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. If you, or more likely, someone in your house is squeemish, hiding brains in the ravioli is probably the most approachable way of eating them I have ever found. You wouldn’t even have to tell anyone they’re in there.
At the restaurant, I got to do a little experiment with them. A table came in one day and requested a special menu. Somehow the topic of the brain ravioli came up during our menu discussion, and the host liked the idea of serving his guests brain ravioli, without telling them. When It came time to serve, I made the ravioli and peered across the room to watch it land. Every plate came back clean. Later the host told them they’d eaten 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 and a few fried sage leaves. So, if you happen to find yourself with some brains, keep ravioli in mind.
Goat Brain Ravioli, Morel Tomato Sauce, Sage
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
- 16 large sage leaves assume about 3 per/person, depending on size
- 1/2 cup Flavorless oil for cooking
- Kosher salt for finishing
Goat Brain Filling
- 1 cup brains As fresh as possible
- 1 cup ricotta preferably goat milk
- 1/4 cup Grana padano or parmigiano reggiano plus extra for serving
- 1/2 tsp Kosher salt plus more to taste
- 1 Tbsp fresh chopped Italian parsley
Oat Pasta (See recipe)
- The night before, soak the brains in milk in the refrigerator.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
- 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.
- 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. Reserve the sage.
Assembling Ravioli and Cooking
- 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.
Oat Flour Pasta
- pasta roller, stand mixer
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 1 cup oat flour if the oat flour looks coarse, grind it in a coffee grinder until fine
- 5 egg yolks
- Tbsp water
- 1/2 tsp salt
- To make the oat flour pasta dough, combine the semolina and oat flour in the bowl of a stand mixer and stir with the paddle attachment, adding the egg yolks, salt and water as needed on low speed until the pasta dough just comes together.
- Switch to the dough hook and knead for a few minutes, until the dough springs back when touched.
- Allow the dough to rest, wrapped in plastic for 30 minutes or so before rolling out.