My family and I have gotten into a bit of a funny habit. Each and every time we prepare a meal that we have deemed "amazing", we sit with our empty plates and half-drunk wine glasses and discuss how much we think our meal would have cost at a Toronto restaurant. We go through each and every item that we have prepared, considering the cost of ingredients, labour, etc. and usually end up charging ourselves with an imaginary whopping bill that we would never be able to afford considering just how many of these "amazing" meals we prepare within a week (seriously, I feel very lucky to have such fantastic home cooks as my parents). Sure we have our staples like a great steak dinner, ribs, pork tenderloin etc. that always end up on our "this could be served at a top Toronto restaurant" list, but every now and then we experiment with a totally new creation, inspired by our imagination that may very well end up being an utter failure, but could also be perfection!
Perfection, a word I don't often use when describing my own cooking. I am definitely one of my worst critics, and can almost always find something that can be improved in anything that I do. Whether it's in cooking, writing a blog post, or even curling my hair, nothing is ever perfect for me. Well, maybe that's not true. Who knows if it was in the stars, luck, or actual skill that allowed me to create magic when cooking up my favourite don't-wanna-change-a-thing dishes. But my Rustic Mushroom and Cream Cheese Tart, Chicken Marsala, Strawberry Crumble Muffins, and Lemon Ricotta Crepes with Berry Icewine Sauce were nothing short of exceptional...if I do say so myself. Once again magic entered my kitchen this past Thursday in creating this Eggplant Ravioli in a Roasted Red Pepper Sauce.
I've gotta say, the process to get to this final perfect dish was quite arduous. Thankfully I was not on my own in creating this dish, I had my two helpers, my sister Justine and her boyfriend and my friend Duncan, to help me out throughout the long process. Other than the pasta sheets, we had no recipe, just our wild imaginations, and a fridge full of ingredients, which is really the best way to cook anything! No one was assigned to a particular task, we all pitched in when needed, we all had a say in the flavours, and each of us tasted every single step along the way to make sure everything was "perfect". For a brief moment we feared our homemade ravioli mission had failed when we attempted to fill our raviolis in the gorgeous, yet way too small, ravioli mold that my sister had got me for Christmas. As I said, the mold was ridiculously small, I can't even imagine filling it with anything more than a few poppy seeds! We gave it a try anyway and unfortunately we lost a little filling and some pasta dough along the way, but quickly readapted and cut our own, larger, raviolis by hand. After three long hours of kneading, rolling, sauteing, chopping, filling, and so on, we were exhausted, starving, and weren't even thinking about how the final product would taste. After quickly snapping a photo, we lugged our tired plate-holding bodies to the couch, reclined, and dug in. This is when the sparks went off. I took the first bite: "woah...this is like...really good....like really freaking good!". Justine: "Oh my god! This is amazing!". Duncan: "Wow this is quite good...very good....Wow" Pretty sure we continued on with the "wows", "amazings" and "oh my gods" until our plates were empty! It was THAT good! Which, of course, led to "I would soooo order this at a restaurant!", the final stamp of approval allowing the dish to be deemed perfection! The pasta was tender and held its shape, the filling creamy and bursting with fresh flavours, and the sauce bold and spicy but not too overpowering so you can't taste the savory filling. Yes, it is quite time consuming, and it does take a bit of elbow grease, but this is actually a very simple dish to prepare. You don't need any special skills or experience, literally anyone can make this, and I promise you, it is certainly well worth it! Dare I say, this just may be one dish I've gotta call priceless!
Note: After spending literally hours creating this dinner, the best advice I can give you is to cook this dish in stages. Make the filling the night before, the sauce the morning of, and the pasta dough that afternoon or early evening. You can even make up the raviolis and freeze them to boil another time. Simply lay them out on a lightly floured baking sheet, dust lightly with more flour, place in freezer overnight. Remove raviolis from baking sheet and transfer to a ziplock bag. Simply remove from freezer and boil when ready to prepare.
Note: I have not listed a specific cheese to use in the filling as I don't even know what type of cheese we used! It was wrapped in plastic, unmarked in my fridge. I tasted every cheese in the fridge to find one that I thought would go well. The point here is that you can play around with what flavours you like. Don't feel restricted! Taste and play!
1 large eggplant, peeled and sliced
1/2 sweet onion (you may substitute with red onion), chopped
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp garlic
1 tsp thyme
1/4 of a roasted red pepper, sliced
1/4 cup any semi-hard mild in flavour cheese, grated
salt and pepper
1. Line a baking sheet with paper towels and lay out eggplant slices. Sprinkle the slices with salt, flip and sprinkle the other sides as well. Let stand for an hour to let the bitter juices from the eggplant drain. Rinse the drained slices and pat dry. Dice the eggplant slices.
2. In a medium skillet set to medium heat, heat olive oil and garlic. Add the eggplant, onions, roasted red pepper, and thyme and saute until onions are soft and golden, and eggplant is soft and has darkened. Let cool.
3. Add the cooled eggplant mixture to a food processor, add the cheese, and pulse until mixture is pureed, with a bit of texture. You don't want to make eggplant mush! Season with salt and pepper. Keep refrigerated until raviolis are ready to be filled.
3 cups flour
5 egg yolks
1/2 tsp salt
1 whole egg, beaten
1. In a medium-large bowl add the flour and make a small well in the centre. Set aside.
2. In a small bowl, beat the egg yolks. Add the beaten yolks and the salt into the middle of the well in the bowl of flour. Keeping one clean hand for mixing, and one for adding water, mix and form the dough, adding a little bit of water at a time until you have formed a nice, firm, but slightly sticky dough.
3. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes. Place dough back in bowl, cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest in the fridge for 20 minutes or more.
4. Tear off a piece of dough bigger than a golf ball, but smaller than a baseball. On a lightly floured surface, roll out your dough using a rolling pin, until dough is paper thin and you can see your hand through the dough when lifted. While rolling, continue to lightly flour the surface, dough, and rolling pin so that dough does not stick, but try to use as little flour as possible! Repeat with remaining dough. Reserve the 1 whole beaten egg for the assembly.
Roasted Red Pepper Sauce:
1 tsp garlic
2 3/4 roasted red peppers, sliced
1/2 sweet onion
1/3 cup tomato sauce
generous sprinkle of red pepper flakes
2 tsp dried basil
parmesan cheese (optional for garnish)
1. In a medium skillet, heat olive oil and garlic. Add the roasted red peppers and onions and saute until onions are soft and golden. Let cool.
2. Pour red pepper and onion mixture into a blender. Add the tomato sauce, red pepper flakes, and basil. Blend until you have a smooth sauce. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve. Heat sauce on stove at medium-low heat. To thin sauce add fresh pasta water (reserve about a cup of the water that you cooked your ravioli in).
1. Using a circle cutter or the rim of a glass, cut the pasta sheets into circles about 2-inches in diameter. Lay out the circles in pairs.
2. Scoop about 2-3 tsp of filling (use your discretion, you want enough filling to get a burst of flavour, but you don't want the filling to literally burst out of the pasta) into the centre of half of the cut pasta circles, so that each pair of circles has one with filling in the centre.
3. Bring out the 1 whole beaten egg from the pasta sheet stage. Dip a clean finger into the egg and spread a little bit of the beaten egg around the outside of the pasta circle to act as the glue that will hold together the ravioli. Top the eggplant filled circles with their empty counterpart and lightly press down around the outside of the circle to form a seal. Use the prongs of a fork to press along the outside seal to ensure the ravioli is well sealed and to add a ribbed look.
4. Cook raviolis in salted, boiling water for about 6 minutes. A trick to judge their doneness is to wait until all raviolis are floating, then wait another 1-2 minutes.
5. While raviolis are cooking, heat sauce. Drain cooked ravioli and place on platter. Top with sauce and serve with grated parmesan cheese.
Listening To: Rollin' and Tumblin' - Jeff Beck feat. Imogen Heap