Ravioli from fresh pasta, homemade, seems a hassle. Once you’ve tried it a couple of times, it’s a joy to make and eat…and even more so if you dream up some seasonal flavours to fill them. Fennel for me, as it’s growing thick and fast everywhere in Malta right now. Recipe below photos.
Four seasons in barely a week! And three hour changes. I left the UK on Monday just getting into the mood for spring after two freezing weeks over Easter. We still got out and about, cycling in near blizzards, but with field and trees bare and daffodils still struggling to open, it was more like winter. Arriving in Malta, we jumped straight into full-blown spring with temps heating up nicely. Brits would consider this ‘summer’ weather no doubt.
I now have a mad rush to get herbs planted, garden sorted and decking sanded, windows painted and a zillion more spring jobs before the big heat hits. I’ve nearly missed one of my favourite seasons in Malta, and one of my favourite veggies – fennel. Spring is always fleeting in the Mediterranean, and has to be savoured asap; by mid May, green will all have but disappeared from our waysides.
Fennel is one of the most beautiful wild plants in Malta. I love its frothy fronds, deep greens and power to sprout up from the base of last year’s parched sticks. My route back across country from the school drop off is thick with fennel. I stop at a pull-in by an old church standing proud and alone. Carved on its outer walls are galleons; I’ve no idea when they were etched in the stone – 18th or 20th century – but they look quite weathered. They are just another of Malta’s history mysteries. Alongside the church, I pick some fronds to go with the massive fennel bulb from the farmers’ market. I didn’t manage to stop the hawker hacking off the green.
This recipe is subtle and full-flavoured at the same time. Fennel is not overpowering mixed with ricotta and pepped up with some very crispy pancetta. Vegetarians can easily leave out the pancetta. I did in some I made. The sauce is nothing more than warmed cream with Parmesan and some chopped fennel fronds. You can simply drizzle olive oil over if you’re not a cream fan. A superb, simply spring recipe…
All images © Liz Ayling 2013. The large yellow-flowering plant is not fennel, but ‘false fennel’. For the beady-eyed botanists among you! It’s very like fennel, and in flower a bit earlier.
Ravioli with wild fennel, ricotta & pancetta
Pasta: I used Jamie Oliver’s rule-of-thumb amounts of flour and eggs (see either The Naked Chef or The Return of the Naked Chef) which says 100gm flour and 1 large egg or two eggs yolks per portion/person. I made up 500gm. For how to make up the pasta, see my earlier post, Pasta making #1 but just roll out flat sheets (lasagna) on the pasta machine. 250g pasta will make enough ravioli for four small-medium (starter) portions. Be warned, they are filling and quite large!
Note: You can make the ravioli 3-4 hours ahead of your meal, keeping them covered with cling film in the fridge. They also freeze well (single layer till frozen, then bag up) at uncooked stage, making them ideal for a dinner party as you don’t have the hassle of making them on the day.
400g fresh ricotta
1 large fennel bulb
handful of fennel fronds
150g pancetta, lardons or strips cut small
2 tbsp olive oil
fresh-ground black pepper
1 tsp crushed fennel seeds
Sauce: warm 200ml single cream, add 1 tbsp grated Parmesan, fresh-ground black pepper, chopped fennel fronds and scatter in a few fennel seeds.
1. Trim, wash and then slice the fennel bulb finely into very thin strips.
2. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a thick-based saucepan (with a lid), add the sliced fennel and sweat off gently (15 mins or so) until soft and slightly translucent. Keep pan lid on. Do not burn, so keep on a very low heat and stir occasionally.
3. Remove fennel when cooked and set aside to cool. Then, blend it up in a food processor ensuring it’s not a mush but retains some texture.
4. Heat a small frying pan over a high heat and crisp the pancetta till nicely browned. If the pancetta isn’t that fatty, add a very little olive oil to fry it. Remove and drain on some kitchen paper to absorb any excess fat.
5. In a large bowl, mix the blended fennel with the ricotta, season with fresh-ground black pepper and stir in the crisped pancetta. If you like, retain some pancetta to garnish the pasta on serving. Add a little chopped fennel frond and around 1 tsp crushed fennel seeds (according to taste).
6. Lay out the fresh pasta sheets on a large surface dusted with semolina. The sheets should be the width of your pasta machine, and very long – see Pasta making #1 for how to make up pasta.
7. Spoon around a dessert spoonful of the ricotta-fennel filling into the middle of the sheet at about 3 inch intervals. Sprinkle over some more chopped fennel fronds. See photo above for this stage in the ravioli making.
8. Using a small pastry brush dipped in water, brush a square around your mounds of filling – about 1.5 inches from the filling. Take a second long sheet of fresh pasta hooked over the back of one hand, and using the other hand cup the top layer over the filling mounds, ensuring as best you can that you don’t leave air pockets around the filling. When you’ve done the entire row, pinch the ravioli sheets together well, and trim a square around each filling. The ravioli are quite large – around 3 inches or so wide – ideal, as you get more filling to pasta this way!
9. Place ravioli in a single layer on baking paper dusted with semolina.
10.Cooking: Boil a large pan of water, and slide in the ravioli carefully. Cook for 3-4 minutes only. Remove very carefully with a slotted spoon to drain, serving straight into warmed pasta plates. DO NOT drain in a colander as you would dried pasta – the ravioli may burst if you do! Serve with the simple warmed cream sauce above, or drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, as desired.
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