ricotta cheese

From Savory to Sweet: Baked Sweet Ravioli

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My sweet tooth was crying for attention after I helped make savory ravioli, so I thought it would be fun to try a dessert ravioli after making a “real” ravioli. In the ravioli post, I mentioned the need to be patient and keep trying when things in the kitchen do not go as planned. And while I whole-heartedly believe in patience and perseverance, I did not expect to rely on my own advice so soon.

The first batch of sweet raviolis I made were miserable failures. I’m not quite sure what went wrong, but the dough kept tearing, the sweet raviolis looked misshapen (I originally cut them into squares), and they did not brown as expected when baked. I did not want to make this dessert a second time. I was tired and bored and feared I would waste a second batch of ingredients. But I took my own advice – what tough medicine that can be sometimes – and started again.

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As you can see, the second batch of sweet raviolis turned out much better. Perhaps I was better accustomed to the very soft dough the second time around, maybe I was in less of a rush, or it could have been something altogether different that escaped my attention. All I know for sure is I’m glad I tried the recipe again.

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Recipes for both the ricotta cheese and candied fruit called for in the sweet ravioli filling can be found within the pages of Love & Flour. I’m not sure about the availability of candied fruit for baking at the grocery store; I’ve never had much need to use it, so I’ve never looked for it. I did however recently notice candied fruit pouches in the dried fruit section where I shop, so perhaps that would work as a substitute to candying fruit at home. I opted to use candied orange slices in my sweet ravioli, and the orange flavor was a lovely compliment to the chocolate.

I hope you all enjoyed a weekend of ravioli, and more importantly, I hope you have a lovely week ahead. Enjoy!

IMG 3092 Edited From Savory to Sweet: Baked Sweet Ravioli

Baked Sweet Ravioli
 
Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Ingredients
  • For the dough:
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup butter, diced
  • ⅓ cup sugar
  • 2 egg
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • For the filling:
  • ¾ cup ricotta cheese
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon candied fruit
  • 1 ounce semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
  • confectioners sugar and/or cocoa powder, for sprinkling
Instructions
  1. To make the dough, process the flour, butter and sugar in a food processor.
  2. Add one egg and the lemon zest to the dough and continue to process until a dough forms. The dough should form a ball and pull away from the sides of the food processor.
  3. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate 30-60 minutes.
  4. When the dough has chilled, roll it out on a lightly floured work surface to about ¼″ thickness.
  5. Flour the rim of a glass or round cookie cutter, and cut the dough into circles.
  6. Make the filling by stirring together the ricotta cheese, sugar, vanilla extract, egg yolk, candied fruit and chocolate.
  7. Top one dough circle with a tablespoon or so of cheese filling.
  8. Slightly stretch a second dough circle and place it on top of the cheese.
  9. Press the tines of a fork into flour, then use the fork to crimp the edges of the top circle onto the bottom circle.
  10. Place the raviolis on a lightly greased baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for approximately 15 minutes or until golden.
  11. Sprinkle with confectioners sugar and/or cocoa powder.
  12. Best when served warm.
Notes
I substituted ¼ cup mini-chocolate chips for the chopped chocolate.

 

Adventures in Pasta Making

IMG 3045 Edited Adventures in Pasta Making

I recently spent Good Friday afternoon helping my friend Niki and her mother Marueen make homemade ravioli. I invited myself to attend their annual ravioli-making day sometime last fall, and Niki agreed to the invitation provided I would show her how to make homemade ricotta cheese to stuff in the homemade ravioli. Knowing how easy it was to make ricotta at home, I knew I walked away with the better deal.

Aside from how to make the pasta, I was intrigued by how a family tradition to make homemade pasta during Easter weekend came about. I learned Maureen’s side of the family is of Italian heritage, so that explained the pasta, but what about the Good Friday connection?

Niki and Maureen reminded me those who follow the Catholic faith do not eat meat on Good Friday. Given the number of fish sandwiches my school cafeteria served on Fridays during Lent (Catholics and Protestants alike, they served us all fish) I should have remembered this. Like fish sandwiches, cheese ravioli are also a meatless meal to eat on Good Friday. Over the years, the Good Friday-cheese-ravioli-eating morphed into Good Friday-cheese-ravioli-making.

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Maureen rolling the dough while Niki fills and crimps the raviolis.

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Cutting the raviolis from a sheet of pasta dough.

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Filling and crimping the raviolis.

To make the dough, roughly four cups of flour, three eggs, a sprinkle of salt, and 3/4ish of a cup of water went into a bowl to be mixed and adjusted with flour and water until it was ready.  And how did one know when the dough was ready? It just “felt right” (i.e. no longer tacky, but not dry).

If you are a cook who likes to measure, those instructions will drive you mad. I used to be that type of person (I measured water to boil spaghetti, for Pete’s sake), and I still feel my anxiety level rise when I read a recipe that does not include a picture of the final product to guide me or requires a technique that appears to be written with assumed steps. But over time, and with much trial and error, I finally understood the best thing I could do to better my cooking and baking was to try again and again, be patient, and give myself permission to fail.

What I learned last Friday was how simple the process of making homemade ravioli could actually be. Or perhaps more accurately, how easily Maureen made homemade ravioli-making appear. She rolled out that pasta dough like it was the most natural thing in the world. Niki’s attempts where a bit more rocky, and I, who still quakes in fear at the sight of a rolling pin, successfully avoided rolling out the dough all afternoon. Avoidance was probably not the wisest move on my part, because you know how Maureen went from a novice like Niki to rolling out a beautiful sheet of dough? Trial and error, patience and practice.

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Here’s how the afternoon unfolded:

  • Niki and LeAndra poured glasses of champagne to sip while watching Maureen mix and roll dough.
  •  Maureen cut the rolled dough into circles with the lightly floured rim of a glass.
  • Niki and LeAndra placed spoonfuls of a ricotta-parmesan cheese mixture onto one of the dough circles, topped with a second dough circle, and crimped the edges shut with a fork.
  • Repeat ravioli-making and champagne-sipping.

In just over three hours, we made three batches of dough, exactly 100 ravioli, and drank two bottles of champagne. Note: Niki and I had help with the champagne. We did not each drink a bottle of champagne, though I must admit I like the idea.

I think it’s also worth nothing that making homemade ravioli brings back a lot of memories of Maureen’s late mother and Niki’s late grandmother, Nana, who started the tradition. Though I never met Nana, I’ve been friends with Niki long enough to feel like I knew her through all the stories Niki has shared. I know how important my grandmothers’ traditions, love and recipes are to me, so to be invited to share in a friend’s family tradition that was started by a much-loved lady was very special to me.

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The ravioli table before…

 

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and the ravioli table after.

By the way, I did show Niki how to make the homemade ricotta cheese. The quantity of ravioli we planned to make made store-bought ricotta cheese easier to use since the homemade ricotta was not made in advance, but the homemade ricotta found an immediate home in stuffed shells. Niki wrote me later with her verdict, “I really want to try making some [ravioli] with the homemade ricotta because the stuffed shells had a really good cheese flavor. It was probably the most flavorful cheese we’ve ever had in a dish like that, and I know it had to be the ricotta.” So simple…so good.

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Keys to remember:

  • Roll only half the dough at a time. Keep the other half covered to avoid drying out.
  • Do not roll the pasta dough out more than three times. It will toughen to the point of little use after the third roll.
  • Be patient, have fun and enjoy!
5.0 from 1 reviews

Homemade Ravioli
 
Author:
Recipe type: Entree
Ingredients
  • For the ravioli dough:
  • 4-ish cups flour, plus additional for flouring the work surface
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 sprinkle of salt
  • ¾-ish cup of water
  • For the ravioli filling:
  • 1 pound ricotta cheese
  • 2-4 ounces Parmesan cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • ¼ -1/2 cup chopped parsley
  • salt and pepper to taste
Instructions
  1. To make the pasta dough, place four cups of flour in a large mixing bowl. Make a well, or a “pocket” according to Nana, in the center of the flour.
  2. Crack the three eggs into the well, sprinkle in some salt, and add the water.
  3. Mix until the dough achieves a consistency that is smooth, but not tacky or dry. Depending on humidity, additional flour and/or water may need to be added to the dough to achieve this consistency.
  4. When the dough is ready, place half in a bowl and cover with a clean towel or plastic wrap to keep it from drying out.
  5. Roll the remaining dough out on a floured work surface to about ¼” thickness.
  6. Flour the rim of a glass or round cookie cutter, and cut the dough into circles.
  7. Top one dough circle with a tablespoon-ish of cheese filling.
  8. Slightly stretch a second dough circle and place it on top of the cheese.
  9. Press the tines of a fork into flour, then use the fork to crimp the edges of the top circle onto the bottom circle. Take care to crimp all the way through to the bottom circle but avoid ripping the dough. This will ensure the raviolis do not come apart when boiled.
  10. Repeat until all raviolis are complete.
  11. Allow the raviolis to sit out to dry for 2-3 hours, then turn over to dry another 2-3 hours.
  12. Boil in water, top with a sauce of your choice, and serve.
Notes
The raviolis will keep in a sealed, plastic bag placed in the freezer for months. To cook the frozen raviolis, drop them one at a time into a pot of boiling water. Add a few drops of vegetable oil to the water to prevent the raviolis from sticking together. Cook at a rolling boil for approximately 20 minutes. The cheese filling approximations are my own. The original recipe was written for a large batch of pasta and called for four pounds of ricotta cheese. I reduced the filling recipe as best as I could for one batch of dough, but it is only an approximation that you will likely need to fit to your own tastes.

 

Stuffed: Shells

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A Stuffed Shell recipe is one of the first recipes I ever recall asking someone to share.  In addition to her delicious cheesecakes, I once ate some killer stuffed shells courtesy Auntie Kathie.  At the time, I considered cheesecakes beyond the realm of my abilities, but stuffed shells seemed like a reasonable dish.  She shared the recipe, and I enjoyed the stuffed shells every time I made them.

Those stuffed shells were filled with a delicious ground sausage and cheese mixture, and I fully intended to make them for this post until I came across a stuffed shells-meet-fall recipe in a recent issue of Country Living magazine.

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The main ingredients for the filling in these stuffed shells are pumpkin and ricotta cheese. I made homemade ricotta cheese, and replaced the basil in the original recipe with spinach.  I also used Parmesan cheese in place of Romano cheese.  Why the substitutions?

You may have noticed, I substitute quite a few ingredients in recipes.  This is less a function of cutting edge creativity and more a function of practicality.  For this dish, it seemed silly to track down basil, which I consider a summer herb, when I had plenty of frozen spinach on hand.  Same thing for the cheese.  Why buy Romano when Parmesan was on hand?

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For a long time, I didn’t cook or bake the dishes I really wanted to try as much as I would have liked because the recipes called for one-off ingredients.  Practical substitutions help minimize that barrier.  They also help me not to waste food (and money).  I feel badly when I throw away spoiled items of which I used only a tiny bit before the rest went bad, so I try to use what I have on hand as much as possible.

So how did my substitutions turn out? I liked the filling, but it was a bit more bland than I would have preferred.  When I make these again, I will saute the spinach in some olive oil and garlic before I stuff the shells, and maybe season the filling with a dash of cayenne pepper.  Try the original version linked in the post above, try my version below, or vary the recipe as you like to suit your tastes. Enjoy!

Pumpkin Ricotta Stuffed Shells
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 24 Jumbo Pasta Shells
  • 2 – 15 ounce cans tomato sauce
  • 2 cups Ricotta cheese
  • 1 -15-ounce can pumpkin
  • 1¼ cups spinach
  • ¾ cup Parmesan cheese
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
Instructions
  1. Cook the pasta shells according to the package directions.
  2. While the pasta shells cook, pour the tomato sauce into a 9 x 13 baking dish.
  3. Drain the cooked shells and transfer to the baking dish.
  4. In a medium bowl, stir together the ricotta cheese, pumpkin, spinach, Parmesan cheese, and garlic cloves. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Fill each pasta shell with about 2 tablespoons of the pumpkin-ricotta- mixture.
  6. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes.
  7. If desired, garnish with Parmesan cheese before serving.
Notes
If making homemade ricotta cheese, a half-gallon of milk should yield two cups.