Those are thyme leaves (from the window box near my kitchen door). I also used oregano, tarragon, and chives. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
I've felt the urge to make fresh pasta lately, and I've seen, over the years, pasta with herb leaves pressed between the pasta layers. So, in that fresh pasta mood, and with PLENTY of herbs (though not all are ready) to choose from, I set to work.
I'd picked up a box of Hodgson Mill Semolina Pasta Flour at the grocery store the other day, so I used that for this batch of dough, and I doubled the recipe on the back of the box because I figured I could freeze any extra ravioli or make spaghetti or something with the trimmings from the ravioli and dry that.
Which is exactly what I did.
I'd also picked up a package of goat cheese for the filling. I planned to enhance that with some other greens, either herbs or vegetables or something.
I don't always go into these things with an ingredient list and a recipe. I just think – hey, goat cheese ravioli would be yummy, and wouldn't it be pretty with whole herb leaves in the pasta dough? And then I do it.
I used a big bowl instead of the counter, partly because I'm not always perfect with the stirring in of the flour and occasionally the dam bursts and I get egg all over the counter.
Also – because I like to use this bowl for handmade things like pasta or bread.
It's big and plain white and made in Italy. It's got some chips along the rim, but otherwise, it's in lovely shape. I didn't buy it in Italy, but I feel more Italianish when I use it.
Okay, enough of the silly babbling.
Then I cracked 4 eggs, and added the olive oil to that.
(And if you look closely in the olive oil, you can see a little upside-down and reversed image of me taking this picture, in my green checked apron.)
I made a well in the center of the flour/salt mixture and poured the eggs and olive oil in. I also added most of the water called for in the recipe, saving some to add bit by bit, if needed.
The amount of liquid needed in things like bread and pasta doughs will vary depending on the humidity. It's been pleasantly cooler and less humid the last few days here, and I ended up adding a touch more water than called for. Hey – that's what makes all this exciting!
Anyway, you add the liquid to the center of the flour, and then with a fork (or two fingers), gradually stir in the flour, working from the center outward. (If you're working directly on the counter, you want to make sure the walls of flour stay intact until you've got enough of the flour worked into the eggs to make it more batter-like than just runny and sticky.)
Once you've got the flour and liquids pretty well incorporated, you can turn this rather shaggy dough out onto your work surface for the kneading.
It won't look very pretty at this point, but all it needs (no pun intended) is a little pushing and pulling and it will evolve into a nice, slightly elastic pasta dough.
The texture, if you're using semolina flour, will be kind of rough, like a medium-grade sandpaper. That's fine – that's what it's supposed to feel like.
Anyway, form this blob of dough into a ball and start to knead. You'll want to knead this for about ten minutes or so. If anyone has irritated you lately and you're still simmering a bit, now's the time to think about that person and work out all your repressed aggression. Don't worry, the dough can take it.
To knead, you basically grasp the edge of the dough farthest from you, then pull that up and toward you, then press it down with the heel of your hand and, still with the heel of your hand, gently but firmly shove the dough away from you. Turn the dough around a quarter turn and repeat. Again and again and again.
Just for kicks, I kneaded with my left hand so I could take pictures with my right hand, and I set the camera mode to "sports" so I could have that continuous burst of shots as I kneaded. Here's kind of what kneading looks like (when you're awkwardly kneading with your non-dominant hand.)
And that's all there is to it. I know, it's much cuter when Julia's doing the kneading, but she was playing outside and couldn't be bothered to pose for this photo shoot.
As you knead, the dough will change from the original loose, shaggy blob into a more cohesive, slightly elastic, smooth (for something made with scratchy semolina flour) blob. At this point (should be around ten minutes or so) you wrap the dough in plastic and put it in the fridge for at least an hour.
While the dough is resting (and the liquid is permeating the semolina and all the ingredients are working as a team to become pasta dough and not just a blob of stuff), you can get your herb leaves ready and mix up the filling.
Actually, I made two fillings. The goat cheese one was the originally intended filling, but Alex doesn't like goat cheese, or pretty much any soft white cheese, so I had to create something for him.
He was happy with that.
For the goat cheese filling, I sliced up an 8 oz log of goat cheese
and two garlic scallions
and put them in a bowl so the cheese could start to soften.
I rinsed off a few ounces of baby spinach leaves
(I don't really know the amount – it was what I had left from last week's Farmers' Market excursion) and put them in a pan with a little olive oil and salt. I put a lid on the pan, set the flame to medium high until I could hear the snapping and popping of water droplets on oil, and then I shut off the heat and let it steam.
Next, I scraped the spinach leaves into a cheesecloth-lined mesh strainer set on a bowl so the liquid would drain off and the spinach could cool.
But you can't really get rid of a lot of liquid that way, so at some point you'll have to gather up the corners of the cheesecloth and twist them a bit to form a spinach-filled, cheesecloth-wrapped dripping ball.
And then you squeeze.
(Looks like I'm milking the spinach, doesn't it.)
You'll have to squeeze and then kind of rearrange the little mass of spinach in your hand so you can squeeze again from a different angle – keep doing this until you've squeezed out as much liquid as you possibly can. You don't want a watery filling.
Once you've squeezed every drop of juice out, you can unwrap the spinach and chop it up a bit. If you've squeezed nice and hard like you should, you will be able to see the cheesecloth pattern on the mass of mushed up spinach, like this –
After you give it a rough chop, add the spinach to your goat cheese and garlic scallions,
Grind on some pepper and sprinkle on some salt, and then mash it all together with a fork.
And yes, you could just spread that on a cracker and it would be divine. But be patient. Ravioli is heavenly, too. Set the goat cheese mixture aside along with the pepperoni mixture (if you have an Alex or similarly selective child) and get your work area ready to make pasta.
Now, when I made and posted about tortellini on this site, I rolled out the dough with a rolling pin. I didn't do that this time. No particular reason – I just felt like using the pasta roller this time.
You'll need all-purpose flour to dust your work surface and keep your dough from sticking, a rolling pin to get the dough flattened enough to put into the roller (if you're using it), a pizza wheel to slice the dough, some water to cement the ravioli edges together, and something to let your ravioli sit while they dry – I used cookie racks – plenty of air flow all around. You can also set them on a tea towel dusted with flour. The idea is – you don't want the dough to start sticking to the surface it's sitting on, because then when you lift it up, the dough will tear, exposing the filling for all the world to see. There will be pointing and laughing, and, of course, weeping. You don't want that.
OH! I forgot to talk about the herbs! Depending on what you grow (if you do) or what you can buy, and also on your taste preferences, the choices for your herb layers are endless. I used creeping thyme, tarragon, oregano, and chives, mainly because they're all growing prodigiously and because I thought they'd all go nicely with the filling, individually and as a group.
Rinse off your herbs and dry them, and then carefully pick off the leaves (unless it's chives, and they can just hang out and wait). You don't want to do this too far in advance, because some of them (like the oregano) will start to discolor pretty quickly after being rinsed and manhandled (however gently).
Set the leaves aside on a dry surface and go get your dough out of the fridge. It's easier to work in small batches, so I cut mine in half, and then cut each half into thirds as I went along.
Take your first third (or sixth, or whatever size you choose to work with) and, on a lightly floured work area, knead it briefly into a little ball and roll that into a small log. Take your rolling pin and flatten that log out and roll it out lengthwise somewhat so it's thin enough to fit into the widest opening of your pasta roller.
Set your pasta roller (which you've clamped tightly to your work table) on stun – just kidding – set it to the widest opening and hold the end of the dough just at the opening of the rollers with one hand and start cranking with the other. Once the dough catches, you can set it down on top of the roller and "catch" it as it comes out the other end.
Keep repeating the process, only you want to set the roller on narrower and narrower settings. I went to "4", which was not the thinnest setting ("6" is on mine), but since I was going to be putting leaves in, I figured I wouldn't be able to use the very very thinnest setting without the dough ripping apart in the process as the leaves would catch in the rollers.
(Or, if you're going to do it all with a rolling pin, then just keep rolling and rolling until you have a nice, thin-as-possible sheet of dough.)
Once you've rolled it through the #4 setting (or you've got it as thin as you can with the rolling pin), dust the work area with some flour and lay out the dough.
Now, with the herbs, you can either do batches of one kind of herb at a time, or you can do them all with a mixture of leaves. I did both – first I did a batch of each kind, and then I mixed up the remaining herbs for the fifth batch. (I didn't have enough filling to use the sixth batch, but don't you worry, I made good use of it eventually.)
My first batch was done with the thyme leaves, but you can use the same guidelines no matter what.
Eyeball the midpoint of your length of dough (mark it lightly if you need to) and sprinkle or place your herb leaves on one half.
I'm sorry, but I just have to say, isn't that pretty? Let's take a closer look.
Okay, now once you're done admiring the little leaves (I'm loopy, I know), gently and carefully lift up the unadorned half of dough and fold it over on top of the leavy half. Press down to mash the sides together a bit (be gentle) and then run this through the pasta roller – same setting, #4 – or roll it out with your rolling pin to flatten all the layers together.
Cool, huh? Now, if you want to really impress yourself, lift it up so there's some light behind it and take a look.
Okay, now put that down on your work surface and get your filling out.
By the way.
My edges are not perfect, my ravioli are not perfect (visually), and maybe yours won't be either, but who cares? If you've never made ravioli before – keep going, you're almost done!
Looks aren't everything!
And besides, the pretty little leaves in the dough will distract anyone anal enough to peer at your ravioli edges anyway.
Okay, so once you've got a whole row of goat cheese balls (sounds vaguely icky, doesn't it?) along one half of the dough, it's on to the folding and sealing portion of our program.
For this you'll need the water and the pizza wheel I mentioned earlier. If you don't have a pizza wheel, a sharp knife or even a bench scraper will do (like the one on the left next to the pasta roller).
First thing you want to do is dip your fingers (two is fine) in the water and paint lines along the length of the dough on the outside edge (next to the cheese balls) and on the other side. And then you need to paint water lines cross-wise, between each cheese ball. Remember, we're going to seal the dough, so you need cement on all sides.
Okay, now the next part is a little tricky, kind of. You need to fold over the cheeseless half of the dough and press down to seal the cheese inside the dough. You want to expell any air that may collect next to the cheese, because you don't want the air pocket to expand and burst while you're cooking the pasta. It's not desirable.
Okay, now see? See how these aren't perfect? Don't worry about it. The more often you make these, the better your technique will become. I haven't made ravioli in a long time, and I'm out of practice. But I'm not worrying about it, because hey – it's homemade ravioli!
Okay, next thing you'll need to do is get your pizza roller or knife and cut these into individual ravioli. I trimmed the edges a bit as I went along, mainly so the cheeseless part of the dough wouln't be lopsided.
Set the ravioli on a rack or floured towel and repeat the process with your next bit of dough.
Here are a few shots from the rest of the process. First up, the oregano leaves and the pepperoni/cheese filling for Alex….
Next up, the tarragon leaves…
And then the chives. Now, I learned a little lesson from the chives. Just because I wanted them to be as flat and thin as the other leaves didn't mean they would. Next time around I would slice or shred the chives lengthwise before adding them to the dough and that would prevent the pulling and ripping of dough I experienced when I sent the whole mess through the pasta roller. Ah well, live and learn.
See the wrinkles? That's where the thickness of the chives was resisting the pasta roller, and the pulling/wrinkling resulted in some little rips in the dough, right along the chives. But just press it back together and you should be fine.
Once the chive ravioli are formed, I think they look rather dramatic.
Okay, now all that's left is the cooking.
Let the ravioli rest for about an hour (if you can wait that long) and then bring a big pot of water to a boil. Add a generous amount of salt to the water, and then slide the ravioli into the water. There should be plenty of wiggle room for the ravioli to cook, so you may need to work in batches. Not to worry – fresh pasta cooks up very quickly.
Alex was actually pretty hungry about midway through my ravioli-making process, so I cooked up a few of the pepperoni ones for him.
A little butter and some grated parmesan and he was all set. I tried some (Julia wasn't as hungry as Alex was), and they were pretty yummy – especially when I bit into an oregano leaf. A little tomato sauce. on these and it would be like little bite-sized boiled pizzas. Which, now that I type it out, doesn't sound all that appetizing. But pizza-flavored ravioli sounds okay.
Anyway. I froze about half of the goat cheese ravioli and cooked up the rest for dinner. I served it with a piece of wild-caught Alaskan salmon that I topped with a mixture of herbs and lemon juice, honey, and olive oil and cooked quickly under the broiler.
And that was dinner.
So (will she never stop talking?), to close, I just want to encourage you to make some ravioli, especially if you've never done it before. Work with some friends or your kids or your spouse/partner/significant other or whoever - you can talk and work at the same time and when you sit down to eat, you can toast yourselves on a job well done!
And then shoot me an email or leave a comment to let me know how it went!