This year the mother-in-law’s coming over for dinner on Christmas day. The main course is fine – we’ve got the goose patiently waiting to be roasted. The desert’s already organised as Chris is the Christmas Pudding wizard of the known world. But what do we do for a starter? It’s Christmas Eve, the shops have shut and all that’s left is what’s in the freezer along with a desperate need for inspiration.
We do have lots of sprouts. And because I keep on thinking we’ve run out of pasta flour and buy more and more until we have a cupboard full of it, fresh pasta’s a distinct possibility. And what could be more festive than Brussels Sprout Ravioli? So, armed only with a pasta maker, a ready supply of alcohol and a daughter bravely taking the triple roles of photographer, glamorous assistant and general dogsbody, it seemed time to break new culinary boundaries.
And just before we started I remembered I’d also got a piece of Zebra fillet lurking somewhere in the freezer waiting for a suitable recipe. A quick search of the web revealed a shameful lack of recipes for either zebra or sprout ravioli. Time for inventive genius to put right the deficiencies of the Internet for the benefit of the gastronomically adventurous…
Brussels Sprout Ravioli
First catch your pasta. Failing that, make some. For a first course, it only needs a few hundred grams. Use some of your excess stock of “00” pasta flour that’s lurking at the back of the cupboard (or make do with plain white), mixing one medium egg with each 100 grams of flour. Add enough warm water to make a stiff dough, either mixing by hand (messy), or using a mixer with a dough hook. Once it’s mixed, place in a plastic bag and stick in the fridge to chill for a few hours.
As this is the festive season, I thought it would be nice to make red and white striped pasta to complement the green sprout filling. For that I substituted the juice from a couple of beetroot that I’d cooked, for the water in the recipe, to make up 100 grams of the bright red pasta. If you’ve no beetroot, use food colouring and lie. Wear gloves for this bit unless you want red hands for the next few days and don’t mix it on a white worktop if you want to live. Again, pop it in the fridge to chill after it’s made.
While it’s resting, make the filling. For seven people you’ll need:
- 8 smallish sprouts
- 4 precooked chestnuts
- 2 rashers of streaky bacon
- 1 – 2 Tablespoons of Ricotta
- Salt, pepper and nutmeg
Cook the sprouts until they’re starting to soften, but stop before they get soggy. Leave to drain and press out any remaining water, then chop them coarsely. Finely chop the chestnuts. Grill the bacon until crisp and cut into very small pieces. Mix the sprouts, bacon and chestnuts and season well. It’s best to over-season slightly, otherwise it will be a little bland with the ricotta and pasta. When it tastes right (and it tastes surprisingly good) add a tablespoon of ricotta and mix together, but without mashing it into a paste. Pop in the fridge until ready.
At this point you need a pasta machine. Mine’s an old fashioned hand cranked one, which does the job perfectly well. Keep on passing each batch of pasta through the machine until the consistency becomes even, then continue, rolling it on progressively thinner settings. For ravioli you need to finish with the thinnest possible sheets. Don’t try and process more than 100g at a time, or it will gain a life of its own and take over the kitchen. Have lots of pasta flour handy to top it sticking to things like the camera. And make sure your camera is flour proof.
Having separately rolled out red and white pasta, cut each in half and overlap one half of each. Pass this back through the pasta machine on the finest setting to get a single strip of bi-coloured pasta.
Place small dollops of the sprout mixture onto the pasta, centred on the join and cover with another sheet of the pasta, making sure you’ve matched the colour on top and bottom. The amount you use depends on what size ravioli you intend to make. Use ravioli cutters, pasta wheels or false teeth to seal each ravioli with an attractive edge. Then place on a floured board or wire tray to dry. And move on to the zebra…
I came across some Zebra at the excellent Gamston Wood Farm stall in Borough Market and had been thinking vaguely about making zebra pasta ever since, but never got around to it. This seemed an ideal opportunity to experiment with two different raviolis, so here’s how to do it.
Make two batches of 100g of egg pasta as above, but colour one batch black using squid ink. This is sold by Italian and Sicilian delicatessens, generally untranslated as Nero di Seppia. (If you’re visiting Edinburgh, it always seems to be available at Gaia Delicatessen in Leith Walk, so stock up when you’re there.) Again, wear latex gloves, or you’ll end up looking like one of the great unwashed. Pop the pastas to chill and make the filling.
- 100g Zebra Fillet
- 1 medium onion
- 1 clove Garlic
- Olive Oil
- Fresh parsley
- Salt, pepper, Worcester sauce
- Runny cows milk cheese
I’d not cooked zebra before, so I started off frying a small sliver to taste. It’s not dissimilar to rose veal, so any veal based recipe will probably work. This one was made up as we went along, but works as well. Finely chop the onion and garlic and sauté in the oil until soft. Finely slice and chop the zebra, add to the onion and brown and cook – it only takes a minute. Season with salt and pepper and add a small dash of Worcester sauce to lift the flavour. Leave to cool.
When still slightly warm, add enough cheese to moisten the mix. I initially thought a goat’s cheese would go well, but the balance didn’t seem right, so I used some rather ripe Chauorce that was trying to escape from the fridge. Anything runny with a bit of body should be fine – try a little bit and see if it tastes right. Add an appropriate amount of chopped parsley and leave to cool. I would probably have minced this into a finer mixture if our Breville hadn’t decided to die earlier in the day. If you chop the zebra finely enough, it works, but if any of the ravioli splits during cooking, it falls out, so minced is probably a better bet the next time around.
Now comes the fun bit – making zebra pasta!
Take out both the plain and black pasta and use the pasta machine to produce the thinnest possible sheets. Leave each to dry out slightly on the worktop. After about five to ten minutes, cut the black pasta into random strips (see the photo) and pull these apart. It doesn’t matter if they cross over each other at some points – this doesn’t need to be neat. In fact it looks more authentic if it’s not.
Now take the white sheet and lay it on top of the black strips and press down. Discard any black strips that go past the edges. Cut this into manageable lengths of around 30 cms, pick up the combined strip and pass it back through the pasta machine on the thinnest setting. You should get something that looks remarkably like a squashed zebra.
Place small dollops of the zebra mix on the sheet of pasta, moisten around each dollop, cover with another thin sheet of zebra pasta, press together and cut out. It would be really neat if you had a zebra or horse shaped cutter, but we didn’t. Put aside to dry.
For both ravioli, cook for around three minutes in a copious quantity of boiling water, with around a teaspoon of salt for each litre of water.
I served it with a fairly thick green sauce, to represent festive cheer, or African Veldt, whichever you prefer. This was based on an ordinary hollandaise, with some pureed peas to add texture and colour. Despite asking the guests to guess what the pasta filling was, pointing out that the pasta itself was a clue, none guessed. But they all enjoyed it. I hope you do too. It’s definitely fun to make as well as eat. And the web now has a Brussels sprout ravioli recipe and a zebra ravioli recipe.
Serve with a medium bodied white wine (a Malvira “Renesio” Roero Arneis went very well with it) or champagne – chilled appropriately. And enjoy.
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