Chicken Liver Ravioli with Cranberry Onion Marmalade

Smugness alert: this recipe may cause unconscionable culinary preening, preposterous braggadocio and a wanton use of the phrase, “Yeah, I am just that good.”

I have always had an almost criminal obsession with black tie meals that come with a blue collar price tag, and this is a prime example.  For roughly $2 per serving, you can feel like a star. And feel free to tell people as much, because it will simply be true.  As perfect for an uber-romantic meal for two as it is for a classy dinner party with friends, when a decadent pasta is done right, with a silky rich filling and toothsome tender dough in a simple, buttery sauce, a little bit of magic happens.

Make it your magic.

I should also probably tell you that homemade pasta has never been one of my greatest strengths, so I can say with confidence that if I was able to make this with such unmitigated success then you can too.  You see, I had tried my hand at making pasta a few times before, and each time it was such a jarringly horrific experience that I had to let a few years go by to soften my memory and convince me to try again.

The first time I tried to make ravioli it was in my tiny little apartment kitchen with about 4 square feet of usable counter space. And I was rolling it out by hand.  You can guess how that went.  After about an hour of huffing and rolling you couldn’t take a step without a white puff of flour disgorging itself from the filthy floor, and there were pasta sheets draped over the coffee maker, drying on the dishrack, and hanging forlornly from the top of the fridge. Perhaps the cleanup would have been worth it if there was even a single, solitary ravioli that didn’t explode and leak cheesy filling into the cloudy boiling cooking water in the pot.

Several years later, I inherited an old hand-crank pasta maker from my parents and decided that Mike and I would make ravioli our weekend project. I had three fillings lined up, including a succulent lamb with goat cheese and fig, ground veal and prosciutto, and feta with spinach and nutmeg.  The machine had a separate ravioli attachment that I couldn’t wait to try, so we cleaned off the counter and got started with a spring in our step and hope in our stomach.  Two hours later when we were in Pasta Gulag, wrestling with sticky dough that wouldn’t push through rollers and ravioli that were seeping gummy liquid out from the side of each square, we gave up and I made a casserole instead.  When I lamented to my mother about how the pasta wouldn’t roll through, the gears kept seizing and the ravioli maker didn’t exactly seal the deal, she said, “Oh, I know. What an awful machine. That’s why we never used it…too much effort for poor results. We were so happy when you took it off our hands!”  Huh. Thanks, Mom.

It’s truly remarkable that I would want to try again after all the failed attempts at pasta making I have under my belt, but I am tenacious (or brick stupid) if nothing else.  This time, I decided that failure wasn’t an option. I spent a few hours researching pasta online and ended up even more confused.  Should I be adding water or not? This recipe says 1 egg per cup of flour, but that one uses 6 eggs for 3 cups of flour. Speaking of flour, does it have to be “00” Italian flour or specialty semolina? Where is the line between leathery and crumbly?  Good god, the questions! All the questions!

So I did what anybody would do. I made three variations with different ingredient ratios and techniques, figuring that at least one of the three would be palatable…cross my heart and hope for dinner.  As it turns out, the dough that we liked the best was actually one of the simplest, even if it was a Frankenstein dough cobbled together from remnants of about 3 other guidelines/recipes that we found online. It also helped enormously that we now have a Kitchen Aid pasta roller (yay wedding gifts! Thanks Dennis!) which was so easy to use that I was almost alarmed and confused. Homemade pasta will definitely be getting a lot more air time in our house over the next few months.

We turned some of the pasta dough into twee little spaghettini nests and made a double batch of cheese and spinach ravioli, but what we were most excited about and what I really wanted to share with you was the chicken liver ravioli with cranberry and onion marmalade. This was a rapture of decadence which actually had Mike swooning for a little while.  With a smooth and rich filling elevated by a nutty browned butter sauce infused with sage, a dollop of tangy marmalade saves the dish from being too rich and instead becomes moreish in the most dangerous way.

If you have leftover pate, don’t fret! Just try your hand at making pasta instead.

Chicken Liver Ravioli with Cranberry Onion Marmalade

Serves 6 as entree

Pasta

  • 1.25 cups sherried chicken liver pate *
  • 4 cups all purpose flour
  • 5 large eggs
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp fine semolina, plus more to dust
  • 1 tsp salt

Cranberry Onion Marmalade

  • 1.5 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 1/2 large sweet onion (1.5 cups chopped)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cinnamon stick (or 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Browned Butter and Sage

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp cooking water from the pasta
  • small bunch fresh sage (16-24 leaves)
  • salt

* This recipe will use about 3/4 of a full batch of sherried chicken liver pate.  If you prefer to purchase pate rather than making your own, go for one that is smooth, silky, elegant and spreadable. A chunkier rustic grandmère style pate is too dense and lacks the creamy complexity that this filling needs.

Mound 3.5 cups of flour on a clean work surface (set the remaining half cup aside) and use your hand to mix in the semolina and salt.  Make a large well in the center of the flour and crack the eggs into the hole. Drizzle the olive oi over the eggs.

Use a fork to whisk the eggs together and then start incorporating in flour from the inside and moving outwards to expand the circle of stickiness.

When the egg has been worked into most of the flour and things are looking scrappy, discard the fork and use your hands to bring the mass together into a ball.  Start to knead the dough, adding the additional half cup of flour as necessary to make a nice smooth dough that is supple but not sticky. The best description that I found was “dry and leathery, but not crumbly”.  That pretty much says it all.

Divide the dough into 2  equal pieces. Pat each one into a fairly flat round and wrap in plastic.  Leave the dough to rest at room temperature for 30-45 minutes, or up to 2 hours.  This is a really good time to make the cranberry and onion marmalade, but we’ll get to that in a moment….

Unwrap one of the dough rounds and cut it into 4 equal pieces.  Lightly flour one piece and wrap up the rest to keep them moist until they’re ready for use.  Run the dough through your rollers on the largest setting.  Fold it in half and run it through again. Repeat folding and running the dough through another time or two until it starts to look smooth.  Increase the thinness on your rollers and roll the dough through once, fold it in half and roll it through again.  If the dough looks uniform, continue rolling it out by decreasing the thickness until you have a long swath of fairly thin dough ready.

Using a Kitchen Aid pasta attachment, I stopped at the ‘5’ point.  If you’re rolling out the pasta by hand, do so until it is a scant 1/16″ thick, and when you hold it up to the light you can see the shadow of your hand behind it.

Lay the pasta sheet flat and cover it with a damp tea towel while you make a second sheet.

Lay one pasta sheet flat on your work surface.  Dollop on heaping teaspoonfuls of sherried chicken liver pate in little rounds about 2″ apart.  Brush the pasta sheet with water around each mound of pate to encircle it, and also along all the edges of the dough.

Lay the second sheet of pasta on top and press lengthwise going along the center to seal it and divide the two ‘rows’ of soon-to-be ravioli.  Press widthwise to separate each pair from the one next door.  Before sealing off the edges (well, really just the bottom or top edge is left), try to get as much air out of the pocket as possible. I do this by pressing around the filling and pushing the air out before sealing the two layers of dough. You want a really nice tight seal on the dough to prevent any leakage when the pasta cooks.

Use a 1 3/4″ or 2″ round cookie cutter to cut around each mound of filling and create the round ravioli.  Set the ravioli aside on parchment paper or a surface sprinkled with flour and semolina. You can cook the pasta immediately, freeze them in a single layer for up to 3 months, or let them air dry for an hour before doing either of those two things.

Now then, let’s not forget about the cranberry onion marmalade! Dice the onions and mince the garlic.  Add two tablespoons of butter to a fairly large saucepan set over low heat and when it starts to melt add the aromatics. Let the onions cook down, stirring ever 5-10 minutes or so, for about half an hour.

When the onions are golden and caramelized add the cranberries, spices, water and balsamic vinegar.  Stir to combine all the ingredients and then set a lid on the pan.  Let this simmer away for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent burning.

When the cranberries have broken down and the sauce is thickened into a nice marmalade, take the pan off the heat.  If it looks a bit runny, let it cook uncovered for a short while to thicken up.  Season the mixture with salt and pepper to taste.

Set a nice big pot of water on high heat for the ravioli.  As it begins to heat, make the brown butter and sage sauce.

Melt the butter and olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add the sage as soon as the butter is melted and let it fry until it is starting to crisp up, at which point the butter should be slightly darker in color and starting to brown.  Remove the sage with tongs or a slotted spoon (save the butter!) and set them on a paper towel to drain.  Season the fried sage with a sprinkle of salt immediately. At this point, I like to consider them “sage chips” and it takes an enormous amount of willpower to avoid eating all the garnish before the pasta is cooked.

Whisk in two tablespoons of cooking water from the pasta and stir until the sauce is uniform.  If it starts to separate, don’t panic. Just keep the heat steady and whisk away until it comes together in another minute or two.

Turn the heat down to low so that the browned butter sauce stays warm but does not continue to brown.

Season the pasta water liberally with a few tablespoons of kosher salt.  When the water is at a boil, add in the ravioli and cook them through.  If there is any air left in the filling then the ravioli will float, which is fine, but be sure to turn them over with a slotted spoon so that they cook evenly. For the fresh pasta this will only take 2-3 minutes.  If the pasta has dried for an hour or so, increase the time slightly to 3-4 minutes.  If you’re cooking the pasta from frozen at some point in the near future, add another minute or two.

Remove the ravioli from the water using a slotted spoon and land them in the browned butter sauce.  Toss the pasta around in the sauce and let it cook for just a minute or two to absorb all that delicious buttery flavor.

Serve the pasta immediately with a nice dollop of cranberry onion marmalade on the plate and sprinkle a few crispy fried sage leaves around for garnish.  Drizzle on any residual browned butter from the pan as you see fit.

Absolutely elegant and luscious, I think of this as being Pate Destiny, or the Valhalla of chicken livers.

There are times when I kind of wish that Mike and I weren’t married and all goopy-so-lovey, because I think back to when we first started dating.  I’d make him stuffed chicken, broiled fish or lamb chops for dinner, but I firmly believe that if I had only made dishes like this instead, that ring would have been on his finger a whole lot sooner. Not to complain or anything, but…yeah.

  • Susan

    You are a goddess. Please adopt me.

  • Niki

    Curse you. I need a pasta attachment for my kitchen aid now.

  • http://www.culturezest.org/home/users/detail?UserHexID=CBE37127-96B3-4C27-BEC6-4ABBDA7E3DE5 Abigail

    Thanks for the tips on pasta! Last time I attempted it tasted like PlayDoh

  • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

    Susan – you always make me blush!

    Niki – seriously, that device made a WORLD of difference! I always dreaded pasta and now can’t wait to make it again!

  • Damyen

    Elegant doesn’t begin to describe. Great work, I can almost taste the luscious pasta through my screen!