Cucina Italiana Part 2: Spinach and Fenugreek Ravioli with a Four Cheese Sauce

As I lay awake one sleepless night, I pondered over what cooking obstacle I had not overcome yet, believe me I came up with quite a long list. As the sun began to spread its warmth, I decided it was time to scratch off one of the items on that unending list. The challenge for the day was to make homemade ravioli from scratch. An essential pillar of Italian cuisine, ravioli are small pasta pockets filled with cheese or sauteed vegetables served with a complementing sauce. Derived from the Italian verb ‘riavvolgere’, which means to wrap, these tiny morsels are manna for the angels, if made well.  The origins of ravioli are deep-rooted in Italian culture, with the first mention of this dish emerging from the musings of merchants hailing from Venice and Prato in the 14th century. Since then, the popularity of this dish has become synonymous with Italian life and culture.  Every Italian restaurant creates their own signature ravioli, but its beauty lies not in the sauce or stuffing but in its perfectly made shell.

Spinach and Fenugreek Ravioli with a Four Cheese Sauce

Armed with the basic ingredients and a wooden rolling pin I set out on my arduous journey at a time when people generally are making breakfast. No pasta maker made the job even more challenging, the only tools I had were my hands and the rolling pin. The toughest job during the whole process was to make sure the pasta was extremely thin, all this while making sure not to cause any rips in the pasta sheets.  An uphill task at first, but extreme joy in the end, when my experiment turned out to be a success. For the filling I used the traditional spinach, however refrained from adding any cheese as I did not want the dish to be overpowered by the taste of cheese. The sauce I was making was a four cheese sauce, hence I decided to use herbs to make the spinach filling earthy and aromatic. Slowly but surely the whole dish came together.

Spinach and Fenugreek Ravioli with a Four Cheese Sauce

Ingredients

For the Spinach Filling:

  • 3 cups spinach, chopped
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 tsp dried fenugreek
  • 1 tsp garlic paste

For the Four Cheese Sauce:

  • 75g Emmenthal
  • 75g Mozzarella
  • 75g Gorgonzola
  • 75g Parmigiano
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tsp black pepper

For the Pasta:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp water

Preparation

For the Spinach Filling:

  • Roughly chop the spinach and wash thoroughly before using
  • Boil the spinach in ½ liter of water for 5-7 minutes
  • Once the spinach is boiled, drain the water, squeezing out all excess liquid, and pat to dry
  • Lightly heat the olive oil in a pan and add the chopped spinach. Sautee for 1-2 minutes
  • Add the salt, garlic paste, nutmeg and one tsp of dried fenugreek. Mix and cook well till the spinach has wilted
  • Turn off the heat, add the remaining dried fenugreek and cover with a lid to help the steam infuse all the flavors
  • Set aside till ready to use

For the Four Cheese Sauce:

  • Pour the milk into a deep saucepan, add the cheeses and cook on very low flame
  • Using a whisk, keep whipping the sauce lightly to prevent the cheese from sticking to the bottom
  • Add the pepper and continue to whisk till no lumps remain and a smooth sauce has been formed
  • Turn off the heat and cover till ready to use

For the Pasta:

  • Mix the flour and salt together and create a mound on your workstation
  • Whisk together the eggs and olive oil
  • Make a deep well in the middle of the mound of flour and pour in the egg mixture
  • Gently start mixing the flour with the liquid working from the inside of the mound. Use your other hand to keep the mound steady from the outside or else the egg mixture will spill
  • Once the egg mixture is combined with the flour, use both hands to thoroughly mix the flour so that it turns into a smooth pasta dough ball
  • Add water to the dough if it is too sticky
  • Alternatively, if you have an electric mixer with dough hooks, you can use it to combine all the ingredients thereby eliminating the first few steps
  • Once the dough has formed, lightly dust the work surface with flour and begin to knead the dough with your palms
  • Use the back of your palms and knuckles to knead the dough for about ten minutes. The dough is done once it stops sticking to your work surface
  • Rub some olive oil onto your palms and dab it on the surface of the dough ball before putting it in a covered bowl for another 15-20 minutes
  • For beginners it is best to use the dough bit by bit to make the ravioli. Dust the work surface with more flour. Take 2 small pieces out of the dough, roughly the size of a plum. Make it into a round ball with your palms and then flatten with a rolling pin in the shape of a rectangle. Each sheet of ravioli should be thin enough for you to see your hand through the other side. Repeat till you have made a number of ravioli sheets required for your dish
  • For advanced chefs, divide the dough into half and with a rolling pin make 2 large, flat rectangular sheets, one for the filling and the other to place on top
  • Spoon a heaped teaspoon of the spinach mixture onto one sheet at 2 inch intervals
  • Spinach Filling for the Ravioli

  • Place another pasta sheet on top and press downwards. Using your fingers, press down the top sheet so that there is no air inside the ravioli. It should look like this:
  • Press down the Top Sheet

  • Next it time to shape the ravioli. For a square shape, simple divide the rectangular sheet into half. Using a fork press down across all four sides to the filling is secure inside
  • Square Shaped Ravioli

  • To make round ravioli, use round shaped cookie cutters to cut through the dough. Using your finger, pinch round the edges to seal the ravioli
  • Round Shaped Ravioli

  • Repeat the steps till the required number of ravioli pieces are made. You can make a large batch and freeze to boil later as well
  • Keep refrigerated unless cooking immediately
  • Boil water in a deep saucepan and add a pinch of salt and some olive oil
  • As the water comes to a boil, add the ravioli, making sure not to overcrowd the saucepan. This prevents the ravioli from cooking properly
  • As the ravioli begins to cook, it will start to rise to the surface. The ravioli should cook for about 7-8 minutes or until it is opaque
  • Using a slotted spoon, lift the ravioli out of the water and place on a kitchen towel to soak the excess water
  • To serve, place the ravioli in a shallow dish filled with Four Cheese Sauce and top with shredded Parmigiano

Spinach and Fenugreek Ravioli with a Four Cheese Sauce

The process was long and tiresome, but the first bite drove the woes away. The earthy tinge brought about by the fenugreek and gorgonzola complemented the sharp flavors of the emmenthal.  The sauce itself is heavy hence the filling of the ravioli had to be kept light and airy. Served hot with a smooth creamy sauce can delight the palate of every epicurean out there. Even though the next morning I woke up with sore palms, arms and shoulders, it was worth it. The joy of striking out one more obstacle from my culinary journey far exceeded the pains of manual labor.

Spinach and Fenugreek Ravioli with a Four Cheese Sauce

  • apple taylor

    This does sound really delicious ! I like the fact that it’s all handmade & no gadgets, If I can’t find anyone willing to make it for me, I will have to attempt it myself!

    • http://chatteringkitchen.com chatteringkitchen

      I have to admit it was tough but well worth it in the end. Seemed like rustic Italian cooking.