Thursday, November 13, 2008

stark ravioli mad

It seems that I've been going about my quest for kitchenware the wrong way. The trick is not to convince people to buy you kitchenware without getting married. The trick is to wait for other people to get married - and then take their unloved wedding gifts off their hands.

Like pasta makers. Googie Baba (the frequent partner-in-crime of Virgin in the Volcano) had one that she was using as a dust-catcher. I say "had," because when she heard me lamenting my sorry lack of a pasta maker, she offered to give it to me. Naturally, I jumped to accept it.

So now I own a pasta maker, and Googie gets fresh ravioli as a thank-you.

And now I will finally tell the story, which I've hinted at, of how I once tried to make ravioli for fifty (almost) single-handedly.

I cooked with Hillel, the Jewish students' association, during freshman year of college. Every Friday afternoon, I'd head over to the religious center, and spend several hours in the tiny kosher kitchen with a group of other students, helping to prepare the meal that would be served after Shabbat services. The head chef was a crazy drama major whose culinary creations trod the fine line between genius and madness, and we made everything from pad thai to chicken-fried steak.

Sophomore year, the crazy drama major landed a lead role in the theater department's big spring production. The rehearsal schedule left Hillel looking for a new head chef. They asked if I would be interested. In a fit of insanity, I said yes.

Which meant that come second semester, I was no longer going to be just helping out with Shabbat dinner. I was going to be responsible for making sure that Shabbat dinner would happen.

So naturally, for my inaugural meal, I chose to prepare the most impractical dish I could possibly come up with: butternut squash ravioli in sage brown butter sauce. Granted, the rest of the menu wasn't so bad - minestrone, green salad, and brownies - but it was overwhelmed by the reality of twenty pounds of butternut squash and a mountain of wonton wrappers.*

Add in the fact that I hadn't quite grasped the basics of posting to the Hillel mailing list, and therefore hadn't confirmed that anyone else was going to show up, and I had all the makings of the oddest all-nighter I ever pulled in college. (It was a good thing I had no Friday classes that semester.)

The night before the dinner, I roasted twenty pounds of butternut squash, mashed twenty pounds of butternut squash, and seasoned twenty pounds of butternut squash. I chopped vegetables for the minestrone and assembled the salad.

Sometime in the early hours of the morning, I sat down with an enormous bowl of seasoned butternut squash and a mountain of wonton wrappers, and started to make ravioli.

My memories of the rest of the night are a little fuzzy. I know I stopped to get breakfast the next morning, and a few people did show up to help that afternoon. Somehow, we did manage to make enough ravioli to feed everyone, and I learned my lesson about planning meals for a crowd.

The following recipe is a reworked version of the aforementioned ravioli, using sweet potatoes in place of the butternut squash. The filling is seasoned with nutmeg and green onions, and they're served in herbed brown butter. If you're going to make these for anything other than personal consumption, it'll go much faster if you round up all the volunteers (willing or unwilling) that you can get.

But seriously? Don't even think about making them for fifty.

Sweet Potato Ravioli

You'll need a ravioli stamp if you want those neat little edges on each raviolo, but you can cut them by hand if you're not too worried about how they look.

(Makes four to six servings, depending on your appetite. They freeze well.)

Appended correction: You need one batch of pasta dough per pound of filling. The recipe as written below has the wrong ratios; you can correct it by either halving the quantities for the filling, or making a double batch of pasta dough.

This is not a complicated recipe, but it is a time-consuming one. You'll want two days - one to make the filling and the pasta dough, and the next to assemble the ravioli.

First, prepare the filling: Preheat the oven to 400F. Take two pounds of sweet potatoes, peel them, cut them into chunks, and roast in a foil-covered pan until soft. Remove from the oven. Set aside.

Take a bunch of green onions, mince them finely, and saute in a pan with half a stick of butter.

Transfer the sweet potatoes to a big bowl. Break them up with a potato masher or a wooden spoon until you have a thick mash. Season with nutmeg. Add the cooked green onions, along with any butter remaining in the pan. Add a generous dollop of sour cream. Stir until the mixture is smooth and even. Salt to taste. Cover the bowl and stick it in the refrigerator. You can forget about it until tomorrow.

Next, make the pasta dough: Dump two cups of all-purpose flour on a very, very clean countertop. Make a well in the middle. Crack in four egg yolks. Pour in a tablespoon of olive oil and two tablespoons of water. Add a dash of salt. Use your fingers to break up the eggs and swirl them around to pull the flour in, little by little. (More detailed instructions can be found here.)

Once you have a rather shaggy mass of dough, start kneading. Wet your hands if it seems very dry; continue kneading. Knead until you have a stiff dough that is very smooth to the touch. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and stick it in the fridge. You can forget about the dough until tomorrow, too.

Is it tomorrow? Pull the dough out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature. Get out your bowl of filling. Grab a teaspoon. Set out a few baking trays.

Set up your pasta maker, and roll out batches of the dough to the second-thinnest setting. (Probably about 5 or 6 on the dial, depending on your model.) Cover the sheets with a damp tea-towel.

Now the assembly begins.

Take one sheet of dough and cut it into rough squares, about two inches by two inches wide. (Combine all the scraps into a ball to be rolled out again later.)

Take one square of dough, put a heaped teaspoon of filling on it, and lay a second square on top. Push down firmly with your thumbs around the filling to create a tight seal between the two layers of dough. Use a ravioli stamp or trim the edges as necessary. Set your finished raviolo on the baking tray.

Repeat this process until you run out of filling or dough, or patience. The ravioli can either be frozen immediately for later use, or cooked for immediate consumption. (You'll probably want to do a little of both.)

To cook the ravioli, set a big pot of salted water on the stove over high heat. When the water reaches a rolling boil, drop the ravioli in a few at a time. Cook for four minutes if they're fresh, and six to seven if they're frozen. (Just make sure the fillings are warmed through.)

Serve with browned butter (cook over low heat until it turns light brown in color) seasoned with rosemary or sage.

*I wasn't going to make ravioli from scratch. I wasn't that crazy.


Julie said...

First, I've been on a bit of a ravioli making jag lately so I'll have to try this because that sounds so good. I've never made ravioli with sweet potatoes or butternut squash.

Second, great story. Ravioli for fifty!?! You are amazing. Perhaps a little crazy, but absolutely amazing.

And if I had ever made ravioli for fifty, I don't think I'd ever make ravioli again. Ever.

bostontparties said...

I forgot to tell you -I've started this feature called Boston T Partyers (corny, I know), wherein I spotlight the best boston blogs, and I did yours on tuesday. Enjoy (I hope) and keep blogging!

adele said...

Julie - I was young and ambitious and there was no-one around to tell me that I was insane. :P

bostontparties - I'm so glad you enjoy my blog!

Cakelaw said...

This looks absolutely delicious!! I have owned a pasta maker for 4 years - it is still in unopened, mint condition.

Googie Baba said...

Well, I am happy to report that your ravioli was a BIG hit.

Jen and I are just so impressed that you made such beautiful ravioli. I'm sure the pasta maker is glad we gave it away. It was dying of neglect over here.

adele said...

Googie, I'm so glad you liked the ravioli!

Kathleen said...

Oh man, I remember that night! I came to visit you around midnight to see how things were going, and then the next morning. You locked yourself in that place.

I also remember when you made this recipe for my parents! They were quite impressed.

adele said...

Wow. I'd forgotten that you came by that night.

I did make this for your parents, didn't I? It went a lot more quickly when we had six or seven people stuffing them. :)

Kim said...

My kind of pasta, Adele. I am going to get the kitchen aid attachment sooner than later as I am so missing out on a good thing.

adele said...

Kim - Do it! Do it!