We all have food memories. The slightest aroma or taste of a food may conjure up memories of a special occasion, family holidays, early childhood or even a loved one. When it comes to pasta, one of my fondest memories is a tortellini served in – gasp – a campus cafeteria. I was seventeen then on a two week summer programme in Cambridge University, UK. It was the first time I had came across such an unusually-shaped pasta; until then my vocabulary and imagination of pasta then was limited to spaghetti, linguine and other long noodlely-like stands.
There was nothing grand to speak of the tortellini; it was just a campus cafeteria, for Pete’s sake. Just little carby pumplings stuffed with cheesy spinach. A basic tortellini, it was. Oh yes, I did just coin that word, pumplings, it was a “dumpling” typo, but doesn’t it capture the essence of what tortellini is – a plump dumpling?
Today I felt like reliving that experience, so I set out to make square ravioli (an easier pasta to shape compared to half-moon tortellini, considering I do not own a pasta maker). After flicking through various websites and sourcing for inspiration, I conceived this version: Sweet Potato Ravioli with Mushroom Pine Nut Spinach filling. I envisioned orange wrappers with greenish filling; I like the colour contrast.
But kitchen disasters happened – for the better this time. The ravioli turned out to be a heaping soggy (but tasty) mess. I couldn’t seal the two sides together as the dough crumbled while pressing down and to avoid further destruction, I decided to test my recipe three ways:
– Boil it as per pasta and hope for the best
– Bake the dough plain to form crackers and use the filling as a dip or tapenade of sorts
– Bake the ravioli and see what comes of it
Magic happened under 10 minutes of 180 degrees heat. Crackers formed. It was plain but close your eyes and munch, and you can tease out the slightest sweetness of sweet potato. These were the plain crackers.
But the baked ravioli sandwich, with the warm cheesy mushroom pine nut filling trying to ooze its way out, this was accidental brilliance. Apparently toasted ravioli is a specialty of St. Louis, Missouri, and I am not the first one to conceive crispy ravioli. But my version, baked and vegan and gluten-free, is healthier, less mess and diet-friendly for all! Now that it’s football season, this will be just the healthy snack for those late nights.
- ¾ cup chickpea flour
- 220 grams sweet potato (I used satsuma imo, a starchy Japanese variety)
- 1½ teaspoons ground flax seed
- 1½ tablespoons water
- ¼ cup pignoli (pine nuts)
- 4 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 small red onion
- 2 garlic cloves
- 250 grams Swiss brown mushrooms (use Portobello for a stronger flavour)
- 3 large handfuls baby spinach
- ½ teaspoon dried parsley flakes
- 2 teaspoons nutritional yeast flakes
- Roast sweet potatoes in oven (about one large or two small) at 350°F / 180°C for 40 to 50 minutes until soft.
- Whisk the ground flax seed and water in a small bowl, then set aside for 10 minutes until it forms a thick gel.
- Once the sweet potatoes are done, let cool to room temperature. Peel the skin and chop roughly into cubes.
- Add the sweet potatoes, chickpea flour, flax gel and olive oil to a food processor and blend until smooth and a dough forms. Continue to knead dough with hand and let it rest for 15 minutes while you prepare your station.
- Dust your countertop with flour. Cut the ball of dough in half and set the over half aside. Roll out one half of the dough with a rolling pin. Add more chickpea flour if it gets sticky and keep rolling until your sheet of pasta is about ⅛-inch thick. Use a cookie cutter shape of choice to cut out the dough. Repeat with the remaining dough.
- To make the filling, place the pignoli in a medium saucepan and dry-roast over medium heat for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring them occasionally so they color evenly. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside.
- Heat 4 teaspoons olive oil over medium-high heat and sauté onion until translucent. Add in garlic and mushrooms and continue to saute until mushrooms release their juices and aromas, about 5 minutes. Turn off heat and toss in spinach. Stir the mixture around until the spinach becomes just wilted but still bright green.
- Drain the mixture of any juices, then place the mixture in the food processor along with the toasted pine nuts. Add in seasonings (parsley and nutritional yeast) and process lightly so that the mushrooms and nuts have broken but have not yet turned into mush.
- Scoop filling one tablespoon at a time onto the cut-out pasta. Lay a second cut-out pasta on top and press down the sides to seal. (Alternatively, you can choose to scoop the filling onto the sheet first then cut, which is actually the proper way of making ravioli, on hindsight)
- Bake in oven at 350°F / 180°C for 10 minutes until lightly browned. Remove, let cool to become crispy and serve while still warm. It is pretty darn tasty on its own and does not require an accompanying sauce.