How do I love thee? Let me count the ravioli. Seriously, there’s no better way to say “I love you” than with a plate of handmade pasta lovingly crafted and offered as a token of your affection. After all, you put a little bit of yourself into every bite by kneading, rolling and shaping the pasta even before it is cooked. The act in itself is a delicious labor of love. Then why not take it to the next level with colored pasta and make a real statement? Those were my thoughts last year when I created these Beet Pasta Ravioli with Ricotta and Radicchio Filling for Valentine’s Day. Yes, I make other colored pasta, like these green tagliatelle colored with spinach that I did here. But these Valentine’s ravioli were begging to be red—really, really red—the color of love, of passion, of beets. In fact, for these ravioli the pasta dough is stained deep magenta-red with beets before it lovingly envelopes a creamy ricotta and radicchio filling to form pretty half-moon shaped ravioli. They look stunning on the plate, dressed in a rosy sauce of beet-tinted melted butter and scattered with toasted pine nuts and delicate wisps of shaved Parmigiano. A romantic meal never looked or tasted so good!
It took a little love on my part to get this beet pasta recipe the way I wanted it. You see, beets stain but they also bleed. That means when red pasta cooks, the color can leach into the boiling water and fade —taking the pasta from bright magenta to drab pink. But that wasn’t good enough for me and I was determined to get an intense red pasta that held up to cooking. And I did…here’s how. I use more beets than most but it works because of a few tricks I’ll share with you. First, I roast the beets so they don’t get watery like they can if you boil them. Then I puree the beets using a fine blade in my food mill, but you can also process in a food processor. Next—and most importantly—I squeeze all the liquid out of the beet puree (saving it for the sauce) in a cotton napkin I don’t mind staining until it’s dry like play dough. This creates a concentrated pigmentation agent to add to the egg before incorporating flour, so less flour is needed and the pasta dough is darker. After kneading the dough until smooth and soft, it is dark magenta and almost purplish in color. But don’t worry because some of the color will fade during boiling and the cooked ravioli will be a lovely shade of red.
You should know that while red beets color pasta dough beautifully, they can stain your hands and counter tops if you’re not careful. To avoid this, I work on washable cutting boards and wear disposable latex gloves when making the pasta dough. Once the dough is made, roll it thin—either with a rolling pin or using a pasta machine. Cut the pasta sheet into circles, dab each with a spoonful of ricotta and radicchio filling, then fold and seal the edges well to form half moon shaped ravioli. This filling comes together quickly with a mixture of ricotta cheese, egg, Parmigiano and caramelized radicchio. Radicchio is red chicory with a bittersweet peppery flavor that adds spice to the mild ricotta and compliments the beet infused pasta. I like to use Treviso radicchio, but if you can’t find it, the Chioggia variety works well too.
Once the ravioli are made the work is done leaving plenty of time to get dressed and light the candles on the table. Then, just a few minutes before serving, the pasta cooks while a quick yet sumptuous sauce is made from reserved beet juice and butter to toss the ravioli in and coat them with even more color and flavor. Arranged on plates with a smattering of toasted pine nuts and Parmigiano shavings over top, they make quite an entrance and are sure to set the mood for your romantic meal. Happy Valentine’s Day…or should I say…beet mine?