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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Pizza

Making pizza has been a bit of an ongoing saga for me. Unfortunately, there is a very fine line between tasty pizza and cardboard, so getting the recipe right is crucial. After several years of sporadic attempts, I’ve finally found a recipe and a method that works and now we eat homemade pizza almost every week!

The pizza dough recipe I use is from the Jamie Oliver book ‘Jamie at Home’. Below is the recipe as it appears in the book, but I halve this amount because the full amount makes so much dough, even in my largest bowl it oozes over the sides as it rises and is in danger of bursting the cling film! I guess I could split it into two bowls, but that means more washing up. Also I find it harder to handle that much dough (being a weakling) and it takes so much longer to knead, so in my mind it’s better to make it twice as often but use half as much effort.

Even with half the amount of dough, it makes four generously-sized pizzas. The dough freezes amazingly well, so when I make it I use half there and then, and then stash the rest in the freezer and thaw overnight when I want to use the next lot. Obviously if you did want to make the full batch then you can freeze all the rest! The pizzas I made today were from a frozen batch so I don’t have any photographs of the dough being made, just from the stretching out onwards.

Pizza Dough

Makes around 8 pizzas

1kg strong white bread flour or Tipo ‘00’ flour or 800g strong white bread flour or Tipo ‘00’ flour, plus 200g finely ground semolina flour
1 level tablespoon fine sea salt
2 x 7g sachets of dried yeast
1 tablespoon golden caster sugar
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
650ml lukewarm water

Regular (coarser) semolina for stretching out the dough

A note here: I use Dove’s Farm organic strong white bread flour (which I LOVE) and I buy semolina flour from the farm shop. For my most recent batch I’d run out of semolina flour though so I just used all bread flour, it’s no big deal. I also add more olive oil and a bit more caster sugar than the recipe says, because I think the dough benefits from being quite sweet and, combined with the olive oil, helps to eliminate all traces of carboardiness.

Method:

(NOTE: This is not the method from the book. This is how I do it)

The first thing I do is measure out the warm water, add the sugar, yeast and olive oil, and stir. Leave this to start getting frothy while you weigh out the flour.

Weigh out the flours and salt and sieve them either into a bowl or straight onto the work surface. To be honest, I used to put it on the worktop, but you need to make a well in the centre and pour the wet ingredients in, and quickly mix together to form the dough. Those moments are SO frantic, trying to contain the liquid and stop it pouring over the flour mound and onto the floor, that I just can’t cope with it! Now I just mix it in a bowl, which is far more civilised and less likely to induce a heart attack. I just add the liquid slowly and fork liquid and flour together until they come together to form a dough, then bring it together with my (floured) hands at the end. Depending on the flour you have in the bag you might need more/less liquid each time you make it. If I need to add more liquid, I usually use half olive oil and half water.

Whatever method you’ve used, once you’ve got a ball of dough you need to start kneading. Flour the work surface and your hands, and knead the dough. If you’re unfamiliar with kneading, you basically just grab the top and bottom half of the ball of dough with each hand, and, using the heels of your hands, pull them apart to basically stretch and tear the dough. Then bring it together again and repeat the same thing. Turn it over and rotate it as you go, keep flouring the surface (or the dough, if it’s a bit sticky) as you need to, and after a while you’ll notice that the texture of the dough changes completely. It will be much more elastic, and really smooth. Once you’ve reached this point, form it into a ball and put it into a floured bowl, dust the top with flour (this stops it sticking to the clingfilm) and then cover with clingfilm.

Leave the dough to rise in a warm place. I don’t have an airing cupboard or even any proper radiators, so I just turn the oven on low when I’m kneading the dough, and leave it for 5-10 mins to get warm. Then I just put the covered bowl in there and shut the door.

When the dough is ready it should have doubled or more in size. Once it’s risen, remove the clingfilm and knock back the dough (this is basically just punching the air out with your fist, immensely satisfying).  Now you’re ready to stretch it out. I always stretch my dough out with semolina rather than flour, because it gives the dough a nice sweetness and makes the crust really crunchy. Also I find it easier to push the dough around as the semolina works better to stop it sticking to the surface, I find. So sprinkle the surface liberally with semolina, and knead the dough a little more so it’s smooth again. Then divide your dough into however many pizzas you’re making, and take one of the pieces.

Stretching out the dough is hard to explain and even harder to photograph. I basically do the following things, in roughly this order:

I push the ball of dough into a flatter disc with my fist.

Then I push the edges of the dough out with my fingertips and spin the dough so it stays roughly circular.

I then pick it up in one hand, hold it on the edge and hang it like in the picture. Then I use the other hand and pull the dough apart bit by bit, and rotate it. Basically you want to try and thin out the middle, so doing this uses the miracle of gravity and the dough’s own weight to stretch it out further.

After that you should have a bigger circle of dough that’s pretty thin in the centre but still thick and doughy on the edges. Press the edges out with the heel of your hand whilst pushing away from you to thin it out as much as possible.

Once the dough is almost there, lift it onto your baking tray. If you wait until it’s too thin then you risk tearing it when you put it on the tray. It’s no biggie if you do tear it, just pinch the sides of the hole together to repair it. You should repair any holes, because otherwise when you get the sauce on it will seep through the hole and stick to the tray. DO NOT WANT.

Once it’s on the tray, you can use your fingertips to squash out the thicker edges until it’s as thin as you want it.

Now it’s ready to load with good stuff. As far as sauce is concerned, I usually make mine with passata, garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper, a pinch of sugar and oregano. Although today I’d been gardening for 7 hours and was pretty tired, so I cheated and used some sauce from a jar, and there is no shame in that whatsoever! I also like making a pepperonata for the base instead of using tomatoes, which is just peppers softened down in some olive oil until they’re almost a mush. So tasty!

As for toppings, you don’t need me to tell you that the possibilities are endless. You can make it meaty, veggie, vegan, anything!

My favourite at the moment is a bit of a half and half: I had spinach and asparagus on one side, ham and artichokes on the other, and an egg in the middle.

For the spinach, I just heated some olive oil in a pan and added garlic. Once the smell of the garlic hits you from the pan, add the spinach and cook until wilted down. When it’s wilted add a squeeze of lemon juice (I use just less than half an average sized lemon), salt and LOTS of pepper. As you can see, I don’t wilt mine down too much and I don’t squeeze all the water out of it either, because I figure you’re just losing all the nice olive oil and lemon juice you put on it! It doesn’t make the pizza soggy anyway which is the main thing.

Then it’s just a case of assembling everything, and tearing the mozzarella on. I NEVER slice the mozzarella for two reasons: 1) I like the way you get thicker chunks if you tear it, which melt better and 2) it goes further if you tear it into smaller lumps.

I then just drizzle the edges in olive oil and put it in an oven preheated to full whack (on my oven this is about 230 degrees C)

For the egg, I don’t put it on at the start because I like a runny yolk. I leave the pizzas in the oven for almost 10 minutes (or until the start juuuuuust going golden at the edges) and then take them out. NOW, I’ve had too many disasters with breaking the yolk on eggs when I’ve put them on the pizza, and, rather embarrasingly, have been so irrationally angry I’ve thrown utensils across the kitchen. I JUST LOVE A NICE RUNNY YOLK OKAY?! I’ve therefore now adopted the method of breaking the egg into a small glass and then pouring it on to the pizza, that way if it breaks I can just try another one. No more tantrums!

So, once the egg’s on the pizza, return it to the oven for 3-5 minutes until the white is cooked and, if you like a runny yolk as I do, the yolk is still nice and wobbly. Then I just top the pizza with a really good grinding of black pepper (I swear I’m not as obsessed with pepper as I appear…) and a good grating of parmesan. Enjoy! And if you don’t manage to eat it all, any leftovers are really good as lunch the next day too….