Gather Some Friends for a ‘Bee’

Wintertime tempts you to stay in your house and be reclusive and lazy. All the more reason to look for excuses to invite a bunch of friends over for some productive fun. Gather them together for a good-old fashioned food ‘bee!’

What’s a food bee, you ask? Think of it as a way to share the workload of food production. Everyone works a little bit and goes home with a lot of diverse, ready-to-be-made meals for their freezers. For once, wikipedia said it best:

A bee, as used in quilting bee, working bee or spelling bee, is an expression used together with another word to describe a gathering of peers to accomplish a task or to hold a competition. Especially in the past, the tasks were often major jobs, such as clearing a field of timber or raising a barn, that would be difficult to carry out alone. It was often both a social and utilitarian event. Jobs like corn husking or sewing, could be done as a group to allow socialization during an otherwise tedious chore. Such bees often included refreshments and entertainment provided by the group.

Awhile ago, a few of us gathered together to have a ravioli bee. Some of us had made ravioli before and some were novices. We all agreed, though, that it would be a very good thing to have freezers full of ravioli this winter. (It came in handy when, after a prolonged, island-wide power outage, more than one of us confessed to breaking out the ravioli and boiling it on top of the woodstove.) Ravioli is a good way to preserve food in nice, ready to eat packages. Boil a little water and and you have a gourmet dinner ready five minutes later on a busy night.

How to have a ravioli bee:

  1. Gather the people and pick the place. Encourage interested friends to pick a good day and time. This may mean many emails and calendar checks, but eventually, you’ll find a slot that works. Schedule yourself ample time to get the job done. Persuade the friend with the most counter space to invite everyone over. Think about how many stations you need and how many people can reasonably work in a kitchen together.
  2. Assess the available ingredients. Decide on your fillings. For our bee, everyone arrived with fillings completed. You probably want to have fillings that use diverse ingredients, so that everyone goes home with a variety.
  3. Check equipment. What will you need at each station? We worked in pairs, one person rolling and one person filling. At each of three stations we had: pasta roller, pastry crimper, cutting boards, small bowl with water, small bowl with flour, cloth for fingers, baking sheets lined with parchment (to hold completed ravioli).
  4. Make your dough. We arrived with dough completed and ready to roll, but keep in mind that you shouldn’t make your dough more than a half hour ahead of time or it may dry out. You can easily make your dough balls at your station before you begin rolling.
  5. Roll and fill. Be sure to seal your ravioli well, eliminating all the air. Lay each one out on the parchment-covered baking sheet. Flash freeze if space is available or cover with plastic wrap until you can take them home to freeze.
  6. Freeze and label. You’ll have so many different types of ravioli, you’ll need to keep them straight! A good idea is to label the parchment paper with a permanent marker, as you lay out your ravioli.

Here are a few recipes to inspire you. Check here for ravioli formation tips.

Cheese Ravioli

Make homemade ricotta. Season with white pepper and salt to taste. Add fresh herbs like parsley or oregano, if you like.

Meat Ravioli

1. Heat olive oil. Dice and sauté any combination of celery, carrot, onion, and garlic until soft and fragrant.
2. Add 1 pound of ground beef and cook, stirring often until brown.
3. Deglaze with 1/2 c. white wine. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
4. Add about 1 cup of stock and boil until liquid is nearly gone (about 15 minutes.)
5. Cool mixture slightly.
6. In a food processor combine: meat mixture, 1 egg, 1/4 breadcrumbs, and 1/4 c. parmesan. Mix until it’s “thick like paste.” Add in about 1/4 c. finely chopped parsley (or other fresh herbs of your choosing.)

Other recipes that we made and liked:

Squash Ravioli
Chard Ravioli
Chanterelle Ravioli (“Dry saute” chanterelles to make the puree and use it as a filling.)

Doughs:

Use any traditional pasta dough recipe for ravioli. You want it to be strong and supple.

Here are some alternative doughs, if you have differing dietary needs:

Pasta dough (without white flour)
4 oz semolina
4 1/2 oz whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 T olive oil
1/2 c water

Incorporate as in traditional dough.

Sourdough Pasta Dough

2 c flour whole wheat bread flour
1/2 c sourdough starter
1/2 t salt
1-2 T olive oil
enough water to get desired

Incorporate as in traditional dough and allow to proof, wrapped in plastic, over night.

Thanks to everyone who participated in our first ravioli bee and provided recipes. And especial thanks to G., who coined the term ‘ravioli bee.’

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Spinach and Cheese Ravioli

These ravioli don’t have a strong spinach flavor, but the texture of the dough is nice and hearty.  They freeze well for a quick and healthy meal on a busy night. Ravioli are not hard to make, but I would recommend having a two-person team: one to roll and one to fill and shape.

Ravioli, ready for freezingDough:
8.5 ounces flour (about 2 cups)
6 cups fresh spinach
3 eggs
1 tbls. olive oil
1/2 tsp. salt

Making the dough-

1. Prepare the spinach. Saute with just about 1 tbls. of water in pan for a few minutes, until wilted. (If you’ve just washed the spinach, shake a little of the water out and then toss in the pan. The leaves will be wet enough.) Place the spinach on a washcloth (that you don’t mind being stained) and squeeze over the sink. Try to get out as much water as possible.
2. Mix flour and salt ingredients in a bowl.
3. In a food processor, add egg, spinach, and oil. Process until smooth.
4. Make a little well in the flour mixture, pour in spinach mixture and mix with a fork until lumpy. Knead with your fingers until it comes together. Knead one additional minute, adding extra flour, if needed. (How will you know if more flour is needed? Dough should not be wet or tacky.)
5. Allow your dough to rest, covered, for 30 minutes. (Be patient. This step allows the flour to get properly moistened and allows you to work with the dough.)

Filling:
2 cups homemade ricotta
3 gloves garlic, finely diced
about 1/4 cup grated parmesan
about 1/4 cup grated mozzarella
salt and white pepper to taste
optional: add fresh herbs to taste

Prepare the filling:
6. Mix all the ingredients in small bowl. If your filling is too dry, mix back in about 1 tbls. of the whey from the cheesemaking. You want your filling to be light and fluffy, but it needs to be able to hold its shape.

Flour the dough before you roll it each time - Roll out the pasta:
7. Divide the pasta dough into 4 equal balls. Cover the balls that you are not using.
8. Shape the first ball into a rectangle. Sprinkle with a little flour every time your dough feels too tacky. Roll your dough through the pasta roller, gradually working your way up to setting six, which will produce a thin but sturdy sheet of pasta. Tip: fold your dough into a rectangle before sending it through the machine.

Shape the ravioli:
9. Cut a long sheet of pasta in half, so that you have two equal pieces. (Another technique is to fold a long sheet in half, gently crease to mark the center, and only fill one side. The second half of the dough becomes the top and ‘closes over’ the ravioli filling.)
10. Drop scant tablespoons of pasta about 1 inch apart on the dough, leaving an equal amount of space aDraw a line of water between each ravioli with your finger - round all four edges.
11. Dip one finger (or pastry brush) into water and run a line of water around the four edges and between each ravioli. Your goal is to moisten. Don’t get it too wet!
12. Lay the second pasta sheet over top of the filling. Work from left to right, gently pressing down between the ravioli as Seal the ravioli carefully - you go. You may need to stretch the last part of the dough over the filling.  Go back and seal the top and sides of each ravioli. Try not to trap any air next to the filling (or your ravioli may burst.)
13. Use a sealer/cutter pastry tool to seal and cut. (This tool is so worth the few dollars of its cost. But, alternatively, you can slice with a knife and seal by hand. I used to press each side shut with a fork and that worked well, though was time consuming.)

Save those babies for later:
14. Lay the ravioli on a floured sheet pan and place in the freezer for about a half hour. After this, they can be placed in a big freezer bag and won’t stick to each other.

Eat!
15.  From the freezer, boil in gently boiling water for five minutes. (Cook fresh raviloi 3-4 minutes.)