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I think it's best to come to Venice as a dry sponge. It's the kind of city that could easily overwhelm you, but if you embrace the crowds, the noise, and the fact that you'll be perpetually lost, Venice will saturate you with astonishing beauty, a deep sense of history: pure wonder.
It still makes me laugh, thinking of how frustrated I felt on our first day. We had a map, after all, we just couldn't seem to find anything with it. But as we emerged from one of a dozen dead ends, we began to realize that this was an important part of the experience. Without these detours, we would have missed the scent of bread baking that spilled from an open window, the colorful clothes that billowed on lines above, the impossibly tall walls that obscured landmarks and the narrow passages where you never knew what you would discover.
In the middle of our stay, I commented about a ride on the Vaporetto:
We look around at our fellow passengers; we can tell the ones who arrived today. They stare out in awe, their mouths gaping. Soon their faces will be buried in maps. We feel sympathy for them; now, we are lost only most of the time.
When I started looking around for a Venetian recipe to share with you, I came across these Beet Raviolis with Poppy Seeds (Casunziei all'ampezzana) and thought they were perfect. The recipe is by Emiko Davies who is a constant source of inspiration to me.
This is a quick version of the ravioli, using egg roll wrappers for the pasta and pulsing the filling in the food processor. I used egg roll wrappers instead of the wonton size, because, as I've lamented before, often raviolis taste more of pasta than what they're filled with.
If you don't eat all of these, they freeze beautifully, just be sure not to make the filling too thick in the center. When you boil them, slide them frozen into simmering water and you'll know they're done when they float to the top.
Beet Ravioli with Butter and Poppy Seeds
- 1 ½ pounds fresh beets washed and quartered, about 3 beets
- ½ pound potatoes scrubbed, about 2 potatoes
- 2 cloves garlic smashed and peeled
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- generous pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
- generous pinch of ground cloves
- 12 egg roll wrappers
- 1 egg beaten
- ½ cup butter (1 stick)
- 2 teaspoons poppy seeds
- 3 ounces grated Parmesan cheese
- To make the filling, place beets in a saucepan and add enough cold water to cover. Bring to boil over medium heat and cook for 20 minutes. Add potatoes to beets, adding more water if needed to cover, and bring to boil. Boil for 20 to 25 minutes more until vegetables are tender. Drain.
- While the potatoes are warm, peel them and cut into quarters. Add potatoes and beets to food processor - pulse until smooth and combined.
- Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium-low heat. When warm, add smashed garlic cloves. Add beet mixture to skillet; cook and stir 10 minutes until mixture is thick and bubbly. Season to taste with salt, pepper, nutmeg and cloves. Remove and discard garlic. Allow mixture to cool completely. (You can do this a day ahead of time. Refrigerate mixture until ready to use.)
- To assemble the ravioli, lay a single egg roll wrapper on a work surface. Brush edges with beaten egg. Place two heaping teaspoons of filling just off center, toward a bottom corner - be sure to leave ½-inch of the edge bare so that the filling doesn't spill out when cooking. Smooth filling to an even layer. Fold the wrapper into a triangle, lifting a top corner and lining it up with the opposite bottom corner. Firmly press all edges to seal. Using a ravioli sealer or the tines of a fork, press the edges again to secure the seal. Set finished ravioli aside, uncovered, on lightly floured work surface. Repeat with remaining egg roll wrappers.
- Cook ravioli, no more than 6 at a time, in gently simmering, salted water until they float, 3 to 4 minutes. You'll want to gently stir the ravioli occasionally to keep them from sticking together.
- While ravioli cook, melt butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat.
- When ravioli are done, transfer with a slotted spoon to serving plates. Drizzle each serving with melted butter, and sprinkles of poppy seeds and grated Parmesan cheese.