A while ago, I wrote a comment on someone else’s blog about how tofu’s bad reputation comes from people trying to substitute tofu for tastier but fattier ingredients, like cheese and meat. And it’s true – I love tofu in recipes where it belongs – hot and sour soup, moo shu, peanut sesame noodles, stir fry. But, it turns out that I’m a hypocrite, because just a few days before I wrote that comment, I had made ravioli filling with ricotta, spinach, parmesan, and, yes, tofu.
This filling is a holdover from my brief stint as a brown rice-eating, refined sugar-avoiding health nut. The lifestyle wasn’t a keeper, but this recipe is. The trick is to process the tofu in a food processor before adding the other ingredients to ensure that the tofu is absolutely smooth. I also like the spinach processed, or at least very finely chopped, because the texture of cooked spinach is potentially stringy unless chopped finely.
This is my most successful attempt at making homemade ravioli. (And it was all done between 9pm and midnight on a Friday, because I’m a nut.) I made the dough by hand instead of using the food processor, since I’ve been more successful with hand-kneaded dough in the past. The picture is all out of whack – I was supposed to use 3 eggs and 2 cups of flour, this is 3 cups of flour and 2 eggs. I figured out the screw-up just in time.
In the past, I’ve always rolled out pasta dough for ravioli to the thinnest setting, but then they’re impossibly delicate. I kept the pasta just a bit thicker this time. I was also careful to form wider sheets of pasta, which meant I could form square raviolis instead of rectangles. It’s a small issue, but I was excited about the squares. For nice square ravioli, make sure you start rolling the dough by feeding the widest edge through first. Not only does this make for prettier ravioli, but the pasta sheets don’t become as long and difficult to handle.
The thicker dough made far better ravioli than I’ve made before! This is the first time I’ve been able to boil ravioli without it immediately tasting watery. The dough remained firm, and the ravioli, both the filling and the pasta, were delicious. The tofu doesn’t detract from the filling at all, and while I can’t say that it’s adding any flavor of its own, it sure is a healthy filler ingredient.
Spinach Ricotta Tofu Ravioli (dough ingredients and ravioli forming instructions from Cooks Illustrated; dough mixing and rolling method from Marcella Hazan; filling recipe is my own creation)
The instructions look long, but that’s only because I copied and pasted Marcella Hazan’s very detailed pasta instructions from her lasagna recipe. It’s not nearly as complicated as it looks.
I’m not providing you with a sauce recipe. I’ve been using a simple tomato sauce with these.
Ravioli take well to freezing. I didn’t eat any of these the day I formed them. I immediately flash froze them, and they’ve made for some handy easy meals in the weeks since.
For the dough:
2 cups (10 ounces) unbleached flour
3 large eggs
For the filling:
10 ounces fresh spinach
12 ounces firm tofu
15 ounces ricotta cheese
¾ cup (1.5 ounces) grated parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon salt
ground black pepper
For the pasta:
Pour the flour onto a work surface, shape it into a mound, and scoop out a deep hollow in its center. Break the eggs into the hollow.
Beat the eggs lightly with a fork for about 2 minutes as though you were making an omelet. Draw some of the flour over the eggs, mixing it in with the fork a little at a time, until the eggs are no longer runny. Draw the sides of the mound together with your hands, but push some of the flour to one side, keeping it out of the way until you find you absolutely need it. Work the eggs and flour together, using your fingers and the palms of your hands, until you have a smoothly integrated mixture. If it is still moist, work in more flour.
When the mass feels good to you and you think it does not require any more flour, wash your hands, dry them, and run a simple test: Press you thumb deep into center of the mass; if it comes out clean, without any sticky matter on it, no more flour is needed. Put the egg and flour mass to one side, scrape the work surface absolutely clear of any loose or caked bits of flour and of any crumbs, and get ready to knead.
Return to the mass of flour and eggs. Push forward against it using the heel of your palm, keeping your fingers bent. Fold the mass in half, give it a half turn, press hard against it with the heel of your palm again, and repeat the operation. Make sure that you keep turning the ball of dough always in the same direction, either clockwise or counterclockwise, as you prefer. When you have kneaded it thus for 8 full minutes and the dough is as smooth as baby skin, it is ready for the machine.
Cut the ball of dough into 6 equal parts.
Spread clean, dry, cloth dish towels over a work counter near where you’ll be using the machine.
Set the pair of smooth cylinders, the thinning rollers, at the widest opening. Flatten one of the pieces of dough by pummeling it with your palm, and run it through the machine. Fold the dough twice into a third of its length, and feed it by its narrow end through the machine once again. Repeat the operation 2 or 3 times, then lay the flattened strip of pasta over a towel on the counter. Since you are going to have a lot of strips, start at one end of the counter, leaving room for the others.
Take another piece of dough, flatten it with your hand, and turn it through the machine exactly as described above. Lay the strip next to the previously thinned one on the towel, but do not allow them to touch or overlap, because they are still moist enough to stick to each other. Proceed to flatten all the remaining pieces in the same manner.
Close down the opening between the machine’s rollers by one notch. Take the first pasta strip you had flattened and run it once through the rollers, feeding it by its wider end. Do not fold it, but spread it flat on the cloth towel, and move on to the next pasta strip in the sequence.
When all the pasta strips have gone through the narrower opening once, bring the rollers closer together by another notch, and run the strips of pasta through them once again, following the procedure described above. You will find the strips becoming longer, as they get thinner, and if there is not enough room to spread them out on the counter, you can let them hand over the edge. Continue thinning the strips in sequence, progressively closing down the opening between the rollers one notch at a time. This step-by-step thinning procedure, which commercial makers of fresh pasta greatly abbreviate or skip altogether, is responsible, along with proper kneading, for giving good pasta its body and structure. Continue thinning the pasta until the second-to-last setting.
For the filling:
Place cleaned spinach leaves and any water that clings to them in a nonreactive soup kettle. (If you’re using pre-washed bagged spinach, add 2 tablespoons water to the pot). Cover and cook over medium heat until spinach wilts, about 5 minutes. Cool spinach slightly and squeeze out the excess liquid; set aside.
Process the tofu in a food processor until smooth. Add the spinach and pulse to combine and finely chop. Add the remaining filling ingredients and pulse to combine.
To form ravioli:
Your sheets should be approximately 4 inches across. Place small balls of filling (about one rounded teaspoon each) in a line one inch from the bottom of the pasta sheet. Leave one and one-quarter inches between each ball of filling. Fold over the top of the pasta and line it up with the bottom edge. Seal bottom and the two open sides with your finger. Use fluted pastry wheel to cut along the two sides and bottom of the sealed pasta sheet. Run pastry wheel between balls of filling to cut out the ravioli.
To cook ravioli:
Bring 4 quarts water to boil in a large stockpot. Add salt and half the pasta. Cook until doubled edges are al dente, 4-5 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer ravioli to warmed bowls or plates; add sauce of choice. Meanwhile, put remaining ravioli in boiling water and repeat cooking process. (Or bring two pots of water to boil and cook both batches simultaneously.) Serve immediately. (Alternatively, after draining the boiled ravioli, layer them in a baking dish with sauce and put them in a warmed oven until ready to serve.)