If it's spring, it's artichoke season. Around here, forty minutes' drive from the "artichoke center of the world" (or at least the US), you can get artichokes more or less year-round. The plants that my parents had years ago would typically bear in late summer, and you can even find some slightly frost-nipped specimens in winter. Spring, however, is when they hit their peak, and when you'll find them in the farmer's markets or (in my case) the CSA box.
Artichokes made a regular appearance at my family's dinner table when I was growing up, and it's easy to see why: easy prep and fun to eat, especially for kids who like finger food and dipping things. Simmer them with a bit of water and lemon juice, a sliced onion, and half a dozen peppercorns, and serve with lemon butter. It's easily done when you have other dishes to focus on, or little ones underfoot, or both.
So easy, and so good, is this bare bones preparation that until this spring, I didn't bother doing much else with artichokes. But now that I'm getting more in each box than I can eat in the week before the next box, I've been expanding my horizons with this giant thistle. As it happens, I've also been making some forays into another frontier: homemade pasta.
My pasta machine used to be my grandmother's, one of several kitchen items that she passed down to me when she started downsizing her own kitchen a few years ago. The machine is "garantita per 1 anno," but it's probably as old as I am. Older, actually, if the 70s-tastic images are any indication. Either way, it's in great condition and works perfectly.
That is, as perfectly as my clumsy amateur hands allow it to work. I still haven't managed to produce a respectably uniform sheet of pasta, but after three pasta-making sessions, I can now at least manage the process without a second pair of hands. Flour is my friend.
But back to the artichokes. Naturally the intersection of these two sets, artichokes and pasta, comes in the form of a filled pasta. In this case, that filled pasta is ravioli. If you've ever wanted (or been too anxious) to try making fresh pasta, but wanted to know that the finished product would be worth all the work, this recipe is for you.
What really makes this dish is the nutmeg. Now, I'm a fool for anything with nutmeg in it, but I honestly think it takes the ravioli from "good, but unremarkable" to "wow, this is great, and may I please have a third helping?" Artichokes with parsley and parmesan are lovely, and the nutmeg makes them lovelier.
Don't be put off by the cream. I'm not one for cream-based sauces (alfredo strikes me as a terrible, horrible thing to do to pasta) and I was wary of trusting that part of this recipe, but I'm glad I did. It adds just a touch of richness that I think rounds out the dish nicely, and it helps keep the ravioli from drying out in the oven. Besides, with a third of a cup in the whole dish, you're only getting a tablespoon or two per serving. If you're sold, or if you just want to window shop, head below the jump for the recipe.
If you expect to be pressed for time on the day that you serve this, by all means make and freeze the ravioli ahead of time. But in the interest of informed meal planning, know that the flavor is best the day the ravioli are made.
This recipe includes instructions for making the pasta dough in the food processor as well as by hand. The food processor speeds up (and cleans up) the process considerably--perhaps not to the point of making it weeknight-friendly, what with the rolling out and all, but it saves a good 20-30 minutes of active work. I think that there are merits in both methods, so I encourage you to try them both as life and leisure permit.
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Sunday, May 24, 2009