3-21-10

HOMEMADE RICOTTA RAVIOLI
WITH CARAMELIZED SHALLOTS
AND SHREDDED BEETS

SERVES 2-3

I don’t have a cigarette habit or a weakness for $600 Louboutins, but there are still a few indulgences I find irresistible. For instance, it seems that every time I enter my local Barnes & Noble, I leave $25 poorer and clutching a pile of glossy Aussie and British “cookery” mags. Over the years, teettering stacks of Olive, Donna Hay, and Delicious have joined the back issues of Gourmet and Saveur and three ring binders stuffed with clippings in my crowded kitchen library. The inspiration for this recipe struck this morning, while I was doing a bit of impromptu bookshelf tidying (aka: browsing a copy of Olive from February ’08). The original version calls for linguine, but as I had a stack of wonton wrappers in the freezer, I decided to go the ravioli route instead. I also decided to make my own ricotta, since it couldn’t be easier (and a certain someone who shares this apartment with me likes to eat it by the scoop, like vanilla ice cream). And the addition of a shredded beet was purely last minute impulse: it literally fell out of the crisper and onto my foot when I opened the refrigerator door. Happily, it was a serendipitous one: the beet’s bloody hue and slightly bitter earthiness romanced the sweetness out of the shallots and the creamy cheese.

Alas, successes like these mean I may never actually manage to throw these crusty old magazines out. (So there: should you find me alone in my apartment, buried under a stack of yellowing paper, at least you know the backstory.)

Though there are a number of steps to this recipe, each one is very simple. Give yourself a leisurely hour to work, and you’ll be absolutely fine.

Ricotta:

1 large piece cheesecloth
8 cups whole milk
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons lemon juice

Ravioli:

1 1/2 cups ricotta
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
salt and pepper
1 egg, lightly beaten
28 wonton skins

Sauce:

3 tablespoons butter
8 shallots, halved and sliced into 1″ pieces
1 large beet, shredded through the largest holes in a box shredder
1 1/2 teaspoons brown sugar
4 sprigs sage, torn into rough pieces
salt and pepper

1. Make the ricotta: Line a big colander with a triple layer of cheesecloth. In a large pot over medium flame, combine milk and salt. Bring to a simmer. Stir in lemon juice, and continue simmering the mixture until it begins to separate and thick curds form. With a slotted spoon, scoop all of the curds out of the pot and place in the cheesecloth-lined colander. Let cheese drain for a minute or two (depending on how firm or loose you like your ricotta; the longer you drain it, the stiffer it will be). Transfer the drained cheese from the colander to a covered container and refrigerate until ready to use.

2. Prepare the ravioli: In a small bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups of your fresh ricotta with 1 teaspoon of ground nutmeg and a generous sprinkling of salt and pepper. In another small bowl, gently whisk one egg. Remove wonton skins from the refrigerator. Using a brush or the tip of your finger, brush one wrapper with egg and put 1 tsp. of ricotta mixture into center of wrapper. Place another wonton wrapper on top of it and press edges to seal. (If you want to get fancy, you could also flute the edges with a pie crimper or use a round cookie cutter to shape it into a circle.) Repeat with remaining wonton wrappers until you have 14 ravioli in all. Transfer to a flour-dusted cookie sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate until ready to cook.

3. Prepare a stockpot for the pasta and put together the sauce: Fill a large pot with cold water and a tablespoon of salt and bring to a boil over a high flame. Melt 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet over medium heat, add the shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes or until just golden. Add brown sugar and sage to the pan and continue stirring for another 5 minutes. At the same time, add another 1 1/2 tablespoons butter and shred one large beet into the skillet using the largest holes on a box grater. Stir to combine the entire mixture. When the shallots are soft and amber and caramelized and the beets have warmed through, season with salt and pepper and lower the heat.

4. Once the water is boiling in the stockpot, fetch the ravioli from the refrigerator and drop them gingerly into the pot. Cook the ravioli until they have softened and the centers are hot — about 2-3 minutes. Then, using a slotted spoon, scoop the cooked ravioli into the warm pan with the sauce, and stir gently to mingle. Plate 4-6 ravioli per person — depending on how ravenous you are — along with the shallot and beet mixture, and garnish with a bit more torn sage, salt, and pepper. Done.

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