If you could encapsulate the essence of Canadian cuisine in a single dish, this would probably be it. More than any other, Canada is a place where menus are as varied in language as they are in entrees. This country is the planet’s true, strong, and free home of the multiethnic melting pot that our dinners are born in, and the sweet potato pasta reflects an Italian slice of our past that is essential in defining our nation. We are English, French, Scottish, Indian, Chinese, Christian, Muslim, Jew, and a journey through our restaurants is as much a journey through the fine and interwoven roots of our heritage. That said, there is one thing, more than any other, that defines the soul of our cuisine. Indeed, it is impossible, and possibly reckless, to speak of a Canadian culinary legacy without mentioning the dish that has inspired not only generations of patriots both red and blue, but decades of cardiology research. Poutine. Inventing the heart attack on a plate probably ranks somewhere below Justin Bieber and seal clubbing on our list of achievements, but it would take bypass surgery and an inflexible insurance provider to stop us from packing our arteries full of it.
Still, every once in a while you don’t necessarily need a full order of triple fried chips covered in a river of thick gravy and topped with cheese curd for lunch. For those days you can take comfort in a calorie reduced sweet potato poutine ravioli.
Sweet Potato Poutine Ravioli
450 g sweet potato (approximately two medium sweet potatoes)
700 g all purpose flour (or your favourite blend of pasta flour)
4 eggs (2 whole, 2 yolks)
100 g cheese curd (squeaky cheese)
200 g finely chopped bacon
100 mL demi-glace
100 mL olive oil
2 tbsp crushed fried onion
2 tsp crushed fried garlic
2 tbsp finely chopped chives
250 mL sour cream
freshly ground pepper
Turn the oven to 350ºC and cut two sweet potatoes in half. Brush each side with olive oil, place on a baking sheet and cook for 50 minutes until tender. Set aside to cool. Now cook the bacon on medium to high heat until brown, giving a healthy tip of the Maillard hat to top off the savoury pork with a dash of nutty, smoky flavour. Set aside for later. Prepare the oil dressing by combining the olive oil with the onion and garlic and seasoning with a good dose of pepper and salt. Set that aside as well.
Now begins the ravioli dough. This isn’t so difficult if you have made bread or pie dough before and have a handle on the basics of preparing, resting, and rolling your dough. If you have never attempted any of these before there is still no need for panic, just remember that the key is getting a thin, even dough that has well developed gluten networks that will provide a firm, yet elastic sheet. If there is one step that tends to be challenging, it is an underestimation of the amount of time needed to “rest” the dough. During this process the glutenin and gliadin proteins that form what we call gluten will relax and re-orient one another as old bonds break and new bonds form between them. This allows the gluten network to not only strengthen, but increase its elasticity. Trying to save time by skipping this process and going straight to the pasta rolling and filling will mean you will end up with a poor pasta dough that is stiff and breaks easily.
Scrape the flesh from the sweet potatoes and form a pile with a hole in the middle (or volcano, as Nina enjoys calling it), either on a large flat prep surface or mixing bowl. Fill with four eggs and mix together by hand. Now add the flour in batches, mixing to create a firm, pliable dough. Knead with folding for about 3 minutes, then leave for 30 minutes in a covered bowl at room temperature. After this time you can also save the dough in the fridge for up to 24 hours before continuing. Take half of the dough and work it into a thin sheet on a lightly floured work surface, gently stretching it, flipping it and sprinkling lightly with flour from time to time. The sheet should become so thin that you can begin to make out the texture of your work surface, about 2 mm thick. You now have a few options. If you have a ravioli mould then you can use that to prepare your ravioli, otherwise you can use a glass or cookie cutter cut out forms that you will stuff with the bacon, cheese curd, and demi-glace. Repeat with the second portion of pasta dough.
Once you have placed your filling inside the pasta you will need to cover with another sheet and press the rims closed to a thickness of 2 mm to give a uniformly thick ravioli. Place the ravioli on a silicon mat, tray, or lightly floured piece of cling film until ready to cook. They can be saved in the refrigerator for 48 hours at this point if you are preparing in advance, just take care not to crush or break them. When ready, cook in a large pot of boiling, salted water for 2-3 minutes and remove with a slotted spoon. Cover in the oil dressing and top with sour cream and chives. Serve hot.
Does this put Canada on the map?