There can be no denying that lasagne is a labour of love.
It’s complicated, it takes time (a lot of it), it needs balance. It has many layers and components. It takes forever to get just-so and often isn’t quite right. But when it is good – done well, slowly and with care, it is one of the best dishes in the world - satisfying, infinitely comforting. It takes you home.
It is also the sort of thing you only make for someone else, presumably the object of your love/affection. It was the first thing I made the first person I fell in love with. Lasagne is not a dish you make for yourself (at least it isn’t a dish I ever make for myself). Not only is it logistically difficult to make a single portion of lasagne it also seems somehow emotionally incongruous, because for me lasagne is a dish to be shared.
The crucial bit for me is also the time involved. I am not someone who loves cooking for myself. I have tried to be, but I’m not. I will cook for myself and I do, every day, but I tend to slot into a familiar pattern of salads, soups, bean-based dishes and simple pastas and sandwiches. Devoting an entire half day (or more) to make myself lasagne seems almost immoral. It’s not that I don’t think myself worthy of a solo lasagne, it’s more that I can’t justify the time involved if the pleasure is purely my own. I feel the same way about Ravioli. Ravioli, like lasagne, take time and patience, and are an odd thing to make in single portions.
This year in my kitchen there has been a distinctive dearth of dishes, because I live alone and we are all still sotto Covid. For this reason I have not cooked much, except when recipe testing, and even then I have mourned the inevitable wastage and indulgence when it is only me eating. I have made one lasagne, I admit, and it took me nearly a week to get through it. I was so bored of it by day 3 I almost vowed never to eat it again, which is truly a shame because I love lasagne, and I felt sad that we had come to such a point in our long and (mostly) successful relationship. Each day I put the gratin dish back into the oven, drier and blacker about the edges, reprimanding me with its sad, burnt, crusty bits which I would have to soak in suds for days to remove. You brought this on yourself, the gratin dish mocked me.
However, this is not a sad story about the end of a lifelong love affair, because there is light at the end of the long pandemic tunnel. This week Sardinia moved into the Zona Bianca, which means bars and restaurants are open again and we can socialise a little. My friend Sara is pregnant and housebound, so it seemed a perfect and welcome opportunity to finally make something which is not for myself, and to spend a little more time doing so, to at last put a little more love into it.
So, as she already told me she had been stocking her freezer with Pasta al Forno (most often lasagne is called Pasta al Forno here) I thought I would make ravioli. I don’t make ravioli often, because they are undeniably time-consuming, but spending a morning making a batch, most of which I will give to others, and a portion of which I will keep for myself, is a deeply satisfying activity.
I made ravioli stuffed with pumpkin and ricotta, the recipe for which is in Bitter Honey; a recipe which Luca and I used to make a version of at Spring and then often made together here in Sardinia. It’s a lovely way of using the pumpkins which are still hanging around at the market.
This recipe makes enough for around 6 portions, if you have 3-4 ravioli each. They are very rich, especially as they are eaten in a large puddle of sage butter.
Make them/eat them for/with anyone you love, including yourself.
For the pasta:
250g 00 flour
3 egg yolks
2 whole eggs
For the filling:
1 medium pumpkin (I like to use onion squash or Delicia. It is important it is not a watery pumpkin – the larger ones tend to be watery and lack flavour)
6 tbsp olive oil
1 scant tsp of chilli flakes
Zest of 1 lemon
80g grated parmesan
8-10 sage leaves
40g grated parmesan
For the Ravioli:
Make the pasta dough. Mix the flour with the eggs and yolks until you have a smooth, uniform dough, mixing first in the bowl and then kneading on a clean work surface for a few minutes. If the dough seems dry add a little more egg, and keep kneading. It should be smooth and just moist but not sticky. Wrap in clingfilm and set aside to rest for half an hour.
Cut the squash into wedges and season well with the salt, chilli and olive oil. Lay on a roasting tray and cover with foil. Roast in the oven at 180 until soft and caramelised, about 40-50 minutes. Leave to cool a little.
Mash the cooked squash in a bowl with a fork and add the lemon zest, ricotta and parmesan (you can blitz it in a processor if you prefer, which makes a smooth, uniform puree). Taste for seasoning. You may like to add more chilli at this point too.
Set aside to cool completely, or put in the fridge.
Meanwhile roll out your pasta. Using a machine roll the pasta (adding semola or flour when necessary) until it’s thin enough to just see your hand through, then lay out one strip on a floured surface. Take walnut sized pieces of the filling and place in the centre of the pasta at 2 inch intervals. Dampen the pasta sheet with a pastry brush dipped in water and fold the top part of the sheet over the bottom, pressing down with your fingers to seal. Cut the ravioli and place on a tray well coated in semola. Put in the fridge to chill until you want to serve them.
Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Drop in the ravioli and cook for 3-4 minutes until they bob to the surface. Remove with a slotted spoon and place in your sauce (see below) to keep warm.
Melt the butter in a shallow pan. Add the sage leaves and continue cooking it, letting it bubble away for a minute. Add a ladle of the pasta cooking water and turn down the heat, stirring. Add the parmesan and keep stirring over a low heat until an emulsion is formed. Serve.