Fine Cooking (April/May 2011)
Though we've tackled lots of culinary challenges here on The Bitten Word, we've never successfully made fresh pasta. The few times we've done it, it has turned out fine, but it's never knocked our socks off. We want to learn to do it well, but it just requires us making the time to practice. We haven't done that yet, so making fresh pasta perpetually remains on our list of culinary beasts to slay. But this is not a story about learning that skill.
When we first saw the photo for Asparagus Ravioli with Brown Butter Sauce in Fine Cooking, our first thought was, "That looks so good but we're not sure we're up for making fresh pasta."
The good news about this recipe: You don't have to make fresh pasta. And it's awesome.
This recipe sidesteps the need for making pasta by using wonton wrappers. Not sure where to find them? At our supermarket, they're in the produce-adjacent refrigerated section with other packaged items like tofu. The wrappers themselves are easy to use and assemble. We had used them once before, for making wontons, so we knew they'd be simple to use.
But before we get further into that, let's talk about the process here. This a multi-step recipe that breaks down into six key areas: preparing and blanching the asparagus, creating a filling, assembling the ravioli, boiling the ravioli, making the brown butter sauce, and then garnishing the ravioli on the plate.
None of these steps is overly complicated, and they can all be done relatively quickly. (For instance, the ravioli only boil for one minute.) The only time-consuming piece is the ravioli assembly. There's nothing difficult about it, it just requires you to fill and seal, fill and seal, fill and seal (we feel an infomercial coming on....) each ravioli. If you have an extra set of hands, though, the ravioli can be assembled in a snap.
The only tricky part for us was that, as we were boiling the ravioli, we weren't sure how many to place into the boiling pot. The directions tell you to "add the ravioli to the boiling water." We were reluctant to add all 18 of them at once, fearing they would be too crowded. Instead, we just boiled three at a time, dropping them individually into the water, which seemed to work well. One issue arose when at least one of our ravioli wasn't sealed well, and it exploded in the water. The only real problem this created was that the water was really murky, but we just proceeded with the others and everything was fine.
So how do they taste?
Surprisingly (or maybe not), it's the brown butter-bathed almonds that really make this dish. Their nutty crunch is an amazing complement to the velvety ravioli. But then again, the almonds are literally soaked in brown butter, so how could they possibly be bad?
But the filling is also a rock star. Using three kinds of cheese (Parmesan, ricotta, and mascarpone), it's very rich, but that richness is tamed a bit by the addition of chopped fresh asparagus, garlic, cayenne and anchovy paste. (Don't fear the anchovy paste here. There's only a teaspoon of it, and it adds a nice saltiness to the filling.)
Some of you may find it useful to know that, in our experience at least, these ravioli can be made ahead and cooked the next night. We made all 18 ravioli one night, and cooked and ate half of them the same night. The other nine we assembled, placed on plates covered by damp paper towels and stowed them in the fridge. Similarly, we put the unused half of the brown butter mixture, as well as the unchopped spears and asparagus pieces, in airtight containers.
The next night, after getting home from work, we simply boiled some water, briefly microwaved the brown butter, as well as the asparagus pieces, and then chowed down.
They were just about the classiest leftovers we've ever had.
Serves 4 as a main or 6 as an appetizer. Yields 18 ravioli
- 1 lb. thick asparagus, trimmed, spears cut into 1-inch pieces, tips reserved
- 6 Tbs. mascarpone
- 1/3 cup whole milk ricotta
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano; more for serving
- 1 tsp. anchovy paste
- 1/2 tsp. minced garlic
- Pinch cayenne
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 36 wonton wrappers
- 4 oz. (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
- 1/2 cup blanched almonds, chopped
- Finely grated lemon zest to taste
Bring a medium pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat. Have ready a medium bowl of ice water. Boil the asparagus tips until tender but still bright green, about 2 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer to the ice water. When cool, transfer with the slotted spoon to a small bowl and set aside. Cook and cool the asparagus spears in the same manner; dry them on paper towels. In a food processor (or by hand), chop 1-1/2 cups of the spears very finely and transfer to a medium bowl. Add the remaining spears to the tips.
Add the mascarpone, ricotta, Parmigiano, anchovy paste, garlic, and cayenne to the chopped asparagus; mix well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Arrange 18 wonton wrappers on a work surface. Put 1 level Tbs. of the asparagus filling in the center of each wrapper. Using a pastry brush, moisten the edges of each with water. Top each with another wrapper and press the edges firmly to seal, expelling any air bubbles as you seal. If you don’t plan to cook the ravioli immediately, cover them with a damp cloth.
Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a rolling boil over high heat. Meanwhile, melt the butter in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat and add the almonds, shaking the pan. Cook until the butter turns light brown, about 6 minutes, and then immediately transfer to a small bowl.
Add the ravioli to the boiling water. When they rise to the surface, after about 1 minute, use a slotted spoon to transfer them to warm plates or pasta bowls. Spoon the brown butter mixture over the ravioli. Top with the reserved asparagus pieces, a grinding of pepper, a sprinkle of Parmigiano, and a little lemon zest, and serve.