One Friday night a few weeks ago I had the opportunity to work under the tutelage of Bruce at his Saltspring Island restaurant. Although I tell people, tongue-in-cheek, that I used to be a chef in an Italian restaurant when I was younger, the truth is that I was just a lowly pizza cook, burning my forearms daily on the oven door and reeking of pepperoni for minimum wage and free pizza-by-the-slice. Since then, pizza has never held the same appeal. I was expecting a similar kind of hell at Bruce’s Kitchen, but was pleased to find a professionally run, familial kitchen where gourmet meals were prepared using only fresh and local ingredients. I’d expect nothing less from an eatery on Saltspring Island, a Gulf Island eden that is so sheltered from most western commercialism that the mere mention of an impending McDonald’s franchise would spur locals to chain themselves to bulldozers and burn clown effigies in protest.
Bruce takes pride in all aspects of his food, from farm to table as his slogan proclaims, and his attention to detail is astonishing; even the most basic condiment, such as mustard, mayo or vanilla extract, is made painstakingly from scratch by Bruce himself. For anyone ignorant of the sustenance that feeds them, they need only pass an afternoon in Bruce’s Kitchen watching its namesake chef hard at work.
I was there to help Bruce with his renowned Friday night dinners, for which menus were prepared using clever and creative themes that changed on a weekly basis. That night’s menu was of a children’s literary theme, drawing as its muse such works as Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs (hand-ground lamb meatballs stuffed with fire-roasted red peppers, served on a bed of creamy polenta), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (chocolate espresso mousse) and the classic Green Eggs and Ham (kale ravioli).
It was this last dish that I aimed to duplicate at home, it was so good. I have used my pasta maker previously to make ravioli, but the pasta turned out bland and misshapen by the time it landed on my plate. To remedy this, Bruce used a ravioli cutter or pastry crimper to properly shape the ravioli; so I took note and picked up my own afterwards. To liven up the taste and colour of the pasta, he mixed in chopped kale. I couldn’t remember the exact recipe, a few weeks after the fact, but trial and error gave me a finished product that I was pleased with. Thanks for the inspiration, Bruce, and for your patience with my endless questions.
(Serves 2 and makes roughly 16 ravioli squares)
For the Pasta:
1 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp salt
½ cup fresh kale, chopped in food processor
For the Pasta Filling:
1 cup fresh kale, chopped in food processor
1 tbsp olive oil
1/3 cup onion, minced
1/3 cup ricotta cheese
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp salt
¼ tsp ground pepper
¼ cup fresh tarragon leaves (leaves only – remove stems)
¼ cup fresh basil
For the Marinara Sauce:
8 medium Roma tomatoes and 2 tbsp olive oil (or 2 cans – 14.5 ounces – of stewed tomatoes)
1 tbsp dried oregano
Pinch of salt and pepper
½ medium onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 small can of tomato paste
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup white wine
2 tbsp granulated sugar
2 tbsp chopped basil
1. Rinse the kale and slice away the stems and hard central vein of each leaf. Add all of the kale to a large pot of boiling water for 6-8 minutes. Drain well and squeeze out excess water, then add the kale to a food processor and puree for 6 seconds. Remove 1/2 cup of the kale to add to the fresh pasta a few steps from now. Keep the remaining kale in the food processor for preparation of the filling in a few moments.
2. On a clean work surface, pour out the salt and flour and form a well large enough to hold the eggs. Crack the eggs into the well, then using a fork or your fingers gradually draw in the flour to the egg, until all of the egg has been incorporated.
3. Add the 1/2 cup pureed kale, then continue mixing together with your fingers until the mixture becomes dough-like. At this point, move the dough to a new, clean area of your work surface, and as you would with bread dough, knead the dough with your palms until it holds together well. If too sticky, add a little more flour. Don’t let it get too dry. Continue kneading for 6 minutes or until the dough feels firm and elastic. Cover the dough ball in plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.
4. In a large frying pan on medium heat, warm up 1 tbsp of olive oil, then saute the finely chopped onion for 5-7 minutes. Remove from the heat, then add the onions and remaining filling ingredients to the food processor with the rest of the kale. Puree until well mixed. Put aside until the dough is ready for the filling to be added.
5. Once the pasta dough is ready, cut the ball of dough in half. If you own a pasta maker, follow these instructions to flatten the dough. Dust the flattened dough lightly with flour each time that you run it through the machine, at increasingly thin settings, until you reach setting 3. If you don’t have a machine, not to worry, a rolling pin will work just fine. Be sure to work fairly quickly once you start flattening the pasta dough; if the dough is allowed to dry it will become stiff and difficult to stretch. You’ll want to end up with 2 flat sheets of dough for making ravioli, as thin as possible (around 1 mm thickness).
6. Lay the strips or sheets on the work surface. Yours will likely look better than mine (above), but as long as they’re smooth and flat, aesthetics don’t matter. The more even the shape of the sheets, the more ravioli filling you’ll probably be able to fit inside evenly. Spoon about 1 tbsp of filling at regular intervals on the sheet, roughly 1 inch apart from each other and with at least half an inch of free space along the edges.
7. Carefully place the second strip of dough on top of the first, trying to align the edges as well as possible. Press down with your fingers around each of the mounds of filling, fusing together the layers, then cut around the mounds in a square shape (3 inch x 3 inch) with a knife or with the crinkly end of a pastry/ravioli cutter. If you’re finding that the edges or sides don’t stick together well, try adding a very small amount of water with your fingers along the adjoining surfaces, almost like glue. Until you’re ready to cook the pasta, sprinkle each ravioli square with a bit of cornmeal to keep them from sticking. If you’re like me you will probably end up with scraps of dough left over. Don’t throw these out – throw them into the boiling water, as is, when you cook your pasta. They still taste great!
8. I prefer not to cook my pasta until my sauce is already prepared, so that I can plate the pasta right away once cooked. You can serve this dish with any sauce you choose, but because the kale filling in this recipe is lacking in sweetness, I chose marinara to add the missing flavours.
If you are using canned tomatoes: Heat up the olive oil in a large frying pan, then add the chopped onion for a minute or two on its own, then add the garlic and continue sauteing for 4-6 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and stir until heated.
If you are using fresh roma tomatoes, instead, which is my preference: chop the tomatoes lengthwise then place them cut side up on a baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper and dried oregano. Place in the oven at 375 degrees F for 30 minutes or until wrinkled and soft. When you remove them from the oven they should smell like Heaven. Use these tomatoes in the frying pan, in lieu of canned tomatoes, and follow the same steps as above for the sauce.
9. To cook the pasta, have at least 4 liters (4 quarts) of boiling water on the go in a large pot, with 2 tbsp of sea salt or coarse salt (or any salt, really). Carefully drop the ravioli into the water, at a rolling boil, then immediately stir so they don’t stick together. Cook for 3-4 minutes – don’t overcook. Serve with sauce and some chopped basil or parsley. If you really want to be fancy, sprinkle with crumbled goat cheese and candied pecans. Enjoy!