Belgian Ravioli Before a Journey

I've been particularly drawn to dumplings lately. In Chinese tradition -- at least according to my friend Emilie-Anne, who has spent far more time studying Chinese culture and language than I have -- you eat dumplings for good luck before going on a journey. Well I could use a little luck as I've been preparing to undertake a pilgrimage in Spain, along the medieval road to Santiago de Compostela. After an over-salted order of dumplings at a restaurant on Friday night,  I realized that I would need to take the matter of pre-departure dumplings into my own hands. Therefore, I was delighted to find recipes for ravioli -- one of many different varieties of dumplings throughout the world -- in the Ouverture de cuisine.

 My knowledge of Belgian cuisine is admittedly limited; the first time I was in Belgium was in 2008, on an overnight bus from the Netherlands to France, when a fifteen-minute break at Brussels' central station gave me just enough time to stick a couple of euro coins into a vending machine and fish out a packaged Belgian waffle for my supper. After that fifteen-minute break, the bus spent two and a half hours parked at the same station, waiting for one passenger to arrive from another delayed bus; this experience, in which I was surrounded by red-eyed students who had been enjoying the midterm break in Amsterdam, may have ruined my brief impression of the country.

When I read the recipes for ravioli, however, I thought of the South German meat ravioli called Maultaschen (which can be translated, roughly, as "mouth-bags"). These pillow-shaped pasta pockets, larger than the Italian-style ravioli I grew up eating, are most often served two or three at a time, in a shallow bowl of clear bouillon. As I found in my summer in Germany, a couple of maultaschen make for a nourishing light meal which is easy on a stressed digestive system. Overall the ravioli seemed to be an appropriate dish for what could well be the last meal I cooked for a few weeks. Thus, three days before my flight to Europe, I was making ravioli in between a good-bye brunch, a birthday picnic, and a thorough cleaning of my bedroom.

The most challenging part of this recipe was the dough, which wasn't described in great detail in the ravioli recipes provided -- either the meat version or the spinach and Parmesan version that I opted to try. I looked at a few more detailed recipes, and decided that five eggs for every five hundred grams of flour would probably be a good ratio. I'd never made fresh pasta before, so I worked slowly. Attempting to roll the dough thinly with just a rolling pin was a bit time consuming, but the filling, as described in the recipe, came together easily.

I mixed a handful of boiled spinach (which, if you're curious, is about five ounces of fresh spinach, conveniently the size of the smaller salad containers available at Canadian supermarkets), with some fresh chopped mint, a good amount of grated Parmesan, half a stick of softened butter, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Thinking that the spice amounts would be too much - half an ounce of cinnamon? Two whole nutmegs? - I decided that a half-teaspoon of cinnamon and about half a grated nutmeg would be just fine. The taste of these spices was definitely present in the filling, but was not as overpowering as I think it would have been had I followed the directions exactly. Besides, shipping took much longer in the seventeenth-century world; it seems plausible that the spices I can get in 2014 from my favorite bulk store in Montreal  are more potent than the spices hoarded by cooks in Liège in 1604.

Instead of serving the ravioli with cinnamon and butter, I made a quick broth from the water in which I'd boiled the spinach, sticking the rind of Parmesan in to add flavour and letting it simmer for about an hour, until the rind had gone limp. Seasoned with salt and pepper, this simple bouillon served not only to cook the ravioli the next night at dinner, but also to allow me to serve these vegetarian ravioli in the style of maultaschen. While I erred too much on the side of al dente in cooking the ravioli, I was pleased with the mild, fresh flavour imparted by the mint in the ravioli filling.

By the time you read this post, I will have started my journey on the Camino de Santiago -- so far, my trip from Montreal to southeast England has gone really well. Have the ravioli brought me good luck? That's hard to say, but in the matter of travel, it seems wise not to leave too much up to chance. If you're about to leave on a long trip yourself, taking the time to make a seventeenth-century ravioli recipe might be a bit ambitious. If you can get a friend or loved one to make them for you, though, this might be a soothing meal to bring you good fortune - and a happy stomach - for your journey.


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