Since Little Brother arrived, I have had less time for the organic market than when his brother was on baby food. With two munchkins in the house, I do my shopping when I can fit it in the schedule of daily life, and that is rarely on a Saturday morning for some reason. Perhaps it's that the Critic is working again and so our weekend time is more precious. Whatever the reason, last Saturday was the first time in a few months that I had been to the market. I met up with a new friend and enjoyed thoroughly introducing her to my favorite stalls: the woman selling organic vegetables from a farm out near Disney in Marne-la-Vallée, the man who sold me the 4.2 kg duck and the chipper cheese fellows who make their own goat's and ewe's cheeses. At the latter stall, I noticed a little plastic container of wet crumbly cheese labelled "La Brousse". It looked a lot like cottage cheese and I have yet to find a satisfactory cottage cheese in France, so I bought a container and took it home.
For your information, la brousse is not cottage cheese. It's a provençal cheese and actually seems much closer to ricotta in taste, texture and uses. I'll have to stick with the mediocre imported cottage cheese that can sometimes be found at my local supermarket. But I still had a full tub (minus one taste) of provençal cheese. And so I decided to treat it like ricotta and stuff it into some nice fresh ravioli. It was time to introduce Big Brother to the fun of making pasta.
I don't make fresh pasta very often. It has more to do with the usual chaotic state of my kitchen than the difficulty or mess of the pasta making process itself. You need a lot clean counter space when you make your own. Space to knead dough, space to install the pasta machine, space to lay out your strips of pasta as you go and to dry them. But every time I make pasta I am amazed anew at how dead easy it is. A three year old can do it! (Note: he will, most likely, get bored with turning the crank after about ten minutes and you will have to do the rest of the pasta on your own, while he scrapes flour off the counter and eats it - if he's anything like my three year old, that is.)
Raviolis à la brousse et aux épinards (serves 4)
For the pasta:
2 large eggs
4-5 cups flour
For the filling:
100 g brousse or ricotta cheese
75 g grated Parmesan
3 large handfuls of fresh spinach
freshly ground nutmeg
salt, pepper to taste
To prepare the filling, wash the spinach well to remove dirt and grit and trim any tough ends of the stalks. Toss the still wet leaves in a deep pan, cover, and put on a medium heat for 4-5 minutes, until the leaves have all wilted and collapsed in the pan. Squeeze the spinach to release its water and drain it. Put the spinach in a food processor with the rest of the ingredients aside from the egg and whizz it in the machine. Taste for seasoning and then add the egg and process again. The mixture should have the consistency of wet sand or mashed potatoes.
I use Marcella Hazan's recipe for the proportions of ingredients in my pasta but I have long abandoned her method. Perhaps the technique of beating the flour slowly into the egg with a fork is the most authentic way to make pasta. It is surely the most time consuming and painful. Instead of breaking the eggs into a well in the flour and beating with a fork, I toss the eggs in my mixer on medium high. Slowly add the flour until the dough comes together in a firm ball. Turn off the machine, flour the (clean) counter, turn out the dough onto the counter and scrape out any bits of dough that remain on the beater or the bowl. Flour your hands, add a generous dusting of flour to the dough and knead for 5-7 minutes, until the dough is no longer wet and elastic, but firm and smooth. You may need to add as much as another half cup of flour. Allow the dough to rest for about ten minutes, while you get out your pasta machine.
Shape the dough in a fairly neat, symmetrical oval shape. Divid the dough into eight lumps about the size of eggs by cutting it first in half and then dividing each half into quarters. Set the pasta machine on the widest setting (on mine it's number 1). Run the first piece of dough through the machine, then fold each end of the dough over the middle and put it through the machine again. Repeat with each lump of dough. Set the machine to 2 and run each piece of dough through the machine. Continue with each piece of dough, gradually making thinner and thinner pieces, until you have a thickness of 6 or 7.
Dust one side of a strip of pasta with flour and place it, floured side down, on a ravioli mold. Push the dough into each of the wells and fill them each with about a rounded teaspoon of dough. Wet your finger and trace a wet line along the edges of each of the ravioli wells. Cover with another piece of dough and push each of the pockets to eliminate any air. Use a rolling pin to roll the top half of the dough firmly onto the bottom. Most ravioli molds have a sharp edge around the ravioli to help you cut the individual pieces; roll particularly hard on these edges. Carefully remove the ravioli to a floured towel, not allowing the pieces to overlap or touch. Repeat until you have used up all the dough or all the filling. Allow the ravioli to dry for 15-20 minutes and then set your water to boil. (Do not try to dry pasta next to a boiling pot of water, because it just won't work.)
Cook for 3-4 minutes, or until all the pieces of pasta have bobbed back to the top of the boiling water. Serve with butter and mounds of freshly grated parmesan. You could also fry a few leaves of fresh sage in butter for a simple tasty sauce.