Thursday, February 7, 2013

Making ravioli and other Traditional American Skills

When I was a kid I was obsessed with a certain book on my mother’s bookshelf: A big, thick Reader’s Digest volume called “Back to Basics: How to Learn and Enjoy Traditional American Skills.”

These Traditional American Skills ranged from baking bread to making soap to building a house with trees you cut down yourself; all things that an eight-year-old suburban girl like me or a paranoid, off-the-grid survivalist like the Unabomber needs to know for living a happy and productive life.

I’m not cut out to live entirely off the grid—I don’t ever see, say, animal husbandry in my future—but I have always been intrigued by relying less on the grocery store and more on myself for food, and I credit (blame?) this book for that outlook.
Since DIY everything and local food is so trendy right now, I will choose to believe that my eight-year-old self was an ahead-of-the-curve sophisticate instead of a picked-last-in-gym dweeb.
This book is also why when I do things like make homemade frozen ravioli, I feel less like a put-upon housewife and more like a spunky, enterprising homesteader relying on my wits and ingenuity to create hearty food out of little more than flour, eggs, and water. Or maybe I’m over thinking this. They’re just noodles.
If you, too, want to feel spunky and enterprising, and if you happen to have a few extra hours on your hands sometime, I encourage you to try out this recipe; it's even gotten the enthusiastic approval of my three-year-old. It’s easy, if tedious, and the results are delicious. At the very least, you’ll have dinner. At the very most, you can go to bed knowing that you’ve done your best to hone your Traditional American Skills.
Homemade Frozen Spinach Ravioli
Step one: Make the pasta. I used the following recipe from Better Homes and Gardens:
Sprinkle a clean kneading surface with the remaining 1/3 cup flour. Turn dough out onto floured surface. Knead until dough is smooth and elastic (8 to 10 minutes total). Cover and let the dough rest for 10 minu2 1/3 cups of all-purpose flour
teaspoon of salt
2 eggs, beaten
cup water
1 teaspoon of olive oil

1. In a large bowl stir together 2 cups of the flour, the basil (if desired), and salt. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture. In a small bowl combine eggs, water, and oil. Add egg mixture to flour mixture; stir to combine.
2. Sprinkle a clean kneading surface with the remaining 1/3 cup flour. Turn dough out onto floured surface. Knead until dough is smooth and elastic (8 to 10 minutes; DON’T SKIMP ON THE KNEADING!). Cover and let the dough rest for 10 minutes.
3. Divide the dough into four equal portions. On a lightly floured surface, roll each dough portion into a 12-inch square (about 1/16 inch thick). Let stand, uncovered, about 20 minutes. If using a pasta machine, pass each portion through machine according to manufacturer’s directions until dough is 1/16 inch thick.
Now, it’s time to make the raviolis themselves. During the 20 minutes you need to wait after you roll out the dough, move onto

Step Two: Make the filling
4 cups fresh spinach
1/3 cup ricotta cheese
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 tablespoon olive oil

Steam the spinach until it’s soft and wilted; then put it in a bowl and use the back of a spoon to squeeze as much water as possible out of the leaves. You want the spinach to be wicked dry.

Put the spinach and other ingredients into a food processor and blend into a thick paste.

Step three: Make the ravioli
Take one of your rolled-out pieces of dough and cut the edges off so it’s a square (ish). Then cut that into 9 equal-sized rectangles.

Spoon about 1 1/2 teaspoon’s worth of filling onto each rectangle

Brush around the edges with a beaten egg

Fold the dough over the filling

Pinch around the sides to seal

Put them on a parchment or waxed-paper lined baking sheet (or something else that’s flat that will fit into your freezer), freeze them solid, then transfer to a zip-top bag for storage. To cook, boil in water for 10 minutes.

PS: Don’t throw out those dough scraps! Cut them into strips, boil them for 1-2 minutes, drain, and enjoy an ugly but tasty lunch

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