The dough slid effortlessly through the pasta machine, each time a little thinner, until I had several immaculate sheets waiting patiently under a kitchen towel.
This time around, I wanted to up the health factor a bit, so I substituted whole wheat flour for half of the white. Equal parts whole wheat and white.
That's where the trouble started. Right from the get-go.
I made my usual flour hill, forming a well in the center for the eggs. I thought about mixing the eggs in a bowl before adding them to the flour, but it made for a prettier picture to have the yolks intact.
The things we do in the name of Art.
Within a few moments, I had egg yolks slipping through my fingers and sliding threateningly close to the edge of my chopping block.
Luckily, though, I eventually managed to combine the ingredients. But the dough wasn't smooth like last time. I could feel the grit of the whole wheat flour as I worked the dough with my fingers. Instead of buttery-yellow, I had a mass of brownish, bulky dough to work with.
Undaunted, I soldiered on and let my dough rest while I prepared the filling.
Now that went exactly as I had imagined it. Smoky bacon, sharp garlic, peppery shallots, fresh peas and mushrooms and creamy goat cheese made for a filling that tasted so fantastic, I "tested" it a few more times than necessary.
I do these things for you. Really I do.
It came time to roll out the dough. I borrowed my friend's pasta machine once again, and set it to the thickest setting. I prepared myself to collect the pasta as it rolled easily through the mechanism.
Whole wheat dough, I discovered, was a bit trickier to work with than all-white dough.
Like any other healthy choice, working with whole wheat took patience. And planning. And extra care.
I had to make sure the rectangles of dough weren't too large; if they were, the dough broke apart and made uneven, wrinkled sheets. I had to make sure that the dough was well-floured before I sent it through the machine, or it would bunch up in one corner or another, making a squiggly sheet - not so hot when you're trying to make stuffed pasta. When it came time to fold the dough over the dollops of filling, it wasn't as malleable as all-white dough. I had to be gentler with it, more forgiving.
A lot of patience. A lot of mistakes. A lot of frustration. A lot of do-overs. A lot of learning.
And, in the end, a lot of fun.
The ultimate payoff of a healthy goal - a job well done, even if it was - especially since it was - more challenging than I thought it would be.
Whole Wheat Pea and Mushroom Ravioli
(Serves 4. Adapted from Food Network Magazine and Tyler Florence)
For the dough:
- 1 1/2 c white flour
- 1 1/2 c whole wheat flour
- 2 tsp salt
- 5 large eggs, plus one for egg wash
- 2 T olive oil (more as needed)
- Cornmeal, for dusting
For the filling:
- 2 shallots
- 4 cloves garlic
- 1/3 lb bacon (about 6 slices), cut into chunks
- 1 cup water
- 8 mushrooms (plus more for sauce, see below)
- 1 c peas (plus more for sauce, see below)
- 1/3 c ricotta cheese
- 1/3 c soft goat cheese, plus more for garnish if desired
For the sauce:
- 1 T olive oil
- 2 cups fresh spinach, de-stemmed
- 8 mushrooms, sliced
- 1/2 c peas
- 2 cloves garlic, sliced thin
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 Tbsp unsalted butter
- Parmesan cheese, for garnish
2. Meanwhile, make the filling: Combine the bacon, shallots, and garlic in a food processor. Mince well. Add to a hot sauté pan along with 1 cup water. Bring it to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-high and simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, combine the peas and mushrooms in the food processor and process until well minced. Add to the bacon mixture and cook for an additional five minutes or so over medium heat, until the bacon is browned and the mushrooms have softened. Pour into a bowl and set aside to cool. When it has cooled, add the ricotta and goat cheese and season to taste with pepper.
3. Roll out the dough: Divide the dough into 4 - 6 equal portions and flatten each portion into a rectangle small enough to fit into your pasta machine. Flour both sides of the rectangle before putting it through the machine. Start with the widest setting, then go one setting thinner at a time until the dough is rolled to about 1/16 - 1/8-inch thickness, adding flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking. As you make each sheet of dough, place the sheet on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and cover with a dish towel to keep it from drying out.
** Note: If the initial dough rectangle doesn't want to go through the machine, it may be too thick. Try thinning it out with your palm. If that doesn't work, make sure it's floured well enough. I had to try this a few times to get it right. **
4. Make the ravioli: In a small dish, combine an egg and a tablespoon of water to make an egg wash. Set aside. Lay out one sheet on a long, floured working surface. Brush the sheet with the egg wash. Place small mounds of dough along one half of the sheet, about 2 inches apart. Carefully, bring the other half of the sheet over to cover the mounds like a blanket. Use your fingers to carefully press around the filled pockets, pushing out extra air and sealing the ravioli. Use either a kitchen knife or rotary tool to cut the squares apart. Discard any extra dough in between squares. Place the ravioli on a cornmeal-dusted, parchment-paper covered baking sheet and cover with a dish cloth so they don't dry out. Either cook immediately, or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.
5. Cook the ravioli: Boil water in a large pot. Carefully drop the ravioli into the water and boil for 5 - 6 minutes, until al dente (the pasta should be firm). Remove with a slotted spoon and place on a dish and cover with foil to keep warm. Save about 1 cup of the pasta water for the sauce.
6. Make the sauce: Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan. Saute the spinach until wilted, covering the pan to help the process. Add the mushrooms, peas, and garlic, and the reserved pasta water. Bring to a boil and simmer until most of the liquid has evaporated, about five minutes. Add the butter and season with salt and pepper to taste.
7. To serve: Arrange the ravioli on your serving dish(es) and spoon the sauce over it. Garnish with Parmesan and/or goat cheese.
Eat well. Even if it's a little more challenging to.
P.S. Beware of butter-loving felines. Make sure you're completely finished with your meal before you turn your back...