Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken

Can a recipe change your life? A quest for an authentic dish reveals age-old culinary secrets, as James Beard Award-winning author Laura Schenone undertakes a quest to retrieve her great grandmother's hand-rolled ravioli recipe in this marvelous family memoir that I discovered this past Christmas, The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken: A Search for Food and Family. Schenone is a food writer living in Hoboken, New Jersey who becomes more than just a little obsessed in her search for the origins of the family ravioli recipe which was originally made by her Genovese great-grandmother Adalgiza, who immigrated to New Jersey from Italy at the turn of the century. Her quest for this recipe leads her to long lost cousins and aunts across the country who finally send her the original ravioli recipe, or so she thinks!

Turn of the century Recco, where Adalgiza left for Hoboken

"I wanted something enduring, a recipe of my own that did not come from a cookbook or a culinary expert on a television show,'' Schenone writes of her decision, in midlife, to track down her family's hallowed hand-rolled ravioli recipe — ephemeral things, taking ages to prepare only to be devoured in minutes. But when a relative sent her the ingredient list, she was appalled to see supermarket cream cheese in the old recipe. Her quest for a more ''authentic'' ravioli takes Schenone from suburban New Jersey to the Ligurian mountains with countless digressions on chestnut flour, the deeper meaning of dumplings, and the vicissitudes of marriage.

Laura Schenone, hand rolling her pasta dough in the time-honoured fashion

In the kitchens of her family elders, she painstakingly learns the art of making ravioli dough. As she relentlessly works the dough, she shares her family's story — its losses, problems and foibles — and helps bridge familial divides. With charming stories and delicious recipes, Schenone takes us on an unforgettable journey from the grit of New Jersey's industrial wastelands and the fast-paced disposable culture of its suburbs to the dramatically beautiful coast of Liguria, her family's homeland, with its pesto, smoked chestnuts, torte, and most beloved of all, ravioli, the food of celebration and happiness.

The ravioli is made by filling one sheet of dough with a meat & cheese filling, 
then covering it with another sheet of pasta dough

Possibly the most authentic type of ravioli maker is a ravioli checkered rolling pin, 
which is what Adalgiza used in the book

Using a fluted ravioli wheel, the ravioli is cut into squares

Adalgiza and Tessie's Ravioli
Makes 250-300 small ravioli, enough for 10-15 people as first course
Adapted from recipe by Laura Schenone

For the pasta:
2 1/2 cups 00 flour
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3 tsp of salt
2 eggs - add more if you wish
1-1/2 cups water, approximately; start slow and use judgment

For the filling:
8 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
2 boxes frozen chopped spinach, thawed, cooked, and all water squeezed out
1 lb veal, ground finely
1 lb pork, ground finely
salt and pepper
dash freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
2 tsp fresh marjoram, finely minced, or 1 tsp dry
1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano
3 eggs

Make your pasta dough, wrap in floured plastic, and let it rest at least 20 minutes. (For traditional technique, see recipe below).

Brown the meats in a fry pan. Let cool. Run the meat through a grinder or food processor, until it's very fine.

In a large bowl, cream the cheese with an electric mixer until soft. Add the spinach, meats and seasonings. Mix well with a wooden spoon to combine. Add the cheese and eggs.

Using a pasta machine, roll out the dough very thin. On most machines, don't go past #5 for ravioli, otherwise the ravioli can break.

When you have two sheets of dough, or one very long sheet, cut in half, lay one sheet on your workspace, spread some of the filling thinly on the pasta, leaving a half inch border. Lay the other sheet on top. Roll firmly with a checkered pin, or a large ruler, to mark off the ravioli squares, then cut the ravioli apart with a fluted pastry wheel.

Place the ravioli on a floured sheet pan. If you want to freeze these, pop the pan into the freezer then place the frozen ravioli in ziplock bags. No need to thaw when  you cook them. If you are not cooking the ravioli within an hour, place them in the refrigerator. Continue to make the ravioli until all your filling is used.

Cook the ravioli in a large pot of salted water for about 2-3 minutes. Don't let the ravioli boil too vigorously or they may break apart. Remove with a slotted spoon and serve with a little marinara sauce.

COOK'S NOTE: The meat need to be ground fairly fine for ravioli. Use a Kitchen Aid meat grinder attachment, a food processor or get your butcher to finely grind the veal and pork.

Making pasta dough by hand

Making Dough By Hand
Makes 1 lb pasta dough
Recipe from Laura Schenone

1 cup 00 flour (if not available, use all-purpose)
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting work surface
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 egg
4-6 tbsp tepid water, adding a little at a time; you may need more depending on your flour

Pour the flours into a hill on your work surface and mix them together. Sprinkle the salt on top. Make a hole in the center so it looks like a volcano. Be sure to leave some flour at the bottom of the hole.

Add the oil into the hole. Next, crack the egg into the hole. Use a fork to lightly scramble the egg and then gradually pull in flour from the inside walls of this volcano. As you do this, cup your hand around the exterior walls to keep the sides from collapsing and the egg from running all over the pasta board. If this happens, however, don't panic; just use some flour to quickly pull the egg back into the flour as best you can.

Continue to scramble the egg and pull in flour a little at a time. As the egg absorbs the flour, begin to add the water, gradually. At some point soon, you will no longer have a volcano but a mass of sticky dough. Don't be shy. Abandon the fork and use your hands with confidence to gather the dough up into a ball, adding enough water as necessary, little by little, so that the dough is workable and elastic but not too sticky, as you continue to pull in the loose bits of flour on the board. If you must err with your liquid, better to be too wet than dry. You can add a little more flour later, while kneading. It's much harder to add more water.

As your dough comes together, it will be sticking to your fingers. Scrape your fingers with your dough scraper. When you have a dough that you can knead, wash your hands and scrape the pasta board clear of crusty bits and gumminess so that it is smooth.

Knead the dough for about 8 minutes; longer for a larger batch. Generously sprinkle flour on your board as needed so that your dough is strong and absolutely not sticky. I suggest using the heels of your hands to push, then fold the dough in half, then rotate your lump a quarter turn and do it again. Everyone has a different kneading style. Get yourself into a nice rhythm. Push, fold, turn, push, fold, turn, etc.

When your dough is satiny, soft, and elastic, cover it with plastic wrap and let it rest for at least 20 minutes if you plan to use the pasta machine, but at least half an hour if you plan to roll on a pin. You can let it sit longer, too, as much as 2 hours. It will continue to develop flavor as it rests, and the glutens will relax so you can roll the dough without having it snap back at you.