I have something to add to the list of things than which nothing is tastier: mushrooms you've picked yourself sautéed with garlic, salt, pepper, and more butter than is perhaps decent. Add to that fresh ravioli stuffed with the ricotta cheese like substance you made a few days ago and you've got a winner.
I've been in rather a pasta making frenzy lately. The frenzy was brought on by a fit of financial irresponsibility, during which I bought myself a pasta machine and a used copy of Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking. She uses lots of 'nevers' and 'alwayses,' which I find a bit much, but I guess she's allowed, being the authority that she is. After reading the 25 pages on the differences between the equally worthy factory-made and handmade pastas; the cooking of pasta; the mixing, kneading, and rolling of pasta; the cutting of pasta; the stuffing of pasta; the possible problems and pitfalls encountered while making pasta, I have to admit to feeling intimidated by the entire process. I had made pasta before, though, and with good results so I tried to see these 25 pages in a different light. With the thought that M. meant only to be helpful, not discouraging, I mounded my flour, made a hollow in the center of it, and cracked in the eggs.
I read several ricotta-based filling recipes before making my own. They all agreed that both ricotta and parmesan were necessary. Some called for an egg or a yolk some for lemon zest and juice. I used both, my ricotta being quite dry and needing the extra moisture. Some wanted parsley, while others favored mint. I had basil on hand so that's what I used. A two-thirds majority added grated nutmeg, and who am I to argue against it? Basil? Lemon? Nutmeg? It does sound like it could create a cacophony of flavors, but actually it was quite delish.
Ricotta-Basil Ravioli with Chanterelles
- 1 2/3 cups flour, more or less
- 3 eggs
- 1 Tbs. milk
- 1 1/2 cups fresh ricotta
- 1 cup parmigiano-reggiano, freshly grated
- 1/2 cup basil, chopped
- zest of one lemon
- squeeze of lemon juice
- 1 egg yolk
- 1/2 nutmeg, grated
- as many chanterelles as you can find
- more butter than you think is decent
- a few cloves garlic, chopped
- salt and pepper to taste
- For the pasta: Make a mound out of the flour and then make a hollow in the center of it. Crack the eggs into the hollow, then add the milk. Whisk the eggs and milk together and then start incorporating the flour. You might find, as I did, that you need considerably more flour than Marcella recommends. Add flour until your dough passes M.'s test: after having washed and dried your hands 'press your thumb deep into the center of the mass; if it comes out clean, without any sticky matter on it, no more flour is needed.'
- M. stresses the importance of kneading your dough well. This is her process: 'Push forward against it using the heel of your palm, keeping your fingers bent. Fold the mass in half, give it a half turn, press hard against it with the heel of your palm again, and repeat the operation. Make sure that you keep turning the ball of dough always in the same direction.' After kneading after this fashion for 8-10 minutes your dough should be 'as smooth as baby skin' and ready for rolling.
- For the filling: Combine the ricotta, parmesan, basil, lemon zest and juice, egg yolk, and nutmeg, using just enough lemon juice to loosen things up a bit. Feel free to use any tasty herb in place of the basil (e.g. mint, parsley).
- To assemble: Roll out your dough either with a machine or by hand. Put dots of filling (about a teaspoon per dot) evenly spaced down half of your dough. Fold the other half over the dots and seal the dough around the filling, making sure to eliminate any air pockets as you go. Cut the ravioli apart using a fluted pastry wheel (or pinking sheers in a pinch). Ideally the distance between your dots of filling will be the same as the width of your ravioli (for 2 inch ravioli, space your filling 2 inches apart) so when you cut them out there is no wastage. If there is wastage, reroll the scraps and cut and dry some pasta for another time.
- Bring water to a boil in a large pot. When it reaches the boil add a generous amount of salt and a tablespoon of oil (M. insists that oil be added only to water for boiling stuffed pastas). When the water comes back to the boil, drop in your ravioli. Sauté the mushrooms and garlic in butter while your ravioli are boiling, adding salt and pepper to taste. When the ravioli are ready, drain them and add to the pan with mushrooms. Toss them about a bit to coat in butter. Serve in deep plates sprinkled with ribbons of basil and grated parmesan.
M. insists that ravioli be square. I wanted to comply, but I don't currently own a fluted pastry wheel and only have round cutters. I could have just cut them with a knife, I suppose, but I really wanted my ravioli to have zig-zagged edges. And then it came to me: pinking shears!
And don't forget the chanterelles. The ravioli took more time and effort and were delicious in their own right, but the chanterelles stole the show. What a meaty, deep, earthy flavor. I had been wondering if the two-hour trudge through the woods, aggravating my knee was worth the handful of mushrooms in my sauté pan. The first bite of chanterelle removed all doubt--they were worth all that and more.
In the end, nothing bad can be said of mushroom hunting. The setting (the woods) is gorgeous. The activity (walking) is equally pleasant and healthful. The reward (mushrooms in the pot) is more than anyone could ask of a pleasant walk in a gorgeous wood. Just please go with someone who knows what they're doing.