Renaissance Ravioli (Arab style pasta)

Pasta with raisins and cinnamon? It may sound strange (to a westerner), but this was how people ate pasta when it first came to Europe. And believe me or not, I swear to you it’s delicious.

You see, the art of noodle making diffused westward from China via the Arab empires in the early middle ages. Pasta was among the cultural markers left on Europe when Muslims were living in Spain and Sicily. These Middle Eastern immigrants brought with them Middle Eastern ingredients, preparing their tagliatelle, ravioli, etc. with things like dried fruits and spices.

By the 13th and 14th centuries when pasta was really getting popular in European cooking, people still ate it this way, in addition to using more local ingredients like butter and cheese. By the Renaissance, professional cooks were making countless types of sophisticated noodles and stuffed pastas.

And so, after studying many of these recipes, I humbly present my own take on Medieval into Early modern style ravioli, stuffed with ground “capon” (sub chicken!), herbs, onions, boiled eggs, and a lot of Parmesan cheese. I know, I know. “Seriously, raisins?” you’re still thinking. . . but you’ve got to trust me on this. The contrast of salty and sweet and a little spiced across this dish, is really good!

Boiled and finished in a saffron butter. We’re also going to be making homemade raisins as stuff from the box isn’t going to cut it for this recipe. We want the tangy, still slightly juicy bite of one freshly dried in the oven.

That’s the key to making raisins in pasta taste good. So here’s how:

“Capon” Ravioli in Saffron Brown Butter

For the Dough:
500g Durum flour (semolina) (about 2 heaping cups)
1 cup water
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar

For the Filling:
1 lb. Ground Chicken (or hey, if you can get it, pigeon!)
1/2 white onion, diced
1/2 cup white wine
2 eggs, hard boiled
2 eggs, raw
1/2 lb. Parmesan cheese, fine grated
1-2 cups, scallions and fresh herbs
1 tbsp. ground cinnamon, black pepper, ginger, and cloves
1 tbsp. sugar

For the Sauce:
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/4 tsp. ground saffron

1/2 cup green onions
3 cups grapes, lightly pressed

To make the raisins, pick your grapes and lay them out on a parchment lined baking sheet. VERY GENTLY squeeze the grapes, until they just barely pop open. You don’t want to mush or smash them.

Bake at 250F for 5-6 hours, until wrinkly and golden in color. When they’re raisins in other words!

To make the dough, stir together the flour, salt, and sugar, then make a well in the middle and pour in all the water. Mix by hand into a shaggy dough, and then knead for at least 10 minutes, until very glutenous and springy. Shape into a ball, cover and let rest at cool room temperature for at least one hour, or in the fridge for several more if desired.

To make the filling, saute the onions over medium heat for a couple minutes until they are “sweating”. Turn the heat up to high and add the chicken, seasoning with salt and the ground spices and sugar. Saute until well browned. Add the wine to deglaze, stirring and cooking until it’s mostly evaporated. Pour into a bowl and let fully cool, only then adding the other ingredients and stirring until well combined. Chill for at least one hour, or overnight.

To assemble the ravioli, divide the rested pasta into four pieces. One at a time, roll each piece into a large rectangle, pretty much as thin as you can get it with a rolling pin is good. Trim the edges to make straight lines, and place balls of the filling along bottom half of rectangle with a little space in between. Fold the top layer over, cut between the balls of filling to cut out your ravioli. Carefully lift each one up and crimp its edges by hand, stretching and trimming as necessary to seal and remove any excess.

To make the sauce, melt and cook the butter over medium heat until it smells nutty and is golden brown. Add the ground saffron and scallion greens and the raisins and saute for just a minute or so. Remove from heat.

Boil the ravioli in salted water for 4 minutes, removing directly into the sauce with a little of the pasta water to go along with it, tossing to coat and cooking on medium heat for one more minute until the sauce comes together and clings to the pasta.

Garnish generously with real parmesan cheese.

I’m really happy with how this dish turned out. It’s a rare moment where an authentic depiction of the past and cuisine that appeals to my modern palate actually intersect. This ravioli is both something you could find in Italy during the Renaissance, and something I’d GLADLY order at a Moroccan or Tunisian restaurant today.

I highly recommend you give it a try, and don’t you dare leave out the raisins.

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