly mashed potatoes. Mix the chard and potatoes together, with the parm, salt and black pepper and freshly grated nutmeg. (This is important. Fresh nutmeg gives the chard an amazing flavor -- which is both wonderful and tremendously authentic -- Italians love nutmeg with their dark greens. So don't used the jarred stuff. Go get a few nuts.) Add about a palmful of fresh breadcrumbs. The consistency should be firm, but not so firm that you can stand your spoon up in it. You want it to have some give. Drizzle with a bit of extra virgin olive oil. Taste it to see if it needs more salt, cheese, etc. And that's all she wrote. You are ready for assembly.

The Assembly Line:
It should be noted that I use a pasta maker like the one below:
If you don't have one of these, borrow one. You really don't want to be rolling the dough with a rolling pin, unless you have (a) a huge work surface and (b) a huge rolling pin and (c) a helper.

With this handy-dandy machine, you roll out long strips of dough (about 2 inches across) and as thin as you like (I like the pasta dough on the thinner side (until you can almost see through it). I make one at a time with this method. On the long strip of dough, giving yourself about 1 1/2 inches from the start of it, put a dollop of the filling. Fold the dough over and press around three sides with your fingertips. Cut that with a knife. Then press the sides down more firmly with the tines of a fork (pressing in and rolling the fork out.) This seals them so they don't leak in the water when you cook them. Also, this step helps to make the pasta dough the same thickness all around -- where it covers the filling and also along the edges.

Then it's just lather, rinse, repeat. I line them up on floured cookie sheets and set them aside until I'm ready to cook.Note: you can use an edger, to make perfect crinkled edges like you might get in a frozen variety of pasta or in a restaurant. But mine are rustic. Also, I love the dough all by itself, so I leave an generous portion of dough at the edges. When I've finished a tray, they look like this:

Once all the ravs are made, bring a large pot of water to a boil. You want to use a ginormous pot because you want the ravs to have lots of room to move. Salt the water well when it hits a rolling boil. Add the ravs and stir gently, so they don't stick. When they start to float, they're nearly ready (about 5 minutes). Of course, I have the fail safe tester of my mother, but you want the dough to be al dente, not mushy ...

I serve them with a basic tomato sauce (my sauce recipe is here) and freshly grated romano cheese.

Happy Easter, yinzers.

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