Friday Ravioli- A Fine Day for Dumplings

Kitchen volcano
My mother has always been a wonderful cook, whipping up meals that could grace the front cover of Saveur or Bon Apetit with seemingly little sweat. Growing up, we always enjoyed homemade family meals and my school lunches were the envy of my classmates.

There was a period, right after we'd moved to the United States when I was embarrassed by my lunches. This was triggered by curious classmates' questioning of the contents of my lunch bag, whose slightly judgmental, "What's that??" made me retreat to munching on my mozzarella, tomato, and basil sandwich within the protective shield of the brown bag. I finally got over this embarrassment of being different- that is, of having a sandwich that was not of the peanut butter and jelly variety (something utterly foreign to my Italian mother and French father)- and eventually, friends were asking for a bite of my sandwich, which would get passed around to several people before returning to my hungry hands.

Each year, I tell myself that I need to make an effort to learn her secrets and tricks, and grow ambitious with each summer visit, envisioning the sliced eggplant I'll grill, light cheese tarts I'll whip up, and fresh pasta I'll roll out from scratch, only to have those grandiose ideas deflate at the start of a new school year when I return to an over-packed schedule and scrambled eggs for dinner. This, I'm afraid, is the byproduct of living alone, and no matter how many times I repeat this cycle, I continue to be hopeful with each coming year, inspired no doubt by the surplus of time in the summer, that I will graduate beyond a ten-minute egg dinner.

This year, I am extending my stay at home beyond the summer and figure that it's a perfect time to learn some family recipes. I don't harbor any delusions that I will become the kind of disciplined kitchen goddess who makes her own pasta regularly, but I figure that learning the process couldn't hurt and may one day come in handy. So, I asked my mom if she would show me how to make ravioli and she gladly agreed, probably also propelled from the sentiment that I should step it up in the culinary realm.

We decided to make spinach and ricotta ravioli and set out to make the dough, which is simply a mixture of flour and eggs. My mom explained that the proportions are roughly 1 egg to every 100 grams of flour, as she poured out 500 g of the white powder into a countertop peak atop of which she scooped out a hole to crack the eggs into. "You can do this in the Kitchenaid," she confessed as the flour and eggs began to look like a tiny volcano, "But this is more fun!" After cracking in the five required eggs, my mother mixed them in gradually with a fork, carefully scooping in flour from the sides of the powdery crevasse, fortifying the outside of the mound with a steady hand as it began to widen. The process was  wrought with the childhood joy of building sandcastles and making mud pies. Once the eggs were mostly mixed in, my mother switched to mixing the dough by hand, kneading it until smooth. We rubbed it in oil and covered it in saran wrap, leaving it to rest until an hour before dinner time.

While the dough rested, we prepared the filling, which consisted of two packs of frozen and shredded spinach, 425 g of ricotta, scallions, shallots, and parmesan. My mom sauteed the scallions and shallots with a bit of oil and butter, added the spinach along with salt and pepper. When the spinach was cool, she blended it with the ricotta and a dusting of parmesan to the whole. This was also put aside until assembly time.

About one hour before dinner, we reconvened to roll out the dough and assemble the dumplings. Instead of the more laborious and traditional hand-operated crank roller, we opted for the faster Kitchenaid attachment, and proceeded to squeeze out the dough to an index card-thinness. When one piece of dough got too long to hold, we split it in half and continued to thin it out. These halves became the top and bottom of the ravioli. We laid these halves out like parallel lines and scooped out dollops of the filling, like nicely lined up students, onto one of the strips of dough. Once we'd reached the end of a strip, we covered the first layer with the second strip of dough, pressing the dough down around the scoops of filling as if tucking them in for the evening. We cut the ravioli with a serrated roller and plopped them down on flour covered dishtowels, repeating the process until we ran out of filling. With the leftover dough, we made tagliatelle.

The fresh ravioli only took a few minutes to cook and were served with butter and sage sauce. They were absolutely delicious and elevated the meal to one of celebration. And what were we celebrating exactly? The end of egg dinners forever more? Not likely. Just the satisfaction of a homemade meal shared with family and perhaps some newfound cooking skills.

We made tagliatelle with the leftover dough


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