Today’s harvest: Mustard greens, baby spinach, chard, basil, parsley, mint, stinging nettles
Virgilio was a man of few words.
He had no education, no money, and no freedom of speech. He had little bread, and very few teeth to eat it with. His bed was a bunch of hay and, during the winter, he would wake up in the morning and find that his breath had decorated the sheets with a thin layer of ice crystals right under his nose. He only owned one pair of pants, which he washed diligently on Sundays before mass.
What he did have though was an unshakable belief that all is possible to the man who knows a good investment and has faith. How that faith transitios from God into the very soul of those men who believe in themselves he never spoke of.
This aside, he had 10 kids and a wife he had married because she was known to be the local unrivaled goddess of pasta-making.
Virgilio was a man who, above all, had entrepreneurial spirit.
The world belongs to the poor, he said. Because, when you believe you have nothing, you start looking at what you do have with a different keenness. When you can make everything out of nothing, you actually own everything.
And, when you think you have nothing, all you need is a good plan. A good plan, and the faith that it is somehow – all with taking seredipity into consideration, going to work.
Many times during the year my great grandparents found themselves with no food, and this brought them to the fields, which they perused for hours in search of edible herbs. The amount of knowledge on the subject that we inherited from them is immense.
What I love about vegan cooking is that – much as lack of resources does, it fosters people’s imagination. When you take out dairy, meat, and all else, at first you believe you have nothing. Then you realize you still have a world of resources to use.
These ravioli are the result of whatever those poor people could find in the fields.
They are quite straightforward to make and can be assembled with a variety of your favorite herbs and greens, which are plentiful in this time of year. Whatever you decide to use, I suggest using at least 3 or 4 varieties for best results.
It is funny how this list of ingredients, which can be considered quite long today, 70 years ago was just something you always had on hand. Also, I use sunchokes here (inspired by the amazing Princess Tofu) but you can substitute potatoes if you do not like them or prefer the flavor.
These ravioli are folded in a particular way that turns them into sort of pockets, which collect every sauce wonderfully. Even though I use a rolling pin, you can easily make strips with a pasta machine.
Hey, after all, I am the grandniece of the best pasta maker in town.
Vegan Ravioli with Sunchoke and Herb filling
For the pasta
250g Flour, plus more for dusting
50g Semolina Flour
Water (about half a cup, or more)
A pinch of salt
For the filling
1 lb Mixed fresh greens (Dandelion greens, Mustard greens, beet greens, stinging nettles, chard, baby spinach…)
1 lb Sunchokes (Jerusalem artichokes)
A big bunch of basil
A bunch of parsley
(extra) A small bunch of mint leaves
1/4 cup pine nuts
A good grating of nutmeg
MAKE THE FILLING
I highly recommend you do this the night before, for the simple reason that, regardless of how well you cook everything, this filling is still going to release some water. We want our filling to drip out as much water as possible.
1. Cook the vegetables – Use a pot that can fit all of them. You will only need a couple inches of water. Once the water boils, add a good teaspoon of salt and dunk the herbs in, then cover with a tight fitting lid. Cook the herbs until nice and tender – 15 to 25 minutes, depending on which herbs you use. If you can and want, steaming them would be an even better choice.
At the same time, cook the roughly chopped, unpeeled sunchokes by boiling them until tender. This took about 30 minutes for me. It would be even better to roast them: toss with a little olive oil and roast for about 40 minutes in a 400F˚ (200C˚) oven.
Once both are cooked, wait for them to cool down a bit. Squeeze as much water out of the greens as you can. As for the sunchokes, you can leave them unpeeled or not, but I personally really appreciate the peels both because of nutritional value and flavor.
2. Assemble – Take the fresh herbs you are using and chop them. Add all the ingredients for the filling into a food processor, and process until smooth. As for the amount of salt, go easy at first – you can adjust it later. Hey, it’s vegan, so you can taste it no problem!
Put the filling in a colander over a bowl and store in the fridge until ready to use.
MAKE THE PASTA
Making the pasta without eggs is even easier, as it will not dry out as fast when working with it. The water amount is not specified, as it varies a lot depending on the flour you use. I encourage you to substitute some of the white flour with a more nutritious kind of flour, like spelt or rye, as long as it is milled as finely as possible.
For reference, see my in-depth guide to pasta making.
1. Make a well of flour on a wooden board, add a bit of water and start kneading, adding more water a little by little as you go. You should end up with a very supple ball of dough. If it seems too stiff or too dry, add more waer and re-knead.
2. Prepare to roll it out. If you make it with a rolling pin, roll it to the desired thinness (not too thin, as eggless pasta is easier to stretch but is less resilient) and cut the sheet of pasta into 4 inch wide strips. If using a pasta machine, you already have the strips, so even better!
Make sure you keep the board and the tools well floured.
3. Take out the filling, and discard the water that has leaked out. Put a teaspoonful of filling at regular intervals near the lower edge of the strip, then fold the pasta over the filling (see picture below). Press to seal the edges with your fingers. To make the pockets, pinch the pasta in between the gaps, as to create a sort of ‘wall’ out of the strip. With a pasta wheel, cut each ravioli by dragging the wheel towards yourself – not from yourself and away. This will cause the part you pinched to fold inwards and create a pocket.
4. Lay the prepared ravioli on a floured tray, and make sure they do not overlap. You can freeze them this way and, once they’re frozen, dump them in a bag.
You will find yourself with some pasta scraps. Do not throw them away! I froze them along with the ravioli, and I am planning to use them in soup.
5. To boil them, dump them in a parge pot with plenty of salted boiling water until they rise to the surface, about 3 to 5 minutes.
SUGGESTIONS FOR DRESSING
Because these are so simple, they can be tossed with pretty much any sauce you have – especially if you are making these with potatoes instead of sunchokes. Here are a few suggestions:
~ Finish them in a pan with some very good tomato sauce and some fragrant basil. Bless with some extra virgin olive oil, the best you can afford.
~ Make a stir-fry of onions and cook them with a splash of balsamic vinegar until caramelized.
~ Toss with regular pesto, or with pistachio pesto, or with sicilian tomato pesto.
I will soon make another post with a sauce to go with these guys.
“The only thing that requires more thought than words is spending,” said Virgilio, one of the few times that he spoke. “One must think twice before speaking, and thrice before spending. A wise man knows how to save. Even unnecessary words.”
What do you do when you find you have to make do with less resources than you thought you have? Is there something that is always there to save the night when your kitchen seems empty like a bottle of beer on St. Patrick’s day (reference intended)?