Open Ravioli with Chicken Liver, Lemon and Garlic

The edges of ravioli are the problem. Unless you are very skilled and have several generations of Italian blood in your veins, the outer part will be double the thickness of the rest and will not cook as well.

Another problem with ravioli is that you can’t fit enough filling into the centres for my taste – not unless you make them very large, one per portion. Trendy restaurants in northern Italy feature ravioli aperti which avoid these problems. This way of assembling the ravioli after the pasta is cooked is fine.

Chicken livers are one of the few genuine luxury ingredients which are not yet expensive. I enjoy applying the same skill and effort to cheaper ingredients and, in fact, once bought a restaurant in Stratford-upon-Avon to demonstrate that sophisticated flavours could be served to people not blessed with an expense account. This wasn’t an entirely good idea and when I say ‘bought’, what I mean is Barclays Bank bought a restaurant and owned all the assets. I merely worked seven days a week to make the payments and was responsible for the debts.

In time there were a reasonable number of customers who thought the food and wine were good but I resented the hours spent on paperwork rather than cooking. This paperwork will tend to increase in direct relation to your overdraft does and Her Majesty’s Customs & Excise officers will come and visit you regularly if you don’t fill in their forms and post them large cheques. Making these officers stand in the rain in the back yard by the rubbish for a while before treating them to a few well-chosen jibes was, in retrospect, probably a mistake but elated me at the time.

This chicken liver dish was typical of those on the menu. I make my own pasta, which is not difficult, but if you can buy fresh pasta then the dish is very quick to prepare.

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Ingredients

  • 8 oz (225 g) chicken livers
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • zest and juice of 2 lemons (the zest should be removed with zester or else the lemons peeled with a vegetable peeler then sliced into fine strips) see method, step 12
  • oil for frying

Ravioli paste

  • 8 oz (225 g) 00 grade Italian flour, or plain flour if unavailable
  • 2 medium eggs, beaten
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

Stock

  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 4 oz (100 g) chicken winglets
  • 1 medium onion, peeled and chopped

Sauce

  • fl oz (100 ml) chicken stock
  • 1 large clove garlic, peeled
  • 1 oz (25 g) Pecorino cheese, grated
  • 1 tablespoon cr è me fraîche
  • 3 fl oz (90 ml) extra virgin olive oil
  • few drops lemon juice
  • freshly ground black pepper

Method

The ravioli paste

  1. Mix all the ravioli paste ingredients together to form a hard dough. Knead this until it becomes smooth and shiny. If you have a mixer with a dough hook attachment to do this for you, so much the better. Do not be afraid to add a few drops of water if the mixture proves too hard. Rest the dough in the fridge for an hour.

The Stock

  • Heat a saucepan and add the olive oil. Add the chicken winglets immediately, otherwise the oil will smoke. Cook until brown, about 5 minutes, turning occasionally.
  • Add the onion to the winglets. As it colours pour on a pint (600 ml) of cold water. Bring to the boil and simmer to reduce for about 40 minutes.
  • Strain the stock into a bowl. You should have about 10 fl oz (300 ml) of rather cloudy stock and some chicken winglets for your cat.
  • These jobs can be done as far in advance as you wish.

To roll and cook the pasta

  • If you have a hand-cranked pasta machine, roll the pasta through three times, the final time at the second thinnest setting. Otherwise use a rolling pin, which will do the job as well, except that it will not be such a neat exercise.
  • Cut the pasta into whatever shapes you want. A pedestrian 2 in (5 cm) square suits me but if you want to amaze your guests with Christmas cracker shapes this is also acceptable.
  • Boil a saucepan with plenty, say 3 pints (1.75 litres), of salted water, then drop in the pasta squares. They cook almost immediately, certainly within a minute.
  • Drain. Even when cooked, pasta will stick, so lay the squares on a damp cloth or oiled tray side by side and keep them warm for the few minutes you need to complete the dish.

To Complete

  • Carefully trim the chicken livers, cutting away any greenish patches, which are bitter, and separate each liver into its two lobes. Heat one large or two medium frying pans. If the pan isn’t hot or if it is too crowded, the livers will stick.
  • Fry the livers in the olive oil for about 2 minutes, so that they remain pink inside, and then spoon them out on to kitchen paper.
  • Heat the stock and garlic together then add the cheese and cr è me fraîche. Pour in the olive oil and lemon juice, and add the pepper. It will look like a tanker disaster at this point, do not lose heart. Put the entire proceedings into a liquidiser and blend into a smooth, creamy looking sauce. The sauce may be thinned by adding more stock and thickened with extra oil. Should you wish to make it in advance it may need another turn in the liquidiser before serving.
  • Macerate the strips of zest in their own juice. An hour will make an enormous difference to the power of the flavour produced. Sieve dry then deep fry in hot oil for a few seconds. This is best done by having two small frying pans or one pan and one heatproof container and a sieve or strainer. Heat ½ in (1 cm) of cooking oil until hot but not yet smoking. Add the sieved zest, shake the pan and, as soon as it colours, pour both oil and zest through the strainer into the second pan. The idea being that the zest remains in the strainer.
  • Divide half the pasta squares between four warmed plates. Place the livers and a spoonful of sauce on top. Lay the remaining squares on top of the livers and finish the dish with a little more sauce, some deep-fried zest and perhaps some grated Pecorino.
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