It doesn’t have quite the timeless ring of “black beans and rice,” but here we are anyway: black bean ravioli. Where cheap comfort food and painstaking pasta-making collide. And like many good twists on classic dishes, this one was difficult and time-consuming to make, even with my disregard to the uniformity of the ravioli’s shape and overall prettiness. But if you’ll recall my last kitchen disaster with black beans, at least these homemade raviolis were edible. Actually, they were delicious, and that makes it all worthwhile (at least on special occasions).
So, picking up the five-pound sack of black beans I’d bought for the previous cooking mission and avoided looking at again until now, I was curious to see if they might do well as a filling of some sort. I didn’t automatically snap and say “ravioli,” but over a period of re-thinking black beans as not a tongue-searing, panic-inducing, corpse-reviving stingray of a food substance (shudder), the idea gradually came.
I have never had a very intimate relationship with flour. Growing up in a household that rarely baked except on holidays, I don’t have the years of experience with the fine white silt behind me to not find it surprising when it turns up on my windowsill, or on my skirt the next day. Baby powder might be a more instinctual guess. Flour was that white dust inside that greyish dust-covered paper bag in the pantry. This was all before investing in a machine that cranks out fresh pasta dough into thin sheets or noodles. The key to making this happen, however, is having a high tolerance to flour — in your hair, in the air, and everywhere in the dough’s vicinity.
Now, after having more than a few turns at cranking out fresh pasta from a machine (which requires — lest you get sticky stuff all over your equipment — the frequent dusting of flour at every stage), I have seen flour from a much more up-close angle.
So we’ve conquered this little road, with flour. There always seems to be more reason to coat my entire apartment with it these days. First there was home bread baking, then there was pasta… it probably won’t end there. And since both bread and pasta taste oh so much better to me when they’re homemade, I’ll be cranking out plenty versions in my spare time to come.
For garnish, I’d originally wanted to slather the cooked pasta with a nice, shiny coating of oregano pesto. I’ve made pesto from fresh oregano before, and it tasted terrific then. But I’m not sure what went wrong this time. When it was all mashed up and ready to pour, this batch tasted defiantly bitter. The leaves looked fresh and healthy enough — nothing wrong there. Maybe I got too many little stem pieces into the mix? I have no idea, but it tasted off, so I didn’t end up using it. Just chopped a lot of extra fresh oregano, and blended it with some Italian parsley and basil from the handy plants. Perhaps yours will turn out better? Ah, the mysteries of cooking…
Of course, instead of Italian cheese, this dish received a final dusting of grated cotija, Mexico’s hard, dry, aged answer to Parmiggiano or Romano. A little squirt of lime and it was all set.
Black Bean Ravioli with Cotija and Fresh Oregano
(makes 4-6 servings)
2 large eggs
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for tossing things around in
1 cup dry black beans, soaked overnight in plenty of water
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon cumin
pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
5-6 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup grated Cotija cheese
leaves of 1 bunch of fresh oregano, trimmed well from stems
other herbs, chopped (optional)
juice of half a lime
Heat about 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a saucepan over medium. Add the onions and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, 6-8 minutes. Add the soaked and drained black beans, the cumin, peppers, and a pinch of salt and enough water to cover beans by about half an inch. Turn to low and simmer for about 1 hour. Check the beans once or twice for water level. If scorching on the bottom, add a little more; if there’s too much on top still, remove cover and cook until water has evaporated. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt, pepper, etc. as desired. Finally, add the butter. Blend with a hand blender or simple masher until the beans have reached a slightly bumpy, but mostly smooth and creamy consistency.
Make ravioli sheets: Pour the flour into a large bowl. Create a well in the center, and add 4 eggs. Mix the eggs by stirring with your hands in a circular motion. Gradually incorporate flour from the edges into the eggs, until all has been incorporated. If necessary, add a tablespoon of water to the mixture (and preferably no more). Alternately, if dough is too sticky, add a little more flour. Turn dough onto a well-floured surface and knead for 6-8 minutes until smooth-textured. Form into a ball and let dough rest for 15 minutes, covered in plastic wrap. Cut off about a third and run through a pasta crank, flouring before each run, until it has completed the thinnest or second-to-thinnest setting. Continue with each chunk until all the dough is used and the sheets are resting separately on a well-floured surface.
Turn one ravioli sheet onto a well-floured surface and size it up against another sheet. If the two are roughly the same size, then place teaspoon-sized dots of the black bean mixture about 1 1/2″ inches apart from another on the first sheet (you can always just cut down the ravioli sheets to whatever size you feel most comfortable to work with, but I find this technique faster). Dip your finger in a bowl of water and trace lines of water in a grid around each dot of bean filling, to close the sides of the ravioli. Now carefully place the other pasta sheet on half and begin by pressing down on the middle spine, in between the two rows of bean filling. Continue to stretch and press your way along all the lines of the “grid,” being careful not to allow too much air into each ravioli square. Once all edges are sealed, cut with a knife (or pizza wheel!) into individual squares.
Bring a large pot of well-salted water to boil. Drop in ravioli (in batches, if needed) and cook for about 2-3 minutes each. Remove gently with a slotted spoon and drain. Transfer ravioli to an oiled bowl immediately after draining and drizzle well throughout with more olive oil. Continue until all the ravioli have been cooked. Toss the ravioli with the rest of the oil (adding more if desired), a pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper, the herbs, the cheese and the lime juice. Serve immediately.
(for 4-6 servings)
2 eggs (at $3.99/doz): $0.67
1 1/2 cups flour: $0.65
1 cup black beans: $0.50
1 bunch fresh oregano: $1.50
6 tablespoons olive oil: $1.25
1 onion: $0.30
2 cloves garlic: $0.05
2 tablespoons butter: $0.25
half a lime (at 6/$1): $0.08
1/2 cup grated Cojita cheese (at $4.99/lb): $0.60
optional basil and parsley: $0.25
cumin, peppers, salt: $0.05
Six brownie points: This is on the verge of being unhealthily oily, as most ravioli dishes are, but since it’s filled with protein-rich, but far from fattening beans instead of cheese, and given only a minor garnish of Cojita, this is about as healthy as raviolis come. With a healthy dose of nutritious, green leafy herbs to boot.
Four brownie points: It’s not a particularly “green” recipe, but in theory it sort of is. Have you noticed I haven’t been cooking much meat? Obviously, not all ravioli or pasta in general is nor should include meat, pasture-raised or otherwise, but this meat-alternative dish gives it a run for its money. Literally. Beans provide this dish with a vegetarian dose of protein while being filling, satisfying, and an overall tasty substitute. And best of all, they’re cheap. Where exactly they were harvested is another story, but being the long shelf-living, easily transported legumes that they are, a sack of beans is a healthy, low-inpact staple to have around.