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Nota per lettori italiani/e:  troverete un riassunto alla fine del post

This recipe took me well outside my comfort zone. I had only once before made pasta, and that was at least 15 years ago. On that occasion I used a rolling pin, and not only was it very hard work, but the results were not that wonderful. Recently I’d been hankering to give it another go, and so was glad to find that this month’s challenge on Quanti Modi di Fare e Rifare (an on-line Italian cooking group) was for ravioli. What’s more it was for a recipe with a very unusual (some might say alarming) combination of flavours, that actually worked very well together.

This time I armed myself with the correct tools: a shiny new Imperia pasta maker, and a specialised ravioli cutter (7.5cm across).

The Recipe

I’ll present first a quick version of the recipe, translated and adapted from the recipe Ravioli di pere con speck e aceto balsamico  from Elena at Zibaldone Culinario. Then I’ll give some notes based on my experience as a novice pasta maker.

Ingredients

Serves 4

For the Egg Pasta

  • 250g type 00 pasta flour
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • Water to mix

For the Pear and Ricotta Filling

  • 3 Williams pears, not too ripe, peeled and cored OR the equivalent in drained tinned pears (in fruit juice not syrup)
  • 200g ricotta
  • 50g grated grana padano cheese
  • 1 egg
  • Salt and pepper

To Garnish

  • 5-6 slices of speck or (smoked) pancetta / streaky bacon
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 30g butter
  • Balsamic glaze or vinegar
  • Chives
  • Grated parmesan

You’ll also Need

  • A pasta machine
  • A ravioli cutter
  • A couple of baking trays
  • Semolina for dusting

Method

Mix the pasta ingredients, adding some water if necessary, but only enough to bring everything together into a dough.

Knead for just as long as it takes to get a smooth dough. Form into a ball, cover with plastic, and leave to rest for at least 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the filling. Drain the ricotta in a sieve. Peel and core the pears (or drain the tinned ones) and cut into dice about 6mm in size. Mix the ricotta with the egg and grana padano, season with salt and pepper to taste, then gently mix in the pears.

Divide the dough into about 4 balls and use the pasta machine to roll them out till they are paper thin. Throughout this process, make sure to dust the pasta frequently with semolina to prevent it sticking to the machine or itself.

Dot the filling over the pasta, using a teaspoon and knife. Brush a little water around each blob of filling, then cover with another sheet of pasta and gently press into place, taking care to expel as much air as possible. Form the ravioli using the special cutter or a knife and transfer to a baking sheet dusted with semolina.

The ravioli can be used immediately, kept in the fridge overnight (in which case you might want to dry them out a little first), or stored in the freezer (they can be cooked straight from frozen).

Cook the ravioli in plenty of fast boiling water. They will need roughly 3-4 minutes, depending on whether they are freshly made.

Drain them well and coat gently with a little butter. Place on a plate and drizzle (artistically) with balsamic glaze/vinegar. Garnish with the speck/pancetta/streaky, which you have browned in a little oil then cut it into thin ribbons, followed by the grated parmesan and chopped chives.

A Great Video

I found a very useful, and rather charming, video (with English commentary) in which Grandma Rosa demonstrates how to make ravioli, from making the pasta right through to cooking the ravioli.

Notes from a Novice Pasta Maker

Making pasta is a messy business! Using semolina rather than flour for dusting does reduce this somewhat, but still I was glad my partner was out for the night, and spared the horrors of what was going on in the kitchen. When he returned, you would never have guessed the scene of devastation that had been present shortly before.

Have plenty of semolina on hand before you start rolling. I used the kind that is sold for making pudding in the UK. This worked fine for dusting, though I think it would have been too coarse for use in the actual dough.

I suspect getting the right texture for pasta is something you learn from experience. Certainly mine was too sticky, and my first beautiful concertina of rolled dough stuck irretrievably to itself. But on subsequent rollings this was remedied by dusting the outside of the dough with semolina before each pass through the machine. I read somewhere that the ideal texture for the dough is like plasticene. This sounds about right: something firm but pliable and only slightly sticky.

The exact size of the piece of dough to put through the machine depends to a certain extent on how well you can cope with the final size of the rolled dough, as even quite a small ball ends up as a very long sheet. I’d suggest you start quite small, with something bigger than an egg and smaller than an apple, and increase the size of the next piece if you feel you can manage it.

Use the following procedure with each piece of dough. Set the machine to its widest setting and pass the dough through it five times, folding it in three and dusting with semolina between passes. Don’t’ be tempted to omit this stage. It works and strengthens the dough, and saves you the effort of kneading it for 10 minutes at the outset.

Now work your way through the settings down to the narrowest, and pass the pasta through once or twice at each setting, remembering to dust with semolina as required. At first the dough will seem to grow in size quite slowly, but eventually you should have a long (potentially very long) strip which is paper thin.

I stopped one short of the thinnest setting on my machine, partly through faint-heartedness, partly because I thought the pasta was thin enough. This was a mistake, as I had not realised that the pasta would thicken up when cooked.

To get the spacing of the filling right, I found it useful to mark the pasta by pressing the ravioli cutter gently into the surface. Don’t overdo the filling; you need to leave about 1.5 around each blob.

There are various ways to cover the filling. If your sheet is wide enough, you can position it towards the bottom of the pasta strip and fold the top edge over to cover. This was my most successful method. Another way I tried was to put the filling on every other square along the length of the strip then start folding over from one end. This was not so satisfactory as you end up with annoying extra bits of dough on the next ravioli. Of course you could cover the whole sheet with another one but I didn’t have the courage to try that. Maybe next time!

The specialised cutter does a great job of sealing and forming the ravioli. Press down firmly, and then twist slightly to detach the ravioli. Before lifting the cutter, scrape off any extra bits of pasta from around the edges.

A Note on Ingredients

Speck is, I believe, a strongly flavoured ham or bacon from the north of Italy. I wasn’t able to find any so I used some smoked streaky bacon which I sautéed with a few juniper berries.

I found it hard to drizzle balsamic vinegar in the artistic way that Elena does in her photograph, so I suspect what you want is a balsamic glaze/reduction. There are various recipes for this on line, and it seems you can buy it ready made.

You may wince at my suggesting using tinned pears. But on my pastry course with Richard Bertinet, he suggested using tinned pears for making pear and almond tarts, as they are picked at just the right stage of freshness, which is quite hard to achieve with fresh pears. So if it’s good enough for a master baker it’s good enough for me! I did however use pears in fruit juice rather than syrup.

Riassunto Italiano

Sono molto felice di partecipare per la prima volta a Quanti Modi di Fare e Rifare, un gruppo di cucina on-line italiano, e vorrei ringraziare di cuore le sue ideatrici, Ornella (Il giardino dei sapori e dei colori) ed Anna (C’è di mezzo il mare).

La ricetta di questo mese era per Ravioli di pere con speck e aceto balsamico, ed ho molto apprezzato questa versione di ravioli insolita e gustosa. L’ho adattata solo per riflettere la mia inesperienza nel fare la pasta (è stata sola la seconda volta che l’ho fatta in vita mia) e la mancanza di certi ingredienti dove abito. Non vedo l’ora di partecipare ancora una volta a questo gruppo.

Sono inglese, e mi scuso per non aver scritto più in italiano, ma la stanchezza ed il tempo mi hanno vinto :-( Alla prossima!