Spinach and ricotta ravioli with pine nuts

I admit it, I’m a huge sucker for kitchen gadgetry, but only where it’s actually useful or is going to do a job that I either wouldn’t be able to do myself or would take me ages by hand. Cue the pasta machine, a present from my husband (then boyfriend) several years ago. I love homemade pasta and I love the process of making it; it’s theraputic and is really much less effort than you might realise. I also like that rolling the pasta through the machine is a two-person job – it’s one of the only kitchen activities I can coax my husband into joining in with (I think he likes turning the crank and fiddling with the knobs (no double entendres intended!)).

If you don’t have a pasta machine then you can most definitely do this by hand! You will just need to roll out the pasta with a rolling pin and then dollop the mixture on to the pasta, cover with another sheet and then seal together. It will be a bit more time consuming though but not too much. To give you an idea of time, from making the pasta to finishing eating the ravioli it was around an hour and a half. Not a huge amount of time for a completely made from scratch dinner!

I wanted to make some ravioli for my dad for a Father’s Day dinner as it’s his favourite thing, so I thought it best to test out the ravioli attachment we got for the pasta machine AGES ago that had previously sat unused, before attempting it on the day. So I thought I’d use spinach and ricotta for the filling as I’m sort of obsessed with spinach at the moment. I just kind of made up the filling so I’ve got no exact measurements – I just kept tasting it until the flavours and the seasoning were right. The amounts I’ve specified below should get you somewhere near the perfect flavoured filling!

You could obviously fill these with whatever you want – just whizz up meat and cheese or tomato, goats cheese and softened red onions, butternut squash and sage… the list is endless. Or go with your favourite type that you would usually buy in the supermarket. It will definitely taste better!

If you want to increase the quantities then for the pasta it’s 100g of flour to each egg, and ‘one egg’ of pasta is roughly enough for one person.

Spinach and ricotta ravioli

Serves 2

Pasta

200g plain 00 flour (you can use ordinary flour but it won’t be as silky smooth. You can get 00 flour now in most supermarkets)

2 large eggs

Pinch of salt

Filling

5 generous handfuls spinach

2/3 garlic cloves (depending on how garlicky you like it!)

Knob of soft butter

3 heaped dessertspoons ricotta cheese

Pinch freshly grated nutmeg

Olive oil

Salt and pepper

Tomato sauce

200ml passata/chopped tomatoes

Half a glass red wine

1 garlic clove, crushed

1 tablespoon oregano

Salt and pepper

Pinch of sugar

To serve
Handful of pine nuts

 

Method

For the pasta: Weigh out the flour and tip onto a work surface. Add the salt. Make a well in the centre and crack the eggs into it.

Then, mix the eggs into the flour until everything is combined. Yes this is messy and at times difficult, and I know I said I didn’t mix my pizza dough this way because it’s too hard to cope with. BUT, it’s much easier with eggs because of how gelatinous the whites are – the watery liquid of the pizza dough just runs all over the place  whereas this is much easier to keep under control. ANYWAY, bring everything together and then knead the dough until it’s nice and smooth and elastic. You might need more flour – it depends how absorbent your particular flour is. Just add more if it’s a bit sticky (flouring your hands isn’t a bad idea either). Once the dough is smooth form it into a ball and cover with clingfilm. Leave for 30 minutes (unrefrigerated) for the gluten in the flour to do its thing.

Whilst the pasta is resting you can get on with everything else. For the filling, wilt the spinach in a pan with some olive oil. Then, add the spinach and all the other ingredients into a processor (or if you don’t have a processor then mince the garlic, finely chop the spinach and then mix everything together, beating in the softened butter). Once it’s all pureed decant it into a bowl and put to one side.

For the tomato sauce, fry off the garlic in the oil and then add the rest of the ingredients and simmer for 5-10 minutes until hot, then leave the heat on low to keep the sauce warm. Put the pine nuts in a dry pan and toast until golden.

When the dough is ready, either roll out in a pasta machine if you have it, or by hand. The pasta machine is SO fun though, if you’re serious about pasta then I strongly advise buying one! This is the one I have – the ravioli thing that comes with it was crap though, it all stuck to the tray and I couldn’t get it out, hence why we got the ravioli attachment! Below are some pictures showing the stages of stretching out the dough and then putting it into the ravioli maker. The ravioli maker did make the filling ooze out the sides a bit – I think this is because the filling was quite loose and goopy. Next time I might make it thicker  and stiffer so that it doesn’t spread so much when the machine squeezes it through.

Whether you’ve used a machine or done it by hand, once you’ve filled the ravioli you need to leave the pasta to dry before you cut it. If you don’t let it dry then it just falls apart when you try and lift it into the pan – as it dries out it gets less fragile. You don’t want to ruin all your hard work at this stage! You should only need to leave it for 15 minutes or so. I took this time to do some clearing up as by this stage my kitchen closely resembled a bomb site.

Once the pasta is dry, put it into a large pan of very salty water, and boil for just a few minutes. It’s worth gathering all the ravioli up onto a plate and sliding it into the water all at once – if you do it piece by piece then the ones you put in first will be cooked by the time you’ve got them all in! NB: don’t put them into a pile before the pasta is dry – it will all stick together in a lump and will be good for nothing! (I’ve done this exact thing with tagliatelle – not good) The pasta won’t take long at all to cook. When you drain it in the colander, drizzle it with some olive oil to stop it sticking together and shake it well to make sure it’s all coated with the oil. Then add the ravioli to the sauce and mix everything together.

Decant into bowls/plates and scatter with the pine nuts to serve. Enjoy!

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First post: Cooking vs. baking and one of my favourite meals

Much as I love baking sweet things, I take much more pleasure in cooking a meal. Maybe it’s because I don’t ever really bake anything particularly complex, but I find it much more of a challenge to cook a really nice meal. There is just so much more to get right – seasoning, depth of flavour, making sure the flavours work together, texture etc etc. In baking, it’s not really hard to get a nice fluffy, moist sponge or something really rich and chocolatey, as long as you have the right recipe.

I think with cooking, I tend to use a recipe and then ‘freestyle’ certain parts of it, mostly because I have to substitute ingredients that I don’t like (I’m quite a fussy eater) or don’t have. So when I find a recipe that works, I tend to add it to my repertoire and cook it a lot. Which brings me on to one of my favourite recipes of all time, which is so so simple but tastes amazing. I always feel like a bit of a cheat when I cook this for others because I get so many compliments on it but I haven’t actually done much. And I have to say, it’s the perfect meal for a dinner party. Without trying to sound pretentious, it has a kind of sophistication in its sheer simplicity, and the combination of ingredients and flavours works so incredibly perfectly. It also only really takes 10 minutes of effort right at the end to bring everything together which makes it perfect for cooking when you have guests and would rather be chatting (drinking) with them rather than faffing in the kitchen.

Every person I’ve ever cooked this for has asked me for the recipe, and I’ve cooked this for almost all of my family and friends, so that has to be a good accolade, no? What follows is hardly a recipe: it’s from Nigella’s How to Eat and I’m not even going to copy it out of the book, but just type it out as I would cook it.

Tagliatelle with Chicken from the Venetian Ghetto

Ingredients:

1 whole chicken

Tagliatelle

Sultanas

Pine nuts

Fresh rosemary

Seasoning

Olive oil

Roast the chicken as you usually would (I just put the chicken in an oval cast iron casserole, smear some butter on the top, season, shove half a lemon into the cavity and roast, covered with the lid/foil, for 30 minutes per 500g and then take the lid/foil off and roast for a further 30 minutes uncovered so the skin goes brown).

Whilst the chicken is in the oven, toast a handful or so (as many as looks about right for the amount of people you’re feeding!) of pine nuts in a dry pan until they go golden brown. Soak the sultanas (again, as many as you think appropriate)  in boiling water for at least 30 minutes until they are plumped up and soft.

Take the chicken out of the oven, cover with foil and leave to rest for 20 minutes. Keep the pan with the juices in to one side. Put the kettle on to boil water for the tagliatelle. I usually allow about 100g per person, and then make a bit extra.

Once the tagliatelle is boiling, start to pull the meat off the chicken. Don’t carve it like a sunday roast, but rather pull the meat off in chunks. Make sure you get all the leg and wing meat too! Wrap it in foil if the pasta isn’t quite done when you are.

Heat up the juices from the pan you roasted the chicken in until simmering and hot. I add a glug of liquid chicken stock if my chicken hasn’t yielded a lot of juices, or you could crumble a stock cube in and add a tablespoon of water to help it dissolve. Add the sultanas and pine nuts to the juices and stir around. Finely chop the rosemary (not too much, probably a tablespoon when chopped to serve four people, you don’t want it to taste soapy) and add that to the juices, fruit and nuts.

When the pasta is cooked, drain it but not too much, so a little of the water remains around the tagliatelle. Add it to the pan, along with the chicken and toss everything together well to coat all of the pasta in the juices and other nice bits.

Serve! I usually serve with a green salad and bread. Enjoy!