My grandmother was the essence of thyme. Where I am from, it is common to dry this luscious herb and use it for a tea. It soothes your soul, calms your mind, and for me, it always puts things into perspective as I immediately think of my roots. I do not recall if my grandmother even drank the tea so often, but I know her house smelled of it underneath the lingering cigarette and coffee scents. What I do remember from the few summers I spent with her was that in her house, it was never camomile that put you to sleep. It was always thyme. My mom always keeps a little ziplock bag of it in our tea cupboard now. It smells sweet and earthy and homey. I love that I can feel her presence in the kitchen with a simple herb and her darling old rolling pin.It kind of makes sense, then, that all other herbs are ruled out when we have fresh thyme in the fridge. And that is how it became the sparkling flavour of this dish.This recipe came together like this: I wanted to try doing a gluten free ravioli. Alicia was craving a roasted eggplant and roasted garlic combo. She also saw a butter balsamic sauce she really wanted to try out. And hey, asparagus is at its prime right now, why not throw that on top as a garish and add some feta for extra flavour? I loved the process.
Buckwheat is by far my favorite go-to GF flour. After some trial and error, we realized that the only way to make it work in ravioli is to bake it for a short period of time. It is a small extra step that makes a huge difference. If you've never worked with it before, give this recipe a try! It was Alicia's first time working with it and she was surprised how nicely it formed the dough. I always buy it from the bulk section at Whole Foods.
Make a mess. Make ravioli. Call your grandparents.
Roasted Eggplant Ravioli with Balsamic Butter and Crispy Asparagus
1 small sized eggplant
1 small garlic clove
6 tbls olive oil
2 heaping tbls fresh thyme
1/4 cup feta cheese (goat if preferred)
salt and pepper
2 cups buckwheat flour, plus about 1/2 cup
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup butter
1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tbls thyme
8 springs of asparagus
Filling: Preheat oven to 350. Slice eggplant into 1/2 inch slices and place onto baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Cut off the first 1/4 of the garlic clove and place it onto a sheet of tinfoil. Drizzle the garlic with 1 or 2 tbls of olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Seal with garlic by pinching the sides of the tinfoil together. Place this onto the baking sheet with the eggplant. Put baking sheet into oven. After about 15 minutes, flip eggplant over for another 10 minutes or until golden brown. Leave the garlic in for an additional ~5 minutes or until it is soft. Roughly chop the eggplant and squeeze garlic out using a fork from the base of the peel outwards. Place eggplant, garlic, thyme, 1 tbls olive oil, and a pinch of salt into food processor until mixture is almost completely smooth. Allow it to stay a little rough in consistency.
Dough: You can use a mixer or do it by hand. Mix 2 cups of buckwheat flour with 2 eggs. Use a fork to blend the flour and egg mixture together, slowly at first. Slowly add water, letting the dough moisten. If the dough feels too sticky after all the water has been added, add up to 1/2 cup more flour until it is a workable texture.
Construction: Cover your work surface with flour and roll out the dough. While buckwheat blends quite smoothly to create a very soft dough, it can be difficult to work with and patience is a virtue here. Roll it out as thin as comfortably possible. Using a 2" round cookie cutter, you should be able to cut out about 24-30 rounds. Place eggplant mixture and a pinch of feta into half of the rounds. Close each ravioli pocket by pinching together two rounds, one with and one without the filling. If you find the pinched off area between the two rounds to be excessive, use the cookie cutter to reshape the outter edges. Use a spatula to assist in lifting if needed.
Preheat oven to 400. In a large but shallow pot, bring water to a full boil. Drop in the ravioli in batches. As they float up to the top, allow them to simmer at the surface for about 3 minutes before fishing them out. Once all are out, place them on a baking sheet and put in oven for about 20 minutes/until brown, flipping halfway through.
Garnish: On high heat, allow butter to brown lightly (wait for a nutty smell). Add in the balsamic and reduce the heat to low. Let the sauce reduce for about 5-7 minutes, until thick. Add thyme in at the end. For the asparagus, shave it using a vegetable peeler. On medium high heat, melt about 1 tsp butter and add the asparagus with a pinch of salt and pepper. Just before they start to brown, remove from heat. To serve, top off each plate with a drizzle of sauce, asparagus, and a sprinkle of feta cheese.
It's quite the process, I know, but it is also such a versitile recipe in terms of what you want to put in the filling. I will try a butternut or pumpkin filling with kale come the fall.