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A while ago I wrote about my search for the perfect bolognese recipe, which I admitted was still a work in progress. The bolognese recipe I put together was based on tips from chefs and cookbooks, I didn’t actually ask the person who had served me perfect bolognese for years – our friends’ grandmother, Nonna Val.

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I have very fond memories of massive feasts at Nonna Val’s house. We would be jammed around the table, the wood panelled walls decorated with photographs of the Italian soccer team. Val always served a steaming plate of bolognese with fresh pasta, a meal in itself. It was always best to hold a little hunger in reserve though, because to follow would be schnitzel, potatoes, frittata, breaded eggplant and her perfect plain green salad of iceberg lettuce doused in plenty of salt, olive oil and homemade vinegar. Then some crostoli for dessert. Understandably, we always left stuffed to the gills.

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I hadn’t eaten at Nonna Val’s for several years due to my wheat intolerance. However, Val had cause to start experimenting in gluten free pasta making when her grandson P started dating S, another friend of mine and someone else who is wheat free. Val started making gluten free gnocchi and occasionally, ravioli, although she found it difficult.

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There had been some talk for years about a cooking day with Val to learn some of her secrets of pasta making and of course, bolognese. What followed was a long day of pasta making where Val did most of the work, while we took notes, occasionally helped and drank red wine. I also brought along some spelt flour to do some experiments with making spelt ravioli. Val was delighted when she tried her hand at the spelt flour as it was something that could easily be worked with.

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As you can imagine, Val makes her ravioli by feel rather than weights and measures. We took down some very general guidelines and have since spent some time measuring the exact quantities. I have tested the recipe several times and can confidently say that the recipe to follow will produce some pretty impressive spelt ravioli and authentic bolognese. What I won’t say is that it is as good as Val’s… I’m not sure it ever will be! 

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Spinach and ricotta spelt ravioli with bolognese

With thanks to Nonna Val.
Makes about 140 ravioli.
Note: A great alternative for non-meat eaters is to serve this ravioli with a burnt butter and sage sauce.

For the bolognese
50g butter
2 tbs olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
small handful of chopped parsley
250g pork mince
250g beef mince
1 can tomatoes
700ml passata
600ml water
salt and pepper to taste
10g butter

For the ravioli

150g spinach (uncooked)
500g ricotta
handful of chopped parsley
140g powdered parmesan or 225 grated parmesan
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 eggs
1 tsp dried nutmeg or small amount of freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste

500g spelt flour
2 eggs
2 tbs olive oil
200ml water

  • Start by making the bolognese, combine the oil and butter together in a saucepan. Add the onion, garlic and parsley and cook until soft.

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  • Add the pork and beef and cook until brown. Add in the canned tomatoes, passata and water.
  • Simmer for an hour or so, until the sauce has reduced slightly (it will still be quite thin). Season to taste and add the extra 10g butter before serving.

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  • Next make the ravioli filling.
  • Cook the spinach in boiling water until soft. Drain, rinse in cold water and then squeeze out the excess water. Allow to cool and chop finely.
  • Mix the spinach, ricotta, parmesan, parsley, garlic, eggs, nutmeg and salt and pepper together. The mixture should be quite dry.
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  • To make the ravioli, place the flour on the bench. Make a well in the centre and crack the eggs in.
  • Pour in the olive oil and water and combine with your hands.
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  • Once the mixture has come together, knead it until it is elastic.

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  • Take a small amount of the pasta and pass through a pasta machine, finishing on the lowest setting. If you don’t have a pasta machine, just roll the pasta out using a rolling pin, until it is a uniform thickness. You want the pasta to be thin, but it also needs to be thick enough not to break when it is stretched over the filling. Some trial and error is needed.
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  • Once you have your dough, place small knobs of filling about 1.5 cm apart. Fold and stretch the pasta over the filling.
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  • Lightly press down between each mound of filling. Use a pastry cutter to cut across the top of each ravioli and to separate the parcels.
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  • Place the finished ravioli on a table covered in cloth.

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  • Continue re-rolling the dough and making more ravioli until you run out of dough or filling.
  • To serve, quickly cook in salted boiling water until al dente – it won’t take long. Spoon a small amount of bolognese over and serve immediately with extra parmesan cheese. Enjoy!

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10 Responses to “A lesson from Nonna Val: spinach and ricotta spelt ravioli with bolognese”

  1. Hannah says:

    It’s a deep misery in my life that I don’t have an Italian nonna – not even a friend’s one to steal for an afternoon. I say keep learning this lovely woman’s secrets and sharing them with the rest of us! 😛

    • Emily says:

      I know. Though I would love to be greedy and have several authentic grannies – a Greek Yia-Yia, a Chinese grandma, Mexican, Indian… the list goes on! But yes, I am very lucky to have access to Val and her deliciousness!

  2. Reemski says:

    Oh god. It’s 11am and I’m drooling all over my desk. Nothing better than fresh homemade pasta…*sigh*

    • Emily says:

      Yep it’s seriously awesome and keeps so well in the freezer. I’ve taken to making mountains of the stuff and freezing it – perfect for a night when cooking is too hard!

  3. Phoodie says:

    A friend just sent me the link to your blog. i ABSOLUTELY adore it! Your pictures are gorgeous and I love all your recipes! Escpecially the cake ones! Congrats!

    • Emily says:

      Thanks for visiting! I do love some sweet things so there is always a lot of treats on this blog!! Must make an effort to do more savoury cooking!

  4. Carmel says:

    A fitting tribute to Nonna Val. Wonderful to finally have instructions to make her ravioli. Now all we need is the crostoli recipe. Carmel

    • Emily says:

      Perhaps we can do the crostoli again another day, though crostoli isn’t really my favourite… I think a gnocchi day would be a winner!

  5. Beth says:

    I made the bolognese on the weekend and it was breathtakingly good – so easy, but by far the best bolognese to come out of my kitchen. I used a cherry tomato sauce from the Essential Ingredient for the passata (it was pretty much passata, but which some olive oil and chilli included, which gave it a bit of kick). Just amazing. This recipe will go into high rotation in the kitchen of Casa de Crilly-Bird, no doubt about it.

    • Emily says:

      Wonderful that you gave it a go and liked it. It’s a super easy and delicious recipe and it freezes beautifully – perfect to have in the freezer!

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