RECIPE: Millionaires' Ravioli with Beef, Wine, Thyme and Fresh Black Winter Truffle (good with pig cheeks too)

by - February 09, 2011

One of my earliest food memories as a little (well even smaller) girl was being taken to a restaurant in Italy with the family and being presented with a plate of homemade tagliatelle with lashings of olive oil and topped with a generous shavings of fresh truffle. I remember initially not being very sure about the alien-like brain section pattern and the unusual fragrance, but with one taste and a table full of encouragement and arm waving from those already in the know, I realised that truffles were going to be one of my favourite foods.

But at 6 years old, you can't quite appreciate how expensive these beautiful "black diamonds" are. Lord only knows what my parents paid for that plate of pasta for me! But I do dip my toe in the pool of extravagace and indulge in a truffle every now and then, life really is too short.

So I knew that I was a very lucky girl indeed to win a fresh Black Winter Truffle in a competition. I got 20g (about £60) from Mister Truffle, a new venture selling fresh truffles by the gram which I think is a genius idea for affordable luxury as you don't have to buy the whole truffle, only ordering what you need. This black winter truffle was so wonderfully pungent, that on opening the delivery, it filled the air with its gorgeous aroma.

Dealing with truffles in recipes can be quite tricky. I think as the truffle is such a wonderful flavour it should shine through, so pair back on the other ingredients. Pasta for instance, is a perfect vehicle to show off the flavour which is why it is often served with it.

Saying that, it does work well with robust red meats; beef, venison, pheasant, rabbit, duck and even veal (but never lamb). My first choice for the ravioli filling would have been pigs cheeks and would have used this base recipe to prepare them, using wine instead of cider but couldn't get cheeks for love nor money this week. Instead I settled for a similar texture and bought a piece of brisket, cooking it slowly in stock then wine for a punchy partner to the truffle which worked a treat.

This makes about 20 large ravioli but depends on the size and shape.
Serves 2 people gluttonously (Mr Graphic Foodie, the truffle pig, happily ate 14 of them which was OUTRAGEOUS), 4 people sensibly and 6 people as a starter.

For the filling
Olive oil
Half an onion, chopped very finely
1 small carrot, peeled and diced finely
500g beef brisket, cubed
400ml vegetable or meat stock
2 garlic cloves
1 tbs tomato puree concentrate
2 large sprigs of thyme
200ml good red wine
15g of fresh black truffle (you could get away with 10g but if you're going to do it, do it I say)
Butter and Parmesan or better, Pecorino cheese

In a small, heavy bottomed saucepan, fry the onion and carrot gently in the olive oil until soft. Add the beef brisket and brown thoroughly. Add the stock, tomato concentrate, thyme and garlic cloves. Cover and simmer for 1.5 hours, stirring occasionally. Add more stock if the pan becomes dry.

The stock would have reduced by now so add the red wine and gently simmer for a further hour until reduced and thick.

Turn out onto a plate and allow to cool thoroughly. Once cooled, take half the mixture and blend until smooth. Break the remaining meat down a little with the back of a spoon. Add the blended mixture back to the meat and combine thoroughly.

For the pasta
200g Type '00'
2 eggs
pinch of salt

To make the pasta by hand. Sift the flour into a mound and make a little well in the centre. Crack the eggs into the well and add the pinch of salt. Using a fork, gradually combine the flour and the egg, working from the inside out. Once combined and manageable, knead the dough for a good 10 minutes. If the dough is too soft or sticky, add more flour and if too hard add a little water. It should be firm, elastic and smooth.

To make the pasta using a Kitchen Aid mixer. Sift the flour into the mixer bowl and add the other pasta ingredients. Using the beater attachment on speed 1 combine the ingredients. Switch to the dough hook and set on speed 2 for 5-8 minutes until the dough forms into a nice smooth and elastic texture. Add a little touch of water (not too much!) if needed.

After using either method, form the dough into a ball, wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes whilst you make the filling.

Make the pasta. Remove the pasta from the fridge. Dust the worktop with flour. Cut the dough into 6 pieces and put each piece through a pasta machine, starting off with a wide setting and getting thinner and thinner, doing all 6 pieces on one setting before moving on to thinner settings, dusting the sheets with a little flour where needed. Go as thin as you dare/are comfortable managing. On my Imperia machine I go to the next to last thinnest setting for this shape.

I used a round ravioli cutter for this (bought at Carluccios) but you can use whatever shape you want or cut them by hand into square ravioli, sealing the edges with a fork.

Place a walnut sized amounts of the meat mixture along the pasta strips at suitable intervals for your cutter, brush the sides and in between with a little water using a pastry brush. Lay a second strip on top, starting at one end, guide the pasta around the mixture using the side of your hand expelling any air as you go. The pasta top should hug the mixture tightly. Cut the ravioli and rest on a lightly floured surface whilst you do the rest. Use the offcuts and put through the machine again for more strips. If you work quickly, it shouldn't dry out. I think it is now best to let these rest for 15 minutes to dry out a little, but you can cook straight away.

Cook the pasta in plenty of salted boiling water with a slug of olive oil until they rise to the surface. Cook until al dente, testing the thickest part.

To make the sauce. Melt a generous amount of butter for the sauce in a small saucepan.

Drain and place on warmed plates, spooning over the butter sauce, shavings of the fresh truffle and Parmesan or Pecorino.

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