Over the past couple of weeks the “test kitchen” here has been extremely busy, as we have been steadily working on developing and perfecting several different, new and exciting gluten free recipes. As a result, lots of new and interesting posts will be appearing on this site in the coming days and weeks (just to leave all of you devoted followers with something to look forward to ;) )
Homemade gluten free pasta is something that we have been wanting to explore for quite a while. Some commercially available options, while mostly adequate, often leave something to be desired. They can work really well for a basic, quick spaghetti dinner, but sometimes turn out completely overcooked, or gluey. One variety, to be edible, actually has to be thoroughly rinsed with cold water after cooking to remove the somewhat slimy, starchy film that it develops. This just should not be the case! We knew it was definitely time to experiment. What is the result of our adventures, you are no doubt asking??? A very convincing, nearly indistinguishable from the gluten containing variety, vegetarian ravioli / tortelloni.
Ravioli is a very popular type of Italian filled pasta, made with either ground meat, cheese, vegetables, herbs, or a combination of all of them, sealed between two very thin layers of dough. Loosely related to many similar dishes around the world, including Chinese wantons and German Maultaschen, the earliest references to ravioli seem to appear in the middle ages, in letters of an Italian merchant in the 14th century, Francisco de Prato. Writing to his family, from business trips away to other towns, he describes an interesting meal, specifically a pasta dish, filled with green herbs mixed with an egg and fresh cheese, simmered in a broth; clearly a forefather of the pasta known around the world today. Ravioli, and many other types of filled pasta, all definitely appear to have their roots in the middle ages, becoming quite well known, favorite recipes over time, eventually even crossing the globe with the many immigrants who came to America, sharing the rich culinary knowledge from their homelands.
Thanks to a thriving trade between the British Isles and Italy at the time, pastas like ravioli and tortellini became very popular in the 14th and 15th centuries in England, even appearing in a well known early cooking and medicinal recipe book of the day, titled “Forme of Cury,” written by the head cook of King Richard II. In it, he includes recipes for everything from healing poultices to a multi-course banquet fit for the King. The recipe for a type of ravioli like pasta, almost completely unrecognizable in Middle English, is called “ranioles.” Click here for more interesting information about this.
Now the recipe that we made is closer to a tortelloni than a ravioli, actually a neat blending of the two. This recipe being gluten free, we were not sure at first, whether it would hold up to being turned and twisted into the shape necessary for classic tortelloni, so we decided to just leave our pasta in a triangular shape. However, in the end, we did realize that it would be very easy to create almost any shape pasta with our gluten free dough, and we will definitely be able to make classic tortelloni next time.
Tortelloni are also an Italian stuffed pasta, a cousin in a sense to ravioli, shaped similarly to round tortellini, only slightly larger. Exactly as in the version we made (which was actually very traditional without us even realizing it), tortelloni are usually stuffed with a mixture of ricotta cheese and leafy greens, or herbs. Many other variations also exist, where the greens are replaced with stronger tasting ingredients such as mushrooms and walnuts. Another very common filling is made with pumpkin puree and spices. Different from ravioli, which are traditionally served in a broth, or light sauce, tortelloni are usually served with either a ragu, or melted butter and sage leaves.
Like ravioli, tortelloni also have a colorful history surrounding its creation, populated by several different legends. Originating in either Bologna or Modena, depending on which story you read, the pasta owes its shape to either divine inspiration, or the extraordinary architecture of the surrounding area.
One story, originating in Medieval Italy, tells how the Roman goddesses Venus and Jupiter arrived at a tavern on the outskirts of Bologna tired from their involvement in a terrible battle being fought between the two towns of Bologna and Modena. After eating a meal, they retired to their rooms. The innkeeper, completely captivated by their beauty, secretly followed them and tried to peek in through the key hole of one of the rooms, but all he could see was Venus’ navel, so he immediately went to the kitchen and created tortellini in its image. The most widely believed (and most probable) explanation for the creation of this recipe is that it is based on the shape of a turtle, paying homage to one of the most important architectural features of Modena.
Today, in most places, both ravioli and tortellini, as well as most other kinds of pasta, are usually made using a pasta machine which rolls out the dough into nearly paper thin sheets. While extremely helpful, we did not have a pasta machine, so instead decided to make our recipe the old fashioned way, with a rolling pin and a lot of elbow grease! ;)
As the story goes, even Thomas Jefferson dabbled in creating his own pasta machine, after developing a great love for pasta, as evidenced by the sketch below.
In experimenting with our own recipe for tortelloni, we knew that we wanted to include sweet rice flour.
For the longest time we were just unable to find it in our area, but through some research, learned that it can be found in many Asian markets under the name “Mochiko.” It is made by Koda Farms, located in the sunny San Joaquin Valley of Central California. They are third-generation farmers and specialize in rice products. They state that all their products are suitable for gluten free diets and make every effort to avoid any possibility of cross-contamination. To our pleasant surprise, we discovered that it is also far less expensive than most of the traditional gf flours.
We also strived to make this a corn and soy free recipe. Even though the rolling out part of the dough is done by hand, we highly recommend that you prepare the actual dough in a food processor; the dough becomes pliable, cohesive and easy to work with this way. It has just the right degree of firmness for the handling and continuous rolling of the dough, while still allowing it to be filled and pinched into shape. Having made the gluten containing variety of ravioli (a loooong time ago), we surprised ourselves with just how similar this dough turned out to be. The gluten free flour combination we selected, consists of tapioca, brown rice and sweet rice flour, and we used guar gum, instead of xanthan gum, in order to avoid any inclusion of corn. We also avoided any dairy in the preparation of the dough, and chose to use coconut milk instead. As of the publication of this post, we are still tinkering with the recipe for this pasta and did not want to include it until we are completely satisfied with the result. Keep checking back as we will try to include it in an upcoming post. The following are the series of steps used to create this pasta.
All ingredients need to be at room temperature. Place all ingredients into the food processor and pulse several times to loosely incorporate the ingredients. It helps to stop this process several times in order to scrape down the sides of the processor, helping to incorporate all the ingredients. Next, process the dough until a firm ball forms, then remove it from the processor, and shape it into an even size ball. Cut the amount of dough in half. Prepare a baking board, by dusting it with a small amount of sweet rice flour. Take the first half of the dough and roll it out evenly and smoothly into a rectangular shape.
Use a knife to cut the dough into a shape that you can divide into even squares (roughly 3 inches on each side).
We placed an even 1/2 tsp. of ricotta cheese and herb filling into the center of each dough square, and then folded the sides over to form a triangle. There are also specially designed pasta presses that you can use which can make forming the pasta much easier.
The finished pasta can either be stored in the refrigerator, separated with plastic wrap as we did in the picture above (to keep them from sticking together), or cooked immediately. To cook the tortelloni, add salt to a pot of lightly simmering water, and drop in the pasta using a slotted spoon. Cook for 5-8 minutes, or until the pasta floats, turning each piece over halfway through to make sure that they cook evenly.
Once the tortelloni is cooked, remove from the water and serve with your favorite gluten free pasta sauce. For all of you pasta purists, of course, home-made sauce is a dream, but for convenience sake, we chose to serve ours with Trader Joe’s “Pasta Putenesca”.
As anyone with any experience cooking gluten free will tell you, recipes often take many different trials, errors, and variations to become perfect. This version was absolutely wonderful. It tasted amazing, light and fresh, just slightly chewy, but not soggy, or doughy. There was a unanimous thumbs up from everyone who tried it. We want to keep perfecting this recipe, and are trying out several different and new variations. As the work progresses in our test kitchen, we will let you all know how it goes.