Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Ravioli unravelled

Inspired by an Australian friend's photos of the most delicious home-made ravioli, I decided it was time to have another go at making pasta dough.

It's some years since I tried it, and it was pretty unremarkable, not worth repeating so it was back to buying the hard shop bought stuff, that always worked perfectly well anyway, invariably in lasagna or as canneloni.

Over the years, I've managed to get the hang of most floury and/or eggy sort of things. Shortcrust pastry was made with the help of a French recipe book, a lot of butter and a Kenwood Chef. After success with that I decided to go for puff pastry - no Jus-Rol for me like mummy, oh no. Result - a gorgeous mushroom jalousie one evening, don't think I've ever made it since.

I did try croissants which is a similar technique to the puff pastry, ie enfolding the butter and rolling out, but they never seemed to fluff up enough. Yeast was obviously beyond me at that point. Egg things were ticked off the list too - omelettes, soufflés, hollandaise sauce - but not home-made mayonnaise. That was about as unsuccessful as croissants. My mum could do it, but rarely did, preferring to open a jar of Hellman's.

Bread was beyond me, although Partner managed to suss it out and kept us in a regular supply of wholemeal loaves. One week in a September some years ago, I had a week off. What to do? He was working so I had an idle week ahead of me. I decided I WOULD learn to make bread. I tried lots of recipes from a very good bread book, and eventually cracked it. The Rayburn probably helped too for rising and proving the dough, and the granite surface for working the dough.

From then on, I would come in from work and every other day would be bread-making evening. I'd chuck the dough together, make tea, eat tea, doze off, and usually remember to get the bread out before I fell into bed. Like the pastry, I started off using the Kenwood, but in the end it was as easy to do it all by hand. We bought huge sacks of flour - around 15kg that were delivered by mail order. Pizza, foccaccia, you name it, I made it.

Making bread in Spain was a bit of a shock - there is no strong flour - or not where I live. Plenty of yeast from Mercadona but using ordinary flour doesn't taste the same. So I stopped.

But the one thing I did learn in Spain - was mayonnaise. I finally cracked it with the help of a Spanish pal who happened to be a chef. As I watched him, I realised where I had always gone wrong, it was easy really. The egg yolk (he only used one) has to be really thick. Simple as that. It only took me 40+ years to learn how to do it. And the annoying thing was, when I looked at one of my (French) cook books, it gave some incredibly helpful and lengthy advice about how to make perfect mayo - and retrieve it when it doesn't work out. And the trick to that is - French mustard. I use Dijon - Grey Poupon.

As for mayo, I did start with baby steps by making one that includes a hard boiled yolk as well as a raw one. But when you have the feel for the consistency it works ok.

I give you this incredibly long preamble to point out that I am not totally incompetent in the kitchen, so pasta dough (it doesn't even involve yeast) should not be beyond me.

I decided on green ravioli stuffed with three cheeses. Seemed straightforward enough. First I did the easy bit and made the mushroom and tomato sauce. Next, cooked the spinach on low and just in the washing water. I think it was a 140 gram bag. Next I mixed the cheeses in a bowl with for some reason, an egg.

Finally the dough. Here are the quantities:
• 13oz flour (white/wholemeal/mixed)
• 2 eggs
• 200 grams spinach - as I was short I added less flour, I think (!)
• 1/2 teaspoon salt which I left out as too idle to add it.

I should add that I have no scales in the flat - but I can usually guestimate the flour pretty well. Except on this occasion either I didn't, or .....?

After mixing it all up into a soft ball (yes, very soft) and kneading it, you are meant to stick it in a damp cloth to rest for half an hour. Didn't feel like ruining a tea towel, so stuck it in greaseproof in the fridge. Works ok for pastry, although in retrospect this is not pastry, but I doubt that was the critical factor.

And then I rolled it out. Ha!! I say, rolled it out, but what I really mean is that I smeared spinach and flour all over the board and tried to make it look remotely like a sheet of pasta dough.

I stuck a small helping of cheesy stuff at strategic spots on the 'dough' and attempted to put the other 'sheet' on top to start enclosing the ravioli. Well, it worked after a fashion. But the raviolis were huge. For the ones that were just total slop I chucked some more flour around and rolled them into dumplings.

Next up, cooking the blasted things. Cook in plenty of boiling salted water for 5-6 minutes until tender. Oh no. I don't think so at all. Neither the few lumps masquerading as ravioli or the ones that had been mutated into dumplings wanted to cook until tender at all.

I think we ate two of them. The sauce was ok. Fortunately. I loathe tripe. You know how it is when you put a piece in your mouth and chew it and it just gets bigger and bigger and more and more chewy? This was not dissimilar.

We considered frying them up for breakfast, and there was a little sauce left too. We don't like throwing things out so we did. They were slightly better, which is hardly saying a great deal.

'They weren't bad fried up,' I said brightly.

'I don't think I'd be wanting them for breakfast every day,' he replied.

I doubt I will be attempting that one again in a hurry.

Start of the ops, the dough mix and the cheese mix

The 'dough' rolled out

The dumpling/ravioli balls before cooking

Here however, is a picture of some delicious lasagna using shop bought pasta. Can't remember what was in it, probably courgette, aubergine, onion, tomato sauce, and the topping is creme fraiche and veg cheese. I went through a phase of using creme fraiche instead of white sauce as - er, it was faster, easier and meant one pan less to wash. Thought I would leave you with a success pic to salvage my fragile ego.


Dina ... UK said...

The Ravioli balls look rather, rather different. :)
The Lasagna one looks good though. lol

Totty Teabag said...

Our Mercadona stocks three types of flour under the Aragonesa brand; ordinary plain flour, strong bread flour (harina de fuerza) and bizcocho flour that is equal to self raising...I wonder why yours doesn't?

My only regular form of pasta making is the production of spatzli (can't find my umlaut) made by mixing an egg with enough flour and a tbs milk to make a floppy dough/stiff batter and pushing it through the holes in a chestnut roasting pan into a large pan of boiling water. I think they are the Swiss version of gnocci. Bossman prefers them with a cream sauce,I favour them as left overs, fried until crispy in a goodly amount of butter and sprinkled generously with whatever cheese is handy.

Your lasagna is making me hungry...