I'm fairly certain that I've made my love of beets and poppy seeds known to anyone who will listen. But this recipe takes the cake-- as beets and poppy seeds are used (together!) in this Italian dish called Casunsiei.
I first had Casunsiei (beet and ricotta ravioli with butter sauce and poppy seeds) at Al di La, a pretty amazing (and very popular) restaurant in Brooklyn. The lines were often out-the-door-around-the-corner long, but I didn't care. I lived only a few doors down so I could leave my cell phone number, head back home, start cocktailing and mosey back to the restaurant when I was called. It was pretty terrific if you ask me.
Now I live about 1,800 miles from Brooklyn so if I find myself craving something from home, it falls on me to make it. And that's just what I did with these little jewels.
Last week I bought my body-weight in beets at the farmers market. I sliced them super-thin, carpaccio style, and turned a few into a single portion of borscht. Having a handful of beets left, I thought this would be the perfect meal-- and it would ensure that none my beets would go to waste. I've been working really hard at using all of the perishable produce in my fridge and not letting anything spoil-- even if that means I have to use a particular ingredient a few days in a row. I've tried to convey this no-waste message to Otis who, at almost 3, can probably wrap his head around it. We try not to waste water. We try not to waste electricity. And we work very hard not to waste any food. If we put it on our plate, we eat it. At least that's the theory. We are working on the implementation.
All this got me thinking about 'bal tashchit'- a really nice Jewish concept that addresses waste. (Don't feel like you have to try and pronounce that one!) The prohibition against waste has its origins in wartime-- when it was common practice for armies to slash and burn orchards, trees and the fields of their enemies in an effort to intimidate them. That was considered a big no-no even when soldiers were fighting. In the modern vernacular the term bal tashchit is usually associated with not wasting food, water, natural resources, etc., and it's the bedrock of the modern-day environmental movement.
The principle is definitely on my mind when I menu plan. I have to confess that it was sometimes a bit difficult for me to use all of the produce I got when I was in a CSA (I was getting what seemed like a hundred kohlrabi bulbs and/or garlic scapes at a time), but this year I've gotten a pretty good handle on it...but it's always a work in progress.
Okay, where was I? Right. Beet Ravioli.
Time is precious during the day so I roasted the beets the night before. I washed the beets, put them on some tin foil, drizzled them with olive oil and sprinkled them with a big pinch of salt and black pepper. Then I closed the foil and put them in the oven.
The roasting, which is completely hands-off time, took about 1 hour and 15 minutes at 400 degrees. Roast the beets until till they are fork-tender. I let the beets cool a bit before adding the remainder of the filling ingredients. Then I put the mixture in the fridge overnight.
Making the pasta dough was really simple. You make a well in the flour, mix the ingredients in by hand, and dust the dough ball with more flour. There is a 30 minute "rest" period, so factor that into your cooking plans. Other than that, rolling the pasta took me under 10 minutes, filling the ravioli was another 5-10 minutes, and I boiled them for 4 minutes. It's not super time consuming, but it does take a bit more time than say, a microwave TV dinner. But I think you'll agree, it's well worth it! Enjoy.
Casunsiei: Beet and Ricotta Ravioli
(Courtesy of Serious Eats, from Al di La, Brooklyn.)
(Approximate) Yield: 2-3 main course servings, 4 first-course/ appetizer portions.
These are not huge portions, so definitely prepare a first course (summer salad) too.
For the filling:
2 large beets, roasted and peeled (I used 4 medium sized beets)
Bread crumbs, if necessary
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup thick whole milk ricotta, such as Calabro brand
5 ounces (1 1/4 sticks) melted butter
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 Parmigiano Reggiano
2 teaspoons poppy seeds
For the pasta:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
5 egg yolks and 1 whole egg
1 tablespoon milk
1 tablespoon olive oil
pinch of Kosher salt.
Prepare the filling up to one day in advance: process beets pulse until finely chopped but not pureed. If the beets are seeping water, add a small amount of bread crumbs to soak up the liquid. Stir in eggs, ricotta, and 1/4 cup of the melted butter. Season (liberally) with salt and pepper.
In a wide shallow bowl, or directly on a flat work surface, create a well in the middle of the flour. Add the other ingredients into the well. Using your fingers, blend the wet ingredients and incorporate the flour by gradually working in the sides of the well.
When the dough comes together to form a solid mass, knead it for a few minutes on a well-floured surface. When it is smooth and firm, wrap it in plastic and let it rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.
Dust a pasta roller and countertop with flour. Begin rolling out the dough, gradually setting the roller thinner and thinner until the dough very thin and uniform. (I started on setting #1 and ended on setting #6.)
Fill and seal the pasta with egg wash. Cut the pasta out into desired shapes. Cook in boiling water for about 4 minutes. Gently transfer cooked pasta onto a serving dish. Drizzle melted butter, grated cheese, and poppy seeds over the pasta and serve immediately. You can also dollop some fresh ricotta on top!