Valentine’s day! Beet Ravioli!

 I was originally planning on celebrating valentine’s day this upcoming Saturday - at work we’re doing a tasting for the holiday and I usually work Tuesdays anyway. But I got a text a little after midnight on Saturday with a schedule change.  After I groggily figured out what day it was (Sunday morning) and which week my boss was referring to (this one) I realized I’d be around for valentine’s with my partner and started thinking up a menu.  Beets are Sam’s favorite and since I had one dish pretty down pat (red wine-braised tempeh with apples and bowties), I figured I could go out on a limb and do some beet-filled agnolotti which I had never done before. The look is great for valentines day, but the flavors are immense anyday.

  Here I changed up my basic almond cream sauce a little bit, adding fennel seed and increasing the umami with some simple mushroom stock. Fennel and beets is pretty classic, and fennel and black trumpet mushrooms pair particularly well.  Here the fennel is just background, but it helps bring it all together.  Ideally, I would have also used micro-fennel; we just got some in at work and it’s incredible.  At first it tastes more like chervil but it has these little half-formed seeds mixed in which just explode with fennel-y sweetness. But watercress did really well in it’s stead - the pepper can go right up against the sweetness of the beets and it really works. by the way - ravioli is the general term for Italian stuffed pastas, agnolotti refers to a particular method and shape.

Ingredients:

1 ball of pasta dough (recipe below)

For the filling:

  • 5 small beets (I had a little over a pound)
  • 2 tablespoons, cut up fresh bread
  • 1/3 cup dried lentils (any kind but red)
  • 1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
  • ¼ cup good olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons toasted slivered almonds
  • 1 tablespoon minced chives
  • Water

For the sauce:

  • 4 medium shallots, peeled and sliced
  • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
  • 2 t coriander seeds
  • 2 t fennel seeds
  • 2 t black peppercorns
  • ¼ cup dried Black trumpet mushrooms
  • 1 cup blanched almonds
  • 2 tablespoons good olive oil
  • 1 T White wine vinegar

To finish:

  • 1/4 cup fresh or rehydrated black trumpet mushrooms
  • 10 small sprigs of watercress

Filling:

Roast the beets in a single layer on a sheet pan in a 350 degree oven until tender when pierced with a small knife (usually about an hour).  Peel them and cut them into smaller chunks.

Combine the lentils with 3 cups of water in a sauce pot and cover.  Bring to a boil and then lower the heat to simmer until tender (about 20-3minutes depending on the kind).  Season with salt to taste.  Strain off any excess water and let cool.

Toast the almonds in the 350 degree oven for about 5 minutes, until light brown, remove and let cool.

Mix the beets and almonds in a food processor and pulse until they’re all minced up. Add the olive oil, vinegar, and bread and mix just to incorporate them evenly, seasoning with salt and pepper. While pulsing, add just enough water, a tablespoon at a time to cream it out - you‘ll see what I mean.  you don’t want it to be too smooth, but you want it to be almost like a ricotta cheese. Put into a small bowl and mix in the lentils and chives.

Making the ravioli:

 Here is a quick video of the basic process of folding agnolotti (the relevant section starts around 1:07).It’s pretty straightforward: After the dough is rested, roll it out as thin as possible into large sheets at least 3 inches wide.  Either using a pastry bag or just a spoon or whatnot, make a line of polenta down the dough long-ways, about 1 inch away from the edge.  Moisten the edge of the pasta and fold it over the polenta, pinching it closed, trying to get all the air out.  Then, using your hand, press on the encased line of polenta every inch or so, pushing the polenta out from under your hand and sealing the agnolotti.  Use a pizza wheel or a sharp knife to cut them into individual pieces.  

Sauce:

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a sautee pan.  Add the shallots and cook without any salt, stirring over medium heat until they’re browned pretty thoroughly, but not burnt at all.  Season with salt and sherry vinegar till they taste almost like shallot candy.  Remove from the pan.  

Bring 1 cup of water to a boil, add in the mushrooms and turn off the heat.  Let sit for 10 minutes.  Strain, reserving the liquid as a simple mushroom stock.

Cover the almonds with water in a sauce pot and boil for 5 minutes, then drain. Toast the coriander, fennel, and peppercorns in a small sautee pan over medium heat, constantly stirring the pan.  Cook them just until fragrant and then remove them from the pan so they don’t burn.

In a blender, combine the almonds, vinegar, oil, the stock, and ½ cup of the onions and turn it on, adding water as needed and scraping down the sides to get it all pureed.  You want a relatively thin sauce so be a little generous with the water.  Adjust the seasoning with vinegar and salt.  Add more shallots if need be.  When it is thoroughly pureed gently pass it through a chinois or a fine mesh strainer with 2 or 3 layers of cheesecloth.  You may need to adjust it after it’s strained by whisking in salt, vinegar, or oil.

This sauce cold be done at this point, but I find it can get grainy when it cooks. Most people just accept this, but if you want it to be extra smooth, you can heat this gently over a low flame, constantly stirring with a spatula.  When it’s hot and bubbling, pass it through your strainer again. You may need to adjust the seasoning once more.  

15 minutes before you’re ready to eat, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and turn it down to a simmer.  When it’s boiling, heat a large sautee pan over medium heat.  Add oil to cover the floor of the pan and then add your mushrooms. Salt them and just cook them till they’re fragrant and lightly browned all over. Drop your agnolottis in the simmering water. Reduce the heat under your mushrooms to low and add your cream sauce.  Slowly heat through while stirring, adding water if necessary to keep it loose.  When your pasta is ready (approximately 90 seconds), use a slotted spoon or wire basket to gently take it out of the water and put it into the pan with the cream.  Move the pasta around in the pan gently, just to coat it with the sauce.  Then spoon the contents onto a plate and garnish with your greens.

Pasta dough:

  • 250g semolina flour
  • 100g water
  • 2g salt
  • 8g olive oil

Place the flour and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer with the dough hook.  Mix it for 30 seconds on low, then add the water and continue mixing for 5 minutes, intermittently scraping down the sides and kneading it together with your hands. Keep mixing and kneading until it’s a solid ball, homogeneous and smooth feeling - no graininess on your hands when you mix it.  Then roll it in the oil. Wrap it up tightly in plastic and let it rest for 45 minutes or however long it takes to do the rest of the prep.