Ravioli’s curvy cousin dresses for Spring

NEW YORK, June 1 — A box of store-bought ravioli is easy enough to pick up a for a quick dinner, and it’s no crime. The contents are unlikely to be delicate or ethereal, though.

You’ll be fed, but you won’t be transported.

For that kind of experience, unless there’s a benevolent nonna in your kitchen, you must make your own egg-rich pasta dough, stretch it thin and fashion it into carefully crimped parcels.

The process is fiddly, but the result is worth the effort. Homemade pasta, if you make it regularly, not just once in a blue moon, is not hard to master. Just do it.

An inexpensive hand-cranked pasta machine is the tool of choice, easier for most novices to maneuver than a rolling pin. But don’t force the dough to thinness.

Allow the metal rollers to gradually stretch it, going from the widest opening to the narrowest, letting the rolled sheets relax a moment before proceeding to the next notch. This guarantees the dough will be supple.

I say ravioli, but these really aren’t. Since they are stuffed half-moon shapes rather than square ones, they are called mezzelune. (The singular is mezzaluna.)

But what’s in a name? Except for the shape, they’re nearly the same, cousins that bear a strong family resemblance.

Typically mezzelune contain seasoned ricotta and may be tossed in a butter sauce with a few sage leaves. I have used sweet new-crop peas, slivers of shiitake mushrooms (lacking wild morels or porcini, another option in a perfect world) and a shower of slivered scallions to surround mine, with flecks of lemon zest and mint in the filling.

To keep the project manageable, it is wise to complete some of the tasks in advance. Both the pasta dough and filling can be made a few hours ahead. The dough benefits from resting, well wrapped, at room temperature; this helps it hydrate properly and allows it to be stretched more easily to silky tenderness.

The filling is easily assembled — put it together and chill it when you have a spare moment.

And the mezzelune may be completely assembled and kept refrigerated until you’re ready to cook them (up to three hours).

The final cooking can then be accomplished in only a few minutes.

Should you decide that making mezzelune is not in the cards, cut your fresh egg pasta into wide or narrow ribbons, and toss them with the simmered peas, ricotta and mushrooms. You’ll still have a lovely springtime meal.

Mezzelune Pasta With Peas and Shiitake Mushrooms

Total time: 1 ½ hours

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

½ pound spinach, pea shoots or nettles, tough stems removed

2 cups fresh ricotta

½ cup grated Parmesan, plus more for garnish

Salt and pepper

1 teaspoon lemon zest

Pinch of grated nutmeg

1 tablespoon chopped mint

Fresh egg pasta dough (see recipe)

Semolina or rice flour, for dusting

3 tablespoons butter or extra-virgin olive oil

6 ounces thinly sliced shiitake mushrooms

1 cup shucked fresh peas

½ cup finely chopped scallions

1.  Bring a saucepan of generously salted water to a boil. Blanch spinach briefly, about 15 seconds, then plunge into an ice bath. Drain, squeeze dry, and chop finely.

2.  Put ricotta in a mixing bowl and add Parmesan, chopped spinach, lemon zest, nutmeg and mint. Season with salt and pepper and mix well. Taste and adjust seasoning.

3.  Roll pasta dough into thin sheets. Using a sharp cookie cutter, punch out 3-inch rounds; you should have about 36 pieces. Dust lightly with semolina flour, then cover with a clean, damp kitchen towel to keep them from drying out. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and sprinkle with semolina.

4.  Working in batches, fill 6 pasta rounds at a time: Lay pasta flat on a work surface and place about a tablespoon of filling in the center of each round. With a pastry brush or finger, moisten outer edge sparingly with water and fold over to make a half-moon, pressing to seal. Transfer to baking sheet. Continue until all rounds are filled. Dust tops lightly with semolina and store, uncovered in the refrigerator, until ready to cook.

5.  Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil for pasta.

6.  Put a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon butter and the shiitakes. Season with salt and sauté quickly until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Remove mushrooms from pan and set aside. Add 2 more tablespoons butter to pan. When it sizzles, add peas and scallions and a little salt and pepper. Add ½ cup water and cook uncovered for about 3 minutes. Return mushrooms to pan and turn off heat.

7.  Meanwhile, cook the pasta: Drop mezzelune in boiling water and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until they float to the surface. Remove with a spider or slotted spoon and transfer to a warm platter. Reheat peas and mushrooms and pour over the pasta. Garnish with chives.

And to Drink…

The bright green flavours of the peas combined with the lactic flavours of the ricotta call for a fresh, crisp white wine with herbal accents.

Now that we’ve narrowed the choices to a several dozen, let’s pick a few. Lively sauvignon blancs should go beautifully with this dish, particularly if you can find a bottle from northeastern Italy. If not, Sancerres and Pouilly-Fumés will also be fine.

More than a few Italian whites will fill the bill: Pinot biancos from Alto Adige would be delicious, as would a good Gavi di Gavi from the Piedmont region, or a fiano from Campania.

Outside of Italy, Chablis would go well with this dish, as would peppery gruener veltliner from Austria. If in doubt, try a bone-dry rosé. — New York Times


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