I wrote a brief method of how to cook with brains here. I understand though how much trepidation people have when trying offal though, so I really need to share this recipe.
The first time I read about a dish like this was while reading Mario Batali’s Babbo book. Even though Mario Batali now has his own line of chintzy kitchen ware, just like Rachel Ray, he will always be one of my heroes. The Babbo cookbook was one of my favorites, and one of the first cookbooks I purchased myself. One of the recipes I always remembered from it was the calf brain ravioli with butter and sage. I never really paid attention to it back then, but somehow it stayed in my subconscious.
It wasn’t until I was presented with a bag of goat brains one day that the memory of the ravioli from Batali’s book resurfaced. There weren’t enough brains in the bag to make a whole bunch of stuff, so making a filling from them would go a long way, and was a natural choice. Coincidentally, there was a bunch of goat milk in the cooler as well, so for the cheese in the filling, I took the goat milk and fashioned some homemade ricotta.
Brains are a genius filling for ravioli for a couple of different reasons. First their texture is soft, hiding them inside some pasta pillows makes it easy for them to keep their shape, and you don’t have to worry about the brains falling apart. The most important thing is that the brains are hidden though. Having the brains not visible disconnects you from thinking about eating them, if you are squeemish, hiding brains in the ravioli is probably the most approachable way of eating them I have ever found.
The first batch of ravioli underwent an interesting journey. I kept them around as a bit of a gag, frozen so I could take them out and throw them in some pasta water whenever I needed. Sometimes I would sneak some out if I knew a person was dining that would appreciate them. All in all, the ravioli were much more than a joke though, they tasted great.
A little experiment was done with them too which was fun, a table came in one day and requested a special menu. Somehow the topic of the brain ravioli must have come up during the discussion of the menu. The host apparently liked the idea of serving his guests brain ravioli, unbenounced to them. When It came time to serve, I made the ravioli and peered across the room to “watch it land” as we say, in front of the diners. They ate it, and loved it. Later they were informed they had eaten the goat brains, and there was plenty of laughter.
I wanted to reconstruct that recipe and do it slightly different. Previously I tossed the ravioli in a slippery jack cream sauce, this time I wanted to serve them with simple tomato sauce infused with morels. Fried sage is a great addition, and it’s place on top of a tomato sauced pasta is a nod to a dish that I remember making at Pazzaluna restaurant in St. Paul.
Goat Brain Ravioli, Morel Tomato Sauce, Sage
Makes 30 ravioli, enough to feed 4 people 5 ravioli per plate, with 10 to spare in case of tearing or breaking
Prep time: 1 hour to make pasta dough, poach and chop brains and make filling, and make the morel tomato sauce
Cook time: Just time to boil water and re-heat the sauce
- For serving-Grated grana padano or parmigiano reggiano, if desired
Oat flour pasta dough
In order for this dough to work in a stand mixer you need to use this proportion, it makes twice the amount of dough you need. If you don’t want extra oat pasta, which is good anywhere you would use other fresh pasta, make the dough by hand and cut the ingredients in half.
- 2 cup semolina
- 2 cup oat flour, if the oat flour looks coarse, grind it in a coffee grinder until fine
- 6 eggs
- Tbsp water
- Tsp salt
- To make the oat flour pasta dough, combine the semolina and oat flour in the bowl of a stand mixer and stir in the eggs and salt on low speed until the pasta comes together.
- Keep stirring the dough in the stand mixer, adding the tbsp of water if needed to make the dough, after about 10 minutes the dough should have cleaned the sides of the bowl and be a solid mass. Allow the dough to rest, wrapped in plastic for 30 minutes or so.
Goat brain-cheese ravioli filling
- 1 cup brains
- 1 cup ricotta
- 1/4 cup parmesan
- 1/2 tsp salt
- Tbsp fresh chopped Italian parsley
- The night before, soak the brains in milk.
- To make the brain filling, cook the brains in a qt of lightly salted water on the stove until they are cooked through. Drain the brains, cool, and then chop into small pieces. Mix the brains with the cheese, parsley, then add salt to taste. Refrigerate until needed
Morel tomato sauce
This can be made ahead of time and used to dress any pasta you like, it will also freeze well.
- 2 16 ounce cans of peeled tomatoes pureed with a hand blender, preferably san marzano or plum variety, they have a higher percentage of meat/juice and will yield a richer sauce
- 1 cup dried morels
- 1/2 cup sweet yellow onion, diced
- Tbsp fresh garlic, chopped
- 1 cup dry white wine, mixed with 1 cup water
- To make the morel tomato sauce first soak the morels in the wine and water for 30 minutes or so. Agitate the mushrooms in the wine by stirring them to release any debris. Remove the mushrooms to another container for a moment, then strain the remaining liquid through a strainer and add it back to the morels.
- Heat the onion and garlic together in some oil until translucent in a small saucepan, about a 5 qt size should do. Season the onion mixture with salt and pepper.
- Next add the morel-wine liquid, reserving the morels. Cook down until the pan is almost dry, then add the tomato puree and cook for about 20 minutes on medium-low heat.
- Lastly puree the sauce with a hand blender or in the bowl of a food processor, then add the morels and season to taste with salt. If you want you can also leave the sauce chunky and unpureed, either way is fine.
- 16 large sage leaves, assuming you will give about 3 per/person, depending on size
- Flavorless oil for cooking, about 1/2 cup
- A wide saute pan, about 8 inch, preferably with a flat bottom
- Kosher salt, for finishing
- Heat the oil in a small pan until it is hot, but not smoking.
- Gently fry the sage until it stops sizzling and is crisp, be careful not to have the pan so hot that the leaves burn though. when the leaves are cooked and crisp, remove them to a paper towel to drain and sprinkle lightly with salt.
Making the ravioli and cooking the dish
- To assemble the ravioli, roll out baseball sized portions of dough in a pasta roller until they go down to the “0” setting. When the dough is rolled out nice and thin, take a water glass or a ring mold and cut circles out of the pasta dough, you will need a top and bottom for each one.
- Take each dough circle and brush with a bit of beaten egg, place heaping tsp of filling into the center of each dough circle, placing another circle on top. Press down on the edges of the dough to seal, then place on a cookie sheet and dust with semolina flour to prevent sticking. When the ravioli are frozen completely, you can transfer them to a plastic freezer bag, labe l the bag so you know when you made it. From here the ravioli can be made week or even months in advance.
- When its time to cook and serve the ravioli, heat up the morel tomato sauce, stirring in a tbsp of unsalted butter, boil the ravioli until they float in a pot of lightly salted water, then add to the pan with the sauce. divide the ravioli equally between some heated pasta bowls, top with cheese and serve.