Mario Batali’s Duck Liver Ravioli Recipe (without the Duck Liver)

by Jason Roth on September 17, 2009

The duck liver ravioli recipe in Martio Batali’s Babbo Cookbook is a good guide to a basic ravioli.

The final product. (Didn't oversauce! A freakin' miracle.)

The final product. (Didn't oversauce! A freakin' miracle.)

When the recipe name includes “duck liver”, you might find this surprising. However, it contains some good ideas to riff on and is served with a unique sauce that must be the easiest sauce on the planet to make. Also, it’s a huge pain in the ass to locate a whole lobe of foie gras within a hundred yards of your kitchen. The recipe becomes “basic” by process of elimination.

My wife and I love mushrooms, and their meaty quality works great in ravioli. But the recipe calls for about half duck livers and half foie gras. No mushrooms. Therefore, it’s in with the mushrooms, out with the duck liver. I can’t say goodbye to the foie gras that easily, though, even if I’m not planning on picking up a lobe or two. But we couldn’t quite justify the price of any form of foie gras to mix into this ravioli, so a second substitution was in order. Fortunately, it just so happens that our local cheese shop also sells goose liver pâté (around $12-$13/lb.), so we picked up a quarter pound. (The Batali recipe includes a suggestion for substituting the foie gras for fois gras terrine.)

I browned the mushrooms (Colicchio style, with high heat and without crowding the pan) along with the red onion specified in the recipe. Batali had also called for using red wine with the duck liver, and I wanted to preserve that flavor. But I knew that if I just poured in the wine, the mushrooms would sop it up and not brown properly. So, I cooked the mushrooms first, removed them from the pan, then deglazed the pan with the wine. When very little liquid was left, I threw the mushrooms back in, mixed quickly, and removed. I got a little of the wine flavor, plus picked up the browned mushroom and onion bits which helped to enhance the flavor. (In the midst of winging it, I forgot the red pepper flakes, but added them later to the puréed mixture.)

The stuffing: cooked and roughly puréed mushrooms with goose liver pâté.

The stuffing: cooked and roughly puréed mushrooms with goose liver pâté.

I puréed the mushrooms, added salt and pepper, and then mixed in the chopped up goose liver pâté by hand. I started with close to a pound and a half of raw mushrooms, so ended up needing all 4 oz. of goose liver in order to get the right (pasty) consistency. Unfortunately, that meant having a little filling leftover which went unused. (I thought it was a little over the top to add the butter that Batali calls for at this stage, so I skipped it.)

For the basic pasta recipe, I opted for the Babbo Cookbook version rather than the Molto Italiano version. The former calls for a little olive oil, whereas the latter just asks you knead the dough until your goddamn arms fall off. I opted for the lazy option. Ultimately, the dough did get a little too sticky, but I don’t think it was because of the oil. I think it was the quantity of egg yolks. I was using small eggs, and the recipe called for 4 extra-large eggs (to 3 1/2 or 4 cups flour and 1/2 tsp. olive oil). The one additional egg I added was smart; the second one not as much. Still, and I offer this as advice to anyone making pasta for the first time, I’d much prefer my pasta to be too sticky than too dry. When you’re done kneading your pasta and ready to wrap it in plastic to let sit, make sure it’s a good, soft, slightly sticky consistency. If it’s too dry, it’s going to fall apart when you press it. One other thing: the instructions with your pasta machine should mention this, but be sure to run the past through the machine at multiple thicknesses, starting with the thickest and working down. This is a necessary part of the kneading process and seems to help the pasta hold together. For this ravioli, I finished on the thinnest setting.

The idea was to cut the pressed pasta into rectangles and place on a “scant tablespoon” of the mushroom-liver mixture. Sometimes I succeeded, sometimes not.

Apart from the botched shape and too much stuffing, I was on the right track. Sort of.

Apart from the botched shape and too much stuffing, I was on the right track. Sort of.

You have to understand that I have a tendency to add more of whatever it is, in cooking or outside of cooking, and assume that more is better. I repeatedly discover that this is not necessarily the case. Fortunately, the ravioli will tell you very clearly before you cook it that you’ve put in too much filling: it gets smushed out the sides while you’re trying to fold it. So, you might make a mess at first, but it’ll come out eventually. If the edges of the pasta aren’t sticking when you pinch them, wet your fingers slightly.

Edges could have been neater, but they held together. Maybe too much dough on the sides.

Edges could have been neater, but they held together. Maybe too much dough on the sides. Ok, I'm not an artist, for Christ's sake. Just look at the one on the left. I'm proud of that one.

The sauce is the amazing part, and not as unhealthy as it’s going to sound: half balsamic vinegar, half butter. It’s actually a good lesson in not oversaucing, because if you make a lot, you’re pretty conscious of the fact that you’d be giving yourself a heart attack. All that’s necessary is a tablespoon, maybe one and a half, of each. Melt the butter, wait for the foam to subside, then add good balsamic vinegar. Reduce to a syrupy consistency, and hold in the pan until the ravioli are done. Throw the ravioli in the pan, coat, and you’re good to go. Throw a little chopped, fresh parsley on top, grated Parmesan, and serve. The sauce, sweet and slightly tart (only slightly if you use good balsamic) makes a great contrast to the savory pasta filling.

To accompany the ravioli, I cut up some tomatoes, a little mozzarella, drizzled on more balsamic, and some fresh basil.

Easy appetizer with fresh, windowsill basil.

Easy tomato salad with fresh basil.

I highly recommend giving fresh pasta a try if you haven’t already. It’s not nearly as much work as you expect, and gets a lot easier the more you do it. Nevertheless, the amazing part is that even after plating the dishes, there was something especially satisfying about the fact that the basil for the tomatoes came from the planter on my windowsill.


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