Martha+Tom

Pasta: Modernist Ravioli, featuring Xanthan Gum

It’s safe to say that unless I hit the internet blogging jackpot and finally get to cash in on marthaandtom.com, I’m never going to own the recently-published Modernist Cuisine. $600 for a cookbook is just a little beyond this blogger’s budget. It’s a shame, because everything I’ve seen about the book (eGullet has some of the best coverage including a Q&A with the authors) indicates that it will be an immensely useful — not to mention beautiful — reference, even if you don’t go in for the immersion circulators, centrifuges, c-vaps and other gadgets favored by the Modernist Cuisine laboratory.

Fortunately for me and anybody else that doesn’t have $600 burning a hole in their apron pocket, this book is generating enough buzz and discussion online that some of the key findings are becoming available to the rest of us. In another post on eGullet, Chris Amirault introduced the modernist pasta, and was kind enough to post the full recipe:

  • 100 g ’00’ flour (100%)
  • 1 g xanthan gum
  • 2.5 g salt
  • 9 g water
  • 56.7 g egg yolk
  • 10.7 g oil

Xanthan gum is something I more expect to see printed somewhere near the bottom of a package-side ingredient list than a pasta recipe. The Modernists claim that xanthan gives fresh pasta a chewier texture closer to that of dried pasta. As it turns out Xanthan gum is a popular ingredient among people with gluten intolerances — it adds structure and enhances texture in gluten-less baked goods — so obtaining a small baggy of the magic white powder was no problem — they sell it in bulk at the co-op.

While xanthan gum stands out in the recipe as a weird ingredient, far crazier was the amount of eggs called for. I tripled the base recipe to produce about a pound of pasta (539.7 g or 1.2#), which meant I needed 170.1 grams of egg yolks. Not really knowing how much an egg yolk weighs, I set a bowl on my scale and got cracking. Ten eggs later and the scale was at 168 g. Ten eggs! With the egg I mixed into the ravioli filling, this dinner took a full banker’s dozen. Anybody have a good recipe that calls for ten egg whites?

I mixed the dough in my food processor; it came together extremely dry and crumbly. Ordinarily I would have added a little more water, but the Modernist measurements being so precise — down to the tenth of a gram — I stuck with them.

dry, cracking pasta dough in a ball on a butcher block

The dryness was even more apparent as I tried to work the dough through my pasta machine. Even after resting it was extremely difficult to get the dough to pass through the widest setting on my hand-cranked machine. As I worked it through the progressively thinner settings, the dough became jagged on the edges and appeared brittle.

In spite of these difficulties, once the pasta was rolled the advantages of the xanthan gum started to become apparent. Normally, after rolling and cutting pasta I go into paranoid mode, spreading copious amounts of flour to try to keep all the strands separated. I usually break out the pasta tree. But with the Modernist pasta, no tree was necessary: this pasta will not stick together. I was cutting circles out of the dough to form ravioli, but rather than carefully single-layering them on a sheet pan with cornstarch on either side as I might do with regular pasta, I unceremoniously dumped them in a pile. No sticking! To tempt fate I stacked the discs into an orderly stack — still no sticking. I started to become concerned that it wouldn’t be possible to make two pieces of pasta to stick together around a ravioli filling, but water applied directly to the surface finally caused the dough to adhere.

Due to it’s non-stickiness, this dough recipe seems ideal for long shapes — provided I can address the ragged edges.

The real point of the xanthan gum, though, is not that it makes the dough easy or difficult to work with, but that it improves the texture of the finished pasta. The fair way to do this would of course have been a double-blind tasting, with ravioli made with my standard Cook’s Illustrated recipe (2 cups flour, 3 eggs, a tablespoon or so of water) put up against the new competitor. But after the several hours and many eggs already expended in this effort, I didn’t have it in me. Given those many hours I of course really wanted this experiment to have been worth it, so take my observations with a grain of salt, but the texture of this pasta really did seem better than what I am used to. After cooking in just-less-than-boiling for three and a half minutes it was a silky, smooth al dente, with none of the eggy springiness I often get from fresh pasta.

The question that will be raised with all these Modernist Cuisine innovations is, is it worth it? Is the sometimes very marginal gain in quality worth the sometimes extra effort and expense, the high price tag of the book itself not least among these? Who would make this burger? Or in the case of this pasta, is it worth the sore arms and the egg-spenditure? After one attempt at this recipe, I’m not ready to decide, but I am at least intrigued enough to try it again.

Meyer Lemon & Artichoke Ravioli

Filling:

  • 1 cup minced artichoke hearts (I used a 14oz can, drained)
  • 1 cup whole milk ricotta
  • ¾ cup finely grated parmesan cheese
  • Zest and juice from one meyer lemon
  • 1 egg
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced or pressed through a garlic press
  • 1 T minced chives
  • Salt and pepper to taste

1 # of your favorite fresh pasta

Sauce:

  • 3 T butter
  • Juice and zest of one meyer lemon
  • 1 c cream

Mix all the filling ingredients in a small bowl until evenly distributed and set aside. Roll out the pasta into thin sheets and cut out as many 2″ circles as you can (I used a drinking glass). Keep cut pasta covered to prevent it from drying out. Divide the cut rounds into two even groups (tops and bottoms) and lay the bottoms out across a work surface. Place a teaspoon of filling in the center of each round. Working with a few ravioli at a time, wet the edges of the bottom circle with water and cover the filling with a top. Pinch the edges of the two rounds together to seal.

ravioli making process illustrated in two steps, dropping in the fillings and sealing the tops and bottoms.

For the sauce, melt the butter in a skillet and add the cream and lemon juice. Simmer for a few minutes to reduce slightly, then cover while preparing the pasta.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the pasta. Adjust heat so the water does not return to a rolling boil. Cook until pasta is al dente, about 3 minutes with the Modernist pasta recipe outlined above.

Carefully drain ravioli and toss with sauce and lemon zest. Serve hot, preferably in warmed bowls.

a cross section of ravioli on the end of a fork

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3 comments on “Pasta: Modernist Ravioli, featuring Xanthan Gum”

  1. Kate 24 February, 2011 at 3:41 pm

    so i have to ask.. did you use type “00” flour? if yes, where aside from online were you able to procure it? Everything they make in italy is tipo 00… apparently, you can combine different types of us flours to make the correct protein content, but no pizza or pasta i’ve made here has ever been the same as it was there…

  2. Tom 24 February, 2011 at 3:51 pm

    Kate, you caught me, I did not use 00 flour. There was a line in there about that, and how it might have influenced my texture/dryness issues, but it didn’t make the final edit. I am not sure of a local source; Great Ciao has it but I am not sure if they will sell directly to consumers.

    Protein content could explain the difference between your experience in Italy and cooking in Minneapolis, but I bet there are a lot of other factors that play into that perception (like, uh, being in Italy).

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