At times, I’m sure I’m the only person in on earth who feels this way, but I’m not crazy about things stuffed with cheese. Save for a once-a-year indulgence of baked macaroni and a rare grilled cheese sandwich, I just don’t enjoy cheese by the cheek full. It feels too rich, indulgent. I think cheese was meant to be savored, bite-wise, in a setting where its delicate twists and turns can be pondered. It seems whenever the quantity is amplified, it has an inverse effect on the quality. Frankly, the dry, flat stuff that fills most ravioli is just depressing.
It’s also boring. Years ago, in a tiny, nearly-empty restaurant in Venice, I had a taste of what ravioli could be were its potential ever actualized. Minced porcini and wild mushrooms bound ever-so-slightly by ricotta, or perhaps in hindsight, breadcrumbs, filled a thin, almost translucent piece of pasta, which floated in a subdued puddle of tomato broth. It was perfect, innovative, lightweight and healthful. I came as close as ever to recreating it in November, though stopped short of the tomato broth, serving them instead pierogi-style.
It hasn’t fulfilled my determination to find other pasta fillings in which cheese plays only a supporting role. Artichokes are great, perfect really, but what about all the other vegetables we incorporate in Italian cooking–eggplant, zucchini, bitter greens, dried tomatoes, herbs. What about arugula? Easily one of my favorite flavors on earth, this is one of those things that I knew if I ever wanted to make a filling of, I’d be on my own. In fact, no matter how many cookbooks or websites I’ve browsed, I’m still surprised that when you want to make a non-cheese or non lobster-filled ravioli, you’re left with almost no guidance.
Thus, these arugula ravioli were an effort in trial and error, though the error came mostly in the form of this new ravioli maker I purchased on my day off Monday. (Also, new cutting boards and a new bread stone. I believe I’m now banned from Bowery Kitchen Supply on my day off. In my defense, I stopped short of the banneton when I realized even the small one was $32! In my own criticism, I had actually just gone there looking for a couche. I digress.) Did you read the furkin’ manual, you ask? Ha! I don’t need no stinkin’ manual. I’ll just use my intuition, which as you may have seen coming, caused terrific frustration. Note to everyone, but mostly me, though I’ll never forget again: flour your molds! The first batch of ravioli, the one I smugly modeled for the camera, went in the garbage, wholly unsalvageable. The second batch, the one in which I dumped the top plate altogether (those jagged edges are useless cutting tools, anyway) and just used the base–yes, floured–and a pastry wheel to get the edges, were far more successful.
The filling, thank goodness, was far less drama. I cleaned, dried, and took the large stems off two bunches of arugula, chopped it and sautéed them with minced garlic and shallots. I added a few tablespoons of freshly-pulsed breadcrumbs for absorption, a third of a cup of grated Romano cheese and an egg yolk, to bind it. We loved, loved, loved the filling and it paired deliciously with a simple pasta sauce of quartered cherry tomatoes sautéed in a pan of butter, cooked down slightly with water.
I think it’s clear this was kind of a ridiculous amount of labor–making pasta, making filling, rolling it out, filling and cutting them, cooking the noodles, making a sauce, etc.–but I really didn’t mind anything but the chucking of 12 gummed-on ravioli. I want to get this right. I’ve said this before, but I think a lot of what gets us in the kitchen is a pursuit of something, and in this episode, it’s something that inspired me, changed the way I saw a mundane food almost ten years ago. I’ve been so eager to pick up where that left me off, I didn’t get impatient the way I usually do when it’s taken an hour and a half beyond what I’d anticipated. I have a feeling I’ll be trying another version frightfully soon.
If you have a ravioli press, use it’s directions to assemble your ravioli, though I can’t underline enough that you should go as thin as you and your dough can handle and to flour, flour, flour. Instructions for making ravioli without the molds, or with wonton wrappers, follow.
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large shallots, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
8 ounces arugula, washed, dried, coarse stems removed and coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons breadcrumbs measured from 2 slices or one half of a roll, pulsed in the food processor until reduced to soft crumbs
1/3 cup finely grated Romano cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
1 egg yolk (reserve egg white for sealing)
1 half-batch of fresh pasta–or–1 package of wonton wrappers
1 egg white beaten with two tablespoons of water to seal ravioli
Make Filling: Heat olive oil in a large pan at medium heat. Saute shallots and garlic for 7 to 10 minutes, until they are soft and translucent, but not brown. Add arugula, turning and stirring it frequently, until it has cooked down, its water has largely evaporated but it hasn’t lost it’s color — about 3 to 5 minutes. Let mixture cool, then add bread crumbs and Romano cheese. Taste filling and season it as needed with salt and pepper. Add the egg yolk, stirring mixture until combined. Set aside.
To Make Ravioli Without a Ravioli Mold: Cut your pasta dough into 4 pieces, then flatten each piece into a rough rectangle and cover rectangles with an inverted large bowl. Set rollers of pasta machine on widest setting.
Lightly dust 1 rectangle with flour and feed through rollers. (Keep remaining rectangles under bowl.) Fold rectangle in half and feed it, folded end first, through rollers 7 or 8 more times, folding it in half each time and feeding folded end through. Dust with flour if necessary to prevent sticking. Turn dial to next (narrower) setting and feed dough through rollers without folding. Continue to feed dough through rollers once at each setting, without folding, until you reach narrowest setting. Dough will be a smooth sheet (about 24 inches long and 4 inches wide).
Put sheet of dough on a floured work surface and drop 6 (1 1/2 teaspoon) mounds of filling 1 1/2 inches apart in a row down center of one half of sheet. Brush egg wash around each mound, then fold other half of sheet over filling. Press down firmly around each mound, forcing out air. (Air pockets increase the chance that ravioli will break during cooking.) Cut pasta (between mounds) with cutter into 3-inch rounds. Line a large shallow baking pan with a clean kitchen towel (not terry cloth) and dust towel with flour, then arrange ravioli in 1 layer in it. Make more ravioli with remaining pasta dough, 1 sheet at a time, and remaining filling, transferring ravioli to lined pan.
To Make Ravioli From Wonton Wrappers: Line 2 baking sheets with heavy-duty foil; spray foil with nonstick spray. Place 4 wonton wrappers on work surface; cover remaining wrappers with plastic to prevent drying. Lightly brush entire surface of each wrapper with egg white. Spoon 1 generous teaspoon filling into center of each wrapper. Fold wrappers diagonally in half, forming triangles. Press edges firmly to seal. Arrange ravioli on prepared sheets. Repeat with remaining wrappers and filling.
Cooking time will vary, depending on the thickness of your dough.