Kid Tested, Toddler Approved: Ravioli with Spring Garlic Ricotta and Vegetable Marinara Sauce

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Here's another trick to get your kids to eat vegetables if you have a picky eater: hide them in something they love to eat like pasta sauce. They seriously don't know the difference between an all-tomato based sauce (traditional marinara) and one fortified with vegetables you cook right in with the tomatoes, then puree in the pot with an immersion blender (or in batches in a food processor or blender). In fact, most kids will actually prefer the vegetable one because the flavor is richer. And remember: kids aren't at stupid as we think they are.

Ravioli is a super fun and easy way to get the kids invested in their food. That's actually my first trick to get them to eat healthy: let kids actively participate in the preparation of the meal so they have a vested interest in the dish, and therefore will be more likely to eat their own creation. You can go ahead and make your fresh pasta from scratch -- a very fun but time consuming project you can do with your kids -- or simply use store-bought fresh lasagna pasta sheets like I did here. You can make any filling you like, but I kept it pretty traditional. I used the recipe for Spring Ricotta Salata and simply added eggs and parmesan cheese to it and used that for my ravioli filling. It was insanely good and the kids really, really loved it. The sauce was a collection of basic vegetables chopped small and simmered with tomatoes and tomato juice until very tender, then pureed. Fresh herbs we picked from our garden were the perfect compliment. And of course, the "snow cheese" aka parmesan on top completed the meal. Even if you don't have kids this is a great and easy ravioli recipe to make for dinner. Enjoy!

Ravioli with Spring Garlic Ricotta and Vegetable Marinara Sauce 
for the ravioli:
1 portion spring ricotta salata (recipe follows)
2 eggs
1/2 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
1 package fresh lasagna pasta sheets

for the vegetable marinara sauce:
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped small
1 large celery stalk, ends trimmed and chopped small
1 large white onion, chopped small
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped small
1 large (2 small) zucchini, ends trimmed and chopped small (no need to peel)
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1 (28 oz) can San Marzano crushed tomatoes
1 (15 oz) can tomato sauce
1 large bay leaf
3 Tbsp fresh basil, roughly chopped
1 Tbsp fresh oregano, leaves picked off of stem
5-6 stems fresh thyme leaves
1 Tbsp fresh marjory, leaves picked off of stem
V8, vegetable broth, or water to thin out sauce
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil

First prepare the sauce.

Heat the olive oil in a large pot. Add the carrot, celery, and onion and season with a little salt and pepper. Cook on medium heat about 8 minutes, or until beginning to soften. Add the bell pepper and zucchini and cook another 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another minute. Add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, bay leaf, fresh herbs, and season again with salt and pepper to taste. Cook covered with a lid halfway on about 15 minutes, stirring often. It will be very chunky at first, but the zucchini will let out a lot of water as it cooks to help thin out the chunkiness. Taste and adjust seasonings to taste. Turn heat off and use an immersion blender to help puree the sauce. After that's done, if you prefer a chunkier sauce you can let stand and serve when the ravioli is ready; if you like it a littlt thinner, add your liquid (V8, veg broth, or water) until you achieve your desired consistency of sauce. If you find you've made it too thin, heat the sauce on medium-low heat uncovered until the extra liquid evaporates. Cover and let stand until ready to use.

To make the ravioli, bring a large pot of cold water to a boil.

Add 1 egg and the parmesan cheese to the ricotta salata mixture and mix to combine. This is your filling. Then take out the pasta and working one sheet at a time, gently fold out one large pasta sheet on a flat surface (a large cutting board or clean countertop works just fine). Take the other egg and lightly beat it in another bowl to make an egg wash -- this will help keep the ravioli together. Brush a 1/2" border of the eggwash around half of the lasagna sheet, then three straight lines through the sheet to create four total compartments. Take a generous tablespoon's worth of filling and drop it in the middle of the squares you've created with those egg borders -- you should have 4. Then fold the non-eggwashed side up and over the filling, matching the eggless border to the other side you did brush with the egg wash. Gently press your fingers over each ravioli, pushing air out, and sealing the creases everywhere you applied the egg. Remember -- the eggwash is like your glue, so think of it like glueing two pieces of paper together. Once you're satisfied the filling is intact and the pasta sheet is properly folded over, take a knife and cut on the egg wash borders between each ravioli to loosen them into four separate large ravioli pockets. Then take a fork and gently but firmly press the fork part into the pasta all around the border (like you would an empanada or pie crust) to firmly seal the borders of the ravioli. Repeat with remaining sheets and filling. You will probaby have a little filling left over.

Once the water is boiling, salt it with a generous amount of sea salt. Gently slide the ravioli into the water, one at a time, about 3-5 ravioli to boil at once depending on the size of your vessel. It's important you don't overcrowd the pot to prevent sticking and ensure proper cooking. Cook 5 minutes -- you'll see the pasta turn a pale yellow color and the ravioli will rise to the surface of the water. Gently remove with a slotted spoon and directly onto a plate. Spoon some of the vegetable marinara right over and a generous amount of "snow cheese." Serve hot!

Spring Ricotta Salata1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
1 large spring garlic, ends trimmed and roughly chopped
1 scallion, ends trimmed and roughly chopped
1 Tbsp roasted garlic cloves (I just get them from the olive bar at the market!)
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp lemon zest
1/2 tsp fresh rosemary leaves
1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1/2 tsp fresh oregano leaves
2 Tbsp good olive oil
Combine all ingredients in a food processor and mix until combined and thick and creamy.

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