I’m on a bit of a pasta kick these days that involves putting the egg on the inside. A few months back I made a duck egg raviolo appetizer that complemented the fresh white Alba truffle I shaved over it perfectly. Now that the Alba truffle season is passed and my inner foodie snob will not allow me to substitute domestics or French blacks, I’m forced to pair my eggs with such exotic ingredients as bacon (really going out on an adventurous limb here, I know). Now when you think bacon, egg and pasta, what comes to mind? You got it, carbonara- the Emilia-Romagna or Lazio- originated comfort food quite popular amongst noi Americani because we sure do love our bacon. But I can never make it that simple. No, there always has to be a culinary twist, and in this case I decided to make the eggs quail, the pasta giant ravioli called raviolone, and cook the eggs inside the pasta instead of cracked over the top upon tossing.
A quail egg is the perfect size to work with to fill a raviolo. It gently bursts from its mottled shell into the waiting mote of ricotta in a faultless decisive moment. Cooked al dente in its raviolone package, the yolk oozes forth like a particularly lively poached egg. After this lengthy Pollyanna intro, you would think everything in my kitchen was coming up sugar and spice and everything nice. You would be wrong. You see, I have an 18 month old boy named Bentley Danger. Why oh why did I give him the middle name Danger? People live up to their names, and in his case it couldn’t be truer. What is it they say about little boys? Snakes and snails and puppy dog tails? Well we haven’t gotten there yet, but we will. He’s smart as a whip but so mischievous and curious I can’t fathom what the terrible twos have in store.
While I was elbow deep rolling out pasta sheets on the island in my kitchen, Bentley decided to open the floor-height wine refrigerator. The locking mechanism broke last week and Jonas and I have been scratching our heads on how to somehow baby proof the fridge while not adult proofing it at the same time, since we do require ready access. Bentley is completely aware of this development, and I’ve had to blockade the fridge numerous times in the last week. Somehow intuitively knowing that I would be engrossed in my pasta mass and therefore unable to retaliate, he managed to lift a bottle out of the fridge (starting early, I know). The really bad part? He proceeded to drop it whereupon it shattered upon contact with the floor. I jumped to action and lifted him away from any danger, coating him in a mixture of duck egg and semolina in the process. I put him in his crib and went back to survey the scene. The really really bad part? It wasn’t just any bottle- it was an ’01 Barbaresco worth a pretty penny in economic value, but even more sentimentally speaking, as we picked it up in Italy during our wedding festivities a few years ago. I guess you can’t fault the boy for good taste, right? In any case, all is well now, Jonas managed to repair the lock, and I decided that after smelling all that good wine during the cleanup I needed to open a bottle to finish my pasta and drown my sorrows.
Back to the pasta. You could use pancetta or guanciale if you have them on hand, but since I have a big batch of bacon I made over the holidays to go through, I used that. I like the smoky flavor it imparts, plus homemade ingredients make for lovingly prepared dinners. It’s also really nice to have slab bacon as you can cut it into thick little cubes that retain some of their mass and provide a nice texture to the final bite. I’ve got a new pork belly curing right now and may decide to go the pancetta route with it instead of bacon, though my smoker would be disappointed in me since she hasn’t been fired up for a few weeks.
A super fun and easy way to make ravioli is to roll out long, rectangular sheets, plop multiple dollops along them, cover with another sheet, pinch closed and cut in the shape you most desire. I opt for the old-school method of pasta making and roll my sheets by hand. This can get tedious after the fifth or sixth sheet- which is where the wine comes in. It’s no coincidence that Italy makes both the best pasta and the best wine in the world, now is it?
I like to roll my sheets two at a time, keeping the dough covered with a tea towel to prevent drying. I then form the raviolone covering the first sheet with the filling then topping with the second sheet and cutting. After I’ve done that batch I’ll roll out two more sheets, this way each sheet doesn’t become dry, cracked and hard to work with.
I could blather on all day about this pasta, in fact I’d venture to say it’s among the top three I’ve ever created in my lifetime, but why wax verbose about a taste when what you really should be doing is eating it? Without further ado I’ll heavily nudge you to consider this recipe, it’s the stuff of food legend. One day my great-great grandchildren will be making this offering up a toast to me perched on their mantle in my moth-eaten Etro dress and antiquated purple Louboutin heels. You see, I wish to be stuffed, placed on the mantle, and dressed for dinner at least twice a week so my progeny can get an idea of the personality of crazy old great-grandma Linda. Don’t let that image taint your perspective on the pasta- try it. You’ll like it. Maybe even so much you’ll want to be stuffed too, and perched with a lacquered plate of the stuff in your hand for all eternity.
Quail Egg Ravioli aka Inverted Carbonara
Serves 5 (assuming 3 per person and one extra in case you mess up)
For the pasta:
- 2 tbsp butter
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 sprigs thyme leaves, chopped
- ¼ c white wine
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 lb whole milk ricotta
- 1 c grated parmigiano reggiano
- Your favorite semolina-based pasta dough recipe to make 8 sheets 25” long by 5.5” wide
- 16 quail eggs
- 1 egg white whisked with 1 tbsp cold water for egg wash
For the sauce:
- Four pieces of bacon, diced
- 1 tsp Meyer lemon zest
- 2 tbsp Meyer lemon juice
- ½ c white wine
- 2 c heavy cream
- 2 tbsp butter cut into four pieces
- 1 bunch of asparagus cut into 1” pieces and very lightly steamed
- 1 bag organic frozen peas
- To make the filling, sautee the garlic and thyme in the butter for 30 seconds, just long enough for them to release their flavor. Add the white wine, and reduce by half over medium heat. Remove from heat, add the salt and pepper, and mix with the parmigiano and the ricotta in a medium bowl. Refrigerate until needed to keep firm.
- Working with two sheets at a time, place four dollops about 1.5 tbsp each of ricotta mixture in equal distances along one sheet of pasta. Make a depression in each dollop large enough to contain one quail egg, though it’s ok if a bit of white spills over as it will help with cohesion. Crack four quail eggs into each depression. Wash the edges and between the dollops/eggs with egg white. Carefully set the second equally-shaped pasta sheet over the first, and pinch together on the edges and between the quail egg dollops. Cut each sheet into four circles using a 5” cookie cutter or glass. Place each raviolo on a floured baking sheet and continue process with remaining sheets until you have 16 ravioli. Let them air dry for an hour or up to three while you’re making the sauce.
- For the sauce, fry the bacon in a large skillet until fat has rendered and it’s crisp. Remove the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate, but keep as much grease in the pan as possible. Add the zest, juice and white wine to the pan. Reduce the wine by half over medium low heat. Add the cream and bring almost to the point of simmer, stirring constantly. Add the butter one piece at a time, stirring to fully incorporate. Adjust seasonings with salt and pepper, and keep warm over very low heat. Add the peas and asparagus 5 minutes before you plan to drizzle the sauce over the ravioli.
- To cook the ravioli set a stockpot over high heat. Add salt and a touch of olive oil. When it boils, add three ravioli at a time and cook for four minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and repeat with remaining ravioli. Serve drizzled with sauce and with passed parmigiano for the table.
Note: these pasta cook three at a time, and it’s best not to let them get cold, so you can either serve people in increments with everyone getting a first round, second round then third round, or you can serve one person at a time. You can keep them in a low oven to keep warm if you like, but your quail egg yolk may harden too much this way. Also, four minutes is an average of what my 5 tasters preferred; much like poached eggs, some preferred them less cooked, some more. I would say you could range between 3 minutes 30 seconds and 4 minutes 30 seconds fairly safely, but you will want to set an accurate timer regardless so you may gauge your taste preferences accordingly.