This morning as I drove to work I had a craving for ravioli. Pasta has always been a comfort food for me. As a child, when we dined out at Japanese restaurants I always had the Nabeyaki Udon. There were no deviations from the routine until I was in my teens. I might have tasted things from other people's plates but in my childhood mind udon was the sole reason for eating Japanese. Italian takeout on Friday nights was another favorite, especially during Lent when Auntie was avoiding meat. I tended to order baked ziti, which arrived at the house molten with cheese and a fabulous crispy chewy exterior. The pasta was just a vehicle for the cheese, most evenings only the top layer of my pasta disappeared leaving the naked noodles behind in their round aluminum container. After gymnastics practice in high school we'd hit the deli on the way to the subway for hot macaroni and cheese or beef and macaroni in styrofoam cups. Neither were foods that I ate at home and the pastas were surprising soft and flabby against my tongue from long hours in a steam tray. But it was the perfect meal for starving teenage girls who had spent the afternoon working out and who still had a long ride ahead to get home for dinner. We usually finished it all before we covered the half a block to the subway station. Every Christmas Eve for as long as Aunt Lucy and Uncle Alex were alive the first course to the seafood extravaganza was always angel hair with bacala, pine nuts, garlic and oil. It was a slippery, chewy, crunchy dish that was never seen at any other time of the year. A family friend in Little Italy would invite us over for antipasto followed by rigatoni with gravy every year during the St. Anthony festival. Her mother always made enough for us to take a full meal home and the taste of that meal is tied up in my mind with the pleasure of street festivals and the warmth of that neighborhood on the edge of Soho.
So, ravioli were on my mind. I wanted to try and make a savory pasta dough with enough flavor to stand on it's own and then fill it with something creamy and delicate. When I got to work I gathered two and a half cups of flour and then reached for the mushroom powder which was roughly ground out from a variety of dried wild mushrooms. I added a third of a cup of mushroom powder and a pinch each of onion and garlic powder to round out the flavor. I needed a silky dough so once I blended the flour with the powders in the food processor I added a splash milk and a tablespoon of olive oil. The local farmers who supply us with eggs have been loading us up with pullet eggs lately. They are much smaller than the average eggs found in the refrigerator with a high yolk to white ratio. My feeling was that a straight yolk dough would be too rich so I substituted six pullet eggs to a positive effect. I processed the dough until it came apart into rough little pieces, sort of like spaetzle. Then I turned it out of the food processor and finished kneading it by hand until was silky and barely damp. Then I wrapped it up and set it aside to rest.
While the dough relaxed I made the filling with some fromage blanc, cream cheese, and freshly ground allspice. We keep our allspice in small pepper mill and it finds it's way into a variety of dishes. Then I added a few handfuls of grated Piave Vecchio cheese. Piave is one of my very favorite cheeses, it has an evocative aroma and flavor of truffles and a sweet mellowness with complexity of a youthful Parmigiano. I thought that it's would be a nice counterpoint to the mushroom pasta. Lastly I added a few drops of white truffle oil, not enough to be acutely aware of it's presence but enough to bring my flavors together.
After the dough had rested for half an hour, we stuffed the ravioli and served them as the main course for lunch today. We browned some butter and seared off some artichoke hearts and shiitake mushrooms, deglazed with balsamic vinegar and added the warm ravioli to the pan. I added some pasta water to emulsify the sauce and scattered some chopped chives into the pan. We finished the pasta on the plate with a variety of micro sage leaves and some grated Piave Vecchio. The pasta was toothsome and earthy, the filling delicate and creamy, swimming delicately in the warm brown butter vinaigrette. The herbs added their own pungency and green flavors while the artichoke hearts and shiitakes provided a contrast of textures and flavors to round out the dish. We cooked up the extras for family meal in the kitchen and now there is nothing left but the memory. It's a good one.