Cookbook #47: Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking

Adapted from Cookbook #47:  Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking (1992)

Recipe:  Ravioli Stuffed with Parsley and Ricotta in Tomato Sauce with Heavy Cream

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, one of my favorite holidays.  Every year the husband and I trundle on over to his parents' (one of three pairs) house for dinner.  The crowd has ranged from an intimate eight to an overwhelming twenty.  But every year we congregate around 3 p.m., sip wine and snack on some fantastic appetizer, and then gather around a big table and laugh and laugh.

Some highlights have included:
  • the best salad ever.  A simple pear, goat cheese, and butter lettuce salad with a divine, tangy, peppery dressing.  Which was later revealed in some secrecy to be Girard's Champagne Dressing;
  • the most, umm, interesting and Midwestern salad ever: a pear poached in red hots (yes, red hots, those cinnamon hard candies) served atop iceberg lettuce--let us not speak of this again;
  • a porcini, cream, butter, potato, cream, butter, chanterelle, and cream gratin.  The recipe I have since lost and should be taken out back and put out of my misery;
  • a dough throwing at my first thanksgiving with the husband's (then boyfriend's) family--we had gotten quite hungry and the husband was making pie when he threw some dough at me; at this moment we learned to always eat a little something before making apple pie; 
  • sweet potatoes with hatch chiles in them--I skipped those;
  • the demonstration of my mad line dancing skills (picked up during my summer working at a dude ranch) with two amazing friends of the husband's and mine from Utah (how we wish those friends would join us again--I am thinking 2011, guys!);
  • kabocha squash and chestnut soup with chipotle crème fraîche--one of my favorites.  Here's the recipe.
I love the interior of nutmeg.

The husband has been doing this same Thanksgiving with his father since he was about eleven.  I asked him what he loves so much about Thanksgiving.  He said something along these lines:  a holiday built solely around a meal, Thanksgiving is not about buying and buying for one another; instead, it is about a different kind of consumerism.  However this consumption of food is less about our actual dishes served and more about those with whom we're eating.

In sum we have eaten well and eaten with love. I am certainly looking forward to tomorrow.

Because I love good food and want to get in the practice of eating well, I turned to Marcella Hazan again this evening.  As always, she comes through with simple and heart-stopping goodness.  Between the butter and the sheer divinity of this sauce, you're risking your life, but it's well worth the third of a cup of butter and a half a cup of cream.  Sadly, I would normally say, take it easy with the food the day after this meal; however, tomorrow is Thanksgiving.  So hey, take it easy next week.

In the mean time, Marcella has PAGES on how to make your own pasta, but for convenience sake, just invest in fresh pasta from a local vendor.  This is a short cut well worth it.  We now use the Pasta Shop since Phoenix no longer has a store front.  But you can also get  pasta at the Berkeley Bowl.  For this recipe you need about a pound and a half, pound and a quarter of fresh, sheet pasta.  And the recipe has some seemingly complicated instructions on how to make your ravioli, but they're really not all that difficult (Marcella recommends practicing on paper if you're a little less confident).  Just ensure you seal the edges of the pasta around the filling with no air bubbles.  You don't want any filling bursting out at the seams.  Which is precisely what I intend to do on Friday after eating like this for two days.  

Buon appetito! And Happy Thanksgiving!

6 servings

For the Stuffing
1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley
1-1/2 cups fresh ricotta
1 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
1 egg yolk
Whole nutmeg

For the Pasta
1-1/2 pounds of fresh sheet pasta
1 tablespoon olive oil.

For the Sauce
1/3 cup unsalted butter
3 tablespoons each of celery, carrots, and onion, finely diced
2 1/2 cups canned imported Italian plum tomatoes, with their juice
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese for the table.

For the Stuffing
1.  Put the parsley, ricotta, grated Parmesan, salt, egg yolk and a tiny grating--about 1/4 teaspoon--of nutmeg into a bowl and mix with a fork until all the ingredients are evenly combined.  Taste and correct for salt.

For the Pasta
1.  Cut the pasta for square ravioli with 2-inch sides.  To do this with some precision, cut the dough into a long rectangle 4 inches broad and as long as the sheet of pasta.

2.  Put dots of stuffing down 2 inches apart.  The distance between the dots must always be the same as the width of the dumpling, in this case 2 inches.  The dotted row of stuffing runs parallel to the edges of the rectangle and is set back 1 inch--half the width of a dumpling--from what you determine to be the outer edge.  [Even Marcella admits this is very hard to visualize, so she recommends trying it first with paper cut to size.  She reassures you that you'll find it quite easy.  I have provided a little photo tutorial below.]

3.  Once the rectangle is dotted with stuffing, bring the edge farther from the row of dots over it and join it to the other edge, thus creating a long tube that encloses the stuffing.  Use a fluted pastry wheel to trim the joined edges and both ends of the tube, to seal it all around.  I generally use a little water or egg wash to seal the edges.

4.  With the same wheel, cut across the tube between every mound of stuffing, separating it into squares.  Spread the squares out on clean, dry, cloth towels, making sure they do not touch while the dough is still soft.  If they do they will stick to one another and tear when you try to pull them apart.  If you are not cooking them right away, turn the squares over from time to time while they are drying.  Then freeze.

5.  Bring a pot of water with 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a boil. Cook the pasta until done, about 3 to 4 minutes.  Remember, a little underdone is preferred to overdone.

For the Sauce
1.   In a saucepan, heat the butter, celery, carrots, and onions in a large saucepan.

2.  Add the tomatoes.  Cook, uncovered, at the "merest of simmers" [sigh, I love you, Marcella] for 45 minutes.  Stir from time to time with a wooden spoon.

3.  Marcella says that at this point, you should remove the tomatoes and puree them.  I decided to puree it all, because I don't like the little chunks of celery, etc.  However, you're the master.  You make the call.

4.  Return the tomatoes to the sauce pan.

5.  Adjust the heat so the simmer "picks up a little speed"  [again, Marcella with the quaint descriptor].  Add the heavy cream.  Stir and cook for one minute.

6.  Plate the pasta and the sauce with salt, pepper, and parmesan cheese to taste.

After cutting your pasta double the width of your ravioli, dallop your filling about an inch in on both the bottom and side edge.

Fold the pasta over into a tube.
Cut the tube in between each ravioli. 
Seal the edges (again, I use egg wash or water), ensuring there are no air bubbles.


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