These ravioli. They’ve been a bit of a quest.
I’ve yet to visit Italy, but I think I fell in love with the Emilia Romagna region just a little bit, while watching an episode of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. Bourdain and Chef Michael White created large round ravioli with a golden egg yolk resting in a nest of ricotta and spinach, topped with shaved truffle, and finished in a pan of browned butter. I sat up straight on the couch and said, “Rewind! Play that again!”
I was lulled back onto the couch by the rest of the episode–the rustic food, vineyards and hams. I made a mental note to try to order a Culatello di Zibello as soon as possible. It could then hang in a musty cellar and age for the next few years and we would come to Emilia Romagna to get it when it was ready. I like the idea of having a date with a ham. In Italy.
I thought about those ravioli a lot over the next week or two, taking some time to figure out how I would make them and assembling ingredients.
I can tell you how to make the ravioli. But it’s not a recipe, any more than I can give you a recipe for true love or unforgettable poetry. You have to add the magic yourself.
Make damp, creamy homemade ricotta or buy the best whole milk ricotta you can find. Chop large handfuls of spinach into tiny green flecks that smell of damp grass. Stir spinach into a cup or two of ricotta until the proportions look right. Drizzle with about a teaspoon of truffle oil and stir that in, too. Breathe as deeply and slowly as possible because every ingredient smells good.
Make your pasta dough by hand. Here’s a good recipe. Stop at some point during the process while your hands are covered in shaggy bits of egg and flour and imagine you are a swamp monster. Roll the dough into two very thin, translucent sheets, with a pasta maker or just a rolling pin. Take your time with this.
For each ravioli, mound about two tablespoons of the ricotta/spinach mixture onto a sheet of pasta dough, leaving 4-5 inches of pasta around each mound. Turn the ricotta mounds into nests by creating an egg yolk sized indentation in the middle of each with your fingers.
Separate your eggs, and place an egg yolk in the middle of each nest. Cover all of this with the second sheet of pasta. Gently smooth the pasta sheet down over each ravioli, to leave as little airspace as possible. Then press the dough together around the perimeter of each ravioli to seal it closed, out to about an inch around. You can use a small bowl or large coffee cup to gently impress a circle around each as a cutting guide if you like, with the yolk in the very center. You are going for rustic round ravioli about as wide as your hand. Whether you use a cutting guide or not, run the ravioli cutter around each to cut them out. Gently remove the ravioli to a large plate.
You can, at this point, gather up your scraps and reroll them and make regular ricotta ravioli with the rest of your pasta dough and ricotta. They will freeze well, so why not?
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Slide ravioli in as gingerly as possible. Simmer very gently for four minutes, no more, no less. With a slotted spoon, lift each ravioli from the water and place in a sauté pan in which a generous amount of melted butter, garlic, and diced wild mushrooms are already sizzling.
Saute the ravioli briefly, just one or two minutes, spooning the butter over the tops of the ravioli. Plate two ravioli for each person, with a spoonful of the butter and mushrooms over the top. Sprinkle with freshly ground parmesan cheese. With a slice of crusty bread and a salad, this will be a full meal.
Now the really important part: When you cut into the ravioli with your fork, the golden egg yolk will run out, mixing with the ricotta, butter, and parmesan in a pool on your plate. You will smell a hint of the truffle oil above the other scents. Take that first bite. It is unbelievably rich. It is warm and creamy. Don’t think too much about it, though. Just experience it—the taste, the scent, the temperature, the texture, all blending in your mouth.
Then take another bite.