By Murray Schulman
It’s a new year already?
Yes, 2017 has arrived. The cliché that says the older one gets the faster time moves is more my reality than it is a cliché. It seems like only last week we gave out candy with the grandchildren on Halloween. Then we had the house full of family and a table full of food for Thanksgiving. We raced around, as much as we race anymore, getting ready for the Christmas season. Suddenly it is New Year’s Eve, the big ball drops and now 2017 is here.
It happened that fast. I am worn out just thinking about it. So, I guess the idea is to get my head in the game and start moving ahead to all of the fun and adventures that come with taking on these changing times.
January brings with it colder and shorter days. Things start to settle in following the holiday madness. We did lots of cooking during the holiday season. But now we are looking for those warm and familiar comfort foods that lift our spirits and fill our bellies as they have for as far back as we can remember. We think of big pots of soup or stew. We may put on a pot of red sauce or maybe get a delicious ragout started. Possibly there is a pot roast or a chicken going in the oven. The house fills with aromas of great foods that we remember from our youth and can’t resist today. As the warmth emanates from the kitchen, I tend to think about the history of these foods that we keep coming back to year after year. I did a bit of research and found that the idea of filling dough with pretty much anything is not a recent development by any stretch. I recently read an article that stated that a man by the name of Zang Zhongjian invented a Chinese dumpling called jiaozi around 1,800 years ago during the Han dynasty. A cooking text called Apicius mentions ravioli during the Roman Empire. Jewish people have been making kreplach, small pieces of dough folded around chopped liver and cooked in soup, for years. There is Polish piroshki, which tucks a variety of fillings into a pocket of dough, which is boiled and sometimes fried. There is fufu from Ghana, momo from Nepal and empanadas from Brazil. It looks like ravioli in one form or another is fairly universal. This tells us that people all over the world have adopted this cooking style for a variety of reasons. The obvious reason is that this is true comfort food. It is delicious and filling. It will satisfy large families with small quantities of filling. The staples of a given region be it meat, game, potatoes, seafood, cheese, vegetables or any combination are used to prepare the various versions of ravioli.
Toward the end of last year and now into this new year, I find that I am trending to more traditional cooking techniques. Don’t get me wrong. I am not giving up my food processor or my electric mixer. I am talking about doing certain things much the same as our grandparents did years ago. One of the changes I have been moving toward is eliminating boxed pasta and replacing it with homemade pasta. For now, let’s focus on one of my favorites. Ravioli is absolutely fantastic if you want that delicious, warming comfort meal. A good friend of mine always made his own ravioli. It is simply a delight. Now I have learned to make great ravioli myself and the process and finished product is amazing. Ravioli for the Italian and Italian-American community has taken on a nearly unlimited variety of fillings married to an amazing array of sauces. Red sauce, white sauce, brown sauce, olive oil and garlic sauce, white or red wine sauce, meat sauce, cherry tomato sauce, butter sauce, blush sauce and the list goes on all complement the fillings stuffed into these delicious pockets of pleasure. We fill our ravioli with anything that the region offers. Again, the variations are limitless. But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Like me, it is best to start with the basics. Pasta dough will be an entire different topic, which I will share with you at a different time. But, I will tell you that great ravioli from the Chianti region of Tuscany is made with four ingredients. Flour, eggs, olive oil and salt handled in a very specific way will blend to give you beautiful pasta dough. As to the filling, again let’s keep it simple and delicious. Here is a filling recipe that you can stuff into any pasta that you like. It is especially delicious in ravioli.
(Serves six. Weights are converted from grams.)
Blanch the spinach in lightly salted boiling water. Set aside to drain and cool to touch.
Squeeze all of the remaining water from the spinach.
In a small bowl, beat the egg and set aside
Combine the spinach, cheeses, egg and seasoning in a large bowl. Mix thoroughly to ensure that all ingredients combine. Let stand in the refrigerator for 30-60 minutes.
When you are ready to stuff your ravioli pasta or any of your favorite pastas, remove from the refrigerator and use immediately.
I made this filling for my family when I hosted a “Tuscany Day” at my home. They could not get enough. I hope that you enjoy this as much as they did. In future articles, I will share recipes, experiences and I will always offer The Chef’s Perspective.
Vivere abbondante e godere.