Thursday, February 07, 2008

Ravioli with Saffron

As Slow Food Oslo assembled in Oslo last night, we did so in real slow food manner. This was the evening where all food was made from scratch. The mind behind the evening was the charismatic cook Giovanna, from Peru, but with Italian ancestors. She brought us all the way from flour, eggs, cheese and spinach to the tastiest raviolis with the most delicious filling. I will share with you what happened. On the menu was ravioli with saffron, Sicilian style.

Pasta with saffron

Giovanna had brought her own 40 kilo (80 lb) pasta machine, a squeaky clean Italian kitchen wonder in quite another league than the small food processor most of us have in our kitchen. This enormous machine mixed the pasta dough as well as the thin pasta sheets that would end as the most delicious, rustic raviolis.

Giovanna prepared us for the process. She explained that the raviolis we were going to make had most of the traditional ingredients of ordinary raviolis. Two ingredients were, however, of Arab origins. This as Sicily had a strong Arab influence during the Middle Ages. To the dough Giovanna would add Iranian saffron and to the filling she would use sultanas.

As there were many of us, the raviolis were made from industrial sized amounts of ingredients. I do not dare to give you the exact amount used to prepare this dish for a normal setting. I recommend you to find a normal ravioli recipe and add the extra ingredients.

Giovanna cracked a great of numbers off eggs into a large bowl. When using saffron, do not add the saffron in the food directly. Saffron is an extremely strong food dye, but in order to extract the maximum colour from it do as Giovanna. She had soaked the saffron in water two hours in advance, and then she added the saffron to the eggs and mixed well.

The wonderful yellow colour of the eggs got even more intense with the saffron.

Giovanna had already placed the correct of flour in the large Italian pasta machine, and then she started, and my what sound it made. It did not sound like any kitchen I have heard before.

Giovanna stressed the importance of the quality of the flour. It needed to be extra fine in order to get the right texture of the pasta. Then the egg/saffron mix was poured in the machine. During the mixing she checked the quality of the pasta and added a little more flour and a few tablespoons of olive oil.

The ravioli filling

I told you that the filling had a little twist. Giovanna used peccorini Ricotta, a lean soft cheese made from sheep's milk.

Then she used pine nuts. She did not roast them, but added as they were, whole to the ricotta cheese. Then she added a highly unusual ingredient - sultanas.

I would never have thought of using sultanas in such a mix, but adding sweetness to savory food is not a bad idea. In Northern Africa, e.g. in Morocco spices used in puddings are added to hot food. A good example is the classic pigeon pie made with a very thin filo pastry and topped with icing sugar and cinnamon.

To the mix was added chopped fresh spinach. This is a favourite. I have used spinach and ricotta in a cannelloni recipe I have shared here on Enjoy Food & Travel. The final two ingredients were parmigiano and a whole nutmeg.

The amount of nutmeg added is something to be remarked. If you make a normal portion add a small just a little nutmeg. This as it has a pungent taste, and the quantity used here may create a strong hallucinogenic reaction, as it contains strange stuff.

Then the filling was done. Now was the time to assemble the dish.

Making ravioli

The dough had the most striking colour. Normally, it would have been pale yellow, but the colour of the pasta that Giovanna had prepared were strikingly similar to the Sicilian sun.

Then Giovanna started her pasta machine once again, and the eager members of Oslo Slow Food association started the hard labour transforming large lumps of yellow pasta dough into long, fine, and thin sheets to create rustic ravioli.

And the texture of the pasta sheets was sensational. The times I have made lasagna sheets from scratch, I have experienced that the pasta has been much drier. This had a smooth, wax-like surface.

The sheets were separated by cling film and semolina flour were added to avoid the sheets sticking together.

The sheets were placed on the table, brushed with beaten eggs in order for them to stick. Then we placed the filling on the half of the sheet, and folded the other half over, and thoroughly sealing the stuffing inside.

The raviolis varied in size and shape, rustic like a Sicilian mother would have made. They were placed on large trays with semolina flour in order for them not to stick.


Rustic raviolis with saffron, served with a good salad, melted butter with sage, good bread and grated parmigiano. Yum!!

See the website of Slow Food Oslo here (Norwegian only)

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