Simple pleasures

Spinach and ricotta ravioli

Please send food. Dear God, get me away from this buffet.
As the Jadrilinija ferry passes by us from the small port on the mainland to the island of Korcula yet again, it relentlessly marks the passing of another hour and washes us with an existential crisis in its wake. We grimly load up our plates from the groundhog day buffet, repeating an endless doom laden meal as if condemned to eat fatty garlic sausage and rubbery scrambled eggs for breakfast every day for eternity.

Still, the children liked it. But what do they know? They eat frozen pizza with relish, or perhaps that should be gusto. And I don’t wish to sound spoilt, a two week holiday in the sun, the chance to read a lot of books and occasionally dip into the water was welcome, but food plays such an important part of a holiday. When there is nothing much else to do, meals become almost as exciting to look forward to as Christmas. And then when you get another woolen jumper from your gran that she knitted herself while drunk and asleep, the disappointment is crushing.

Yet there were a couple of high points food-wise. Some of the fish was excellent. Smoky, thick amberjack steaks cooked on the fire and a slow cooked lamb and veal stew. There was also a pretty good octopus salad and the bag of pretzels from the shop was tasty. These meals were courtesy of the restaurants up the road, and although few and far between, they at least meant I wouldn’t forever condemn Croatian cooking as nothing but spinach and potatoes mixed together and served with a bit of dry meat or pallid fish.

The real winner was a dish I will remember for a long time. Up in the hills, looking over the channel, I had a huge plate of devil fish carpaccio, served with lemon oil and a fine dusting of grated black truffle. The setting and the flavours were perfect.

Now we are back, I am so grateful to be back in my kitchen again. Good food isn’t difficult to make so I’m always amazed when so little care and attention goes into food you get served by so-called chefs.

This recipe is one of my favourites and goes a little way toward reminding me what good simple food can be. Don’t be scared of making your own pasta, it’s really easy. Just make sure you let it rest after making it to let it become silky and elastic and that you roll it thinly enough so it isn’t like chewing through a tennis ball. A pasta roller is, therefore, a good investment. If you don’t have one, a rolling pin and good arm muscles is all you need. Just think of all those nonnas in Italy. World champion arm wrestlers, they are… And perhaps next year, that’s where we’ll go.

1 small tub of ricotta
2 small bags baby spinach
Zest of a lemon
A handful of cashews, chopped

For the pasta:
500g strong flour
4 eggs
2 egg yolks

Serve with excellent olive oil, basil leaves and lots of grated Parmesan.

Make the pasta by blitzing the eggs, yolks, flour and salt together into a sandy breadcrumb texture in a food processor then knead gently into a dough. Or, if you prefer, make a flour volcano, crack the eggs and yolks into the middle with the salt and bring it together very quickly into a dough. Wrap in clingfilm then chill in the fridge for at least half an hour.
Make the filling by quickly cooking the spinach and squeezing out as much water as you can.
Chop the spinach and mix well with the lemon zest, nuts and ricotta then season well. Add a little squeeze of lemon juice if you like.
Roll the pasta out as thinly as possible and use a pastry cutting circle to cut into raviolo. Cover them with a damp cloth to stop them drying out.
Put a tablespoon full on half the circles leaving a gap around the edge.
Brush around with some beaten egg or milk and top with the remaining discs.
Squeeze together the edges and try to not trap any air inside the parcels.
Bring a large pan of heavily salted water to the boil and cook the pasta for three or four minutes until done.
Drain and serve immediately.

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