Words: Shamim de Brún
Images: George Voronov
Eating at Sprezzatura lately is a joy because there’s always something new to try. Is it starting to get cold? They hit us with Carbonara. Looking for ragu, but next level? Gr remix is called to you by name. This week you’re looking for buttery sweetness but in pasta form; well, Boy George, do they have a special for you?
Collaboration like this series of specials in aid of the Dublin Simon Community is fundamental to the evolution of the Irish food scene. I’ve written before about how Dublin is ripe for cross-pollination. Here Sprezzatura is picking perfectly ripe fruit to make some good squishy.
This week’s special is a collab with Gráinne Mullins that serves a savoury ravioli with just a touch of sweetness. Pasta is all about patience. So too is pastry, so this collab with Ireland’s chocolate darling is more appropriate than it seems on the surface.
Grá chocolate is one of the biggest success stories of pandemic-era Ireland. Chef Grannie was laid off like most of the industry and, while convalescing at her childhood home, started making chocolates for friends and family. Many said they would pay good money for boxes of these sweet treats. So she leaned into it and, brick by brick, built what could be considered a chocolate empire now.
She has a permanent shop in Brown Thomas that makes seasonal, limited edition hand-painted chocolates. But she herself is more than the sum of Grá. Gráinne is a former winner of young chef of the year whose days still revolve around getting excited about what she will make for dinner.
In an interview with CHAR about this special, she talks so passionately about her love for cooking it’s clear that through all her business success, she has never lost her passion for the kitchen.
In her prep for this week’s special, she thought about going full sweet pasta. Which is a thing that is not popular. But, ultimately, she landed on the savoury side of the line because sweet pasta“ felt a bit too obscure. She also “wasn’t sure if people would want to buy it”. In essence, that is important because the mandate behind this pasta was to support the Simon Community. She said she settled on this playful autumnal ravioli because “that’s a recipe that (she) absolutely loves already”.
Ravioli is a fun choice. The dish has a long, rich and debated history and comes in as many permutations as you can think of, especially in the era of the air fryer.
Ravioli was first mentioned in letters written by Italian merchant Francesco di Marco Datini in the fourteenth century. A ravioli recipe was also found in a 14th-century cookbook in Venice.
Historians say the word ‘ravioli’ comes from the Italian word riavvolgere, meaning ‘to wrap’. There is, however, a theory that ravioli came from Genova sailors who would wrap leftovers into a pocket-sized dough ball. A competing theory is that ravioli started as a more minor part of a bigger dish, called torta, before going on to become a separate dish. There is also talk that the pasta was named after the chef who first invented the meal.
I consider ravioli a dumpling because it is, in essence, a filling sealed between two layers of thin dough that becomes pasta. Around the world, Italian ravioli has culinary sisters in other cultures. For example, in Jewish cuisine, Kreplach is a pocket of meat filling covered with pasta. In addition, there are many similarities between Italian ravioli and particular Chinese dumplings. In India, the dish gujiya is similar to ravioli, except it has a sweet filling rather than savoury.
As with all internationally marketable foods these days, it has its own day. Internationally, March 20 is Ravioli Day. When a good ravioli is on the tip of your fork, you’re definitely not thinking about its history. Instead, you’re gonna be thinking about what it tastes like.
This specific dish itself has been in development for a while. Sprezzatura reached out to their featured guests to make this list of specials two months before the launch, so there was time to prep and practise before the unveiling. While some came in a little off the wall and quite complicated, this one is the essence of sweet and simple. The fun, tasty plate is full of autumnal flavours that will make any pumpkin spice fan rethink their allegiance.
This special comprises butternut squash and Kylemore farmhouse cheese in a browned sage butter sauce in a lip-smackingly good dish that comes in less than fifteen euros, with all proceeds going to the Simon Community.
The pasta of a pastry chef has a touch of sweetness and a lot of butter and is perfectly portioned. Kylemore farmhouse cheese is an artisanal cheese made at the same farm the cows wander on and has become a much sought-after number by chefs across the country. Combine this all and the plate comes together like I suppose a buttery fudge does; every bike is a silky, velvety mouth full of buttery goodness.
The sheen of the pasta was more inviting than a Hogwarts Letter, and tucking in felt like a rite of passage. The flavours were exciting and not typical for ravioli. Butternut squash is not merely a vegetable. When cooked well, it becomes as silky, and creamy as a sauce. The filling in this ravioli straddles the line between stuffing and sauce like an expert tightrope walker.
In an interview with CHAR about the process involved, she said this recipe came to her from her kitchen. It’s a play on something she would cook regularly herself. Having known many chefs who never cook for themselves, knowing this seems almost too personal. Getting to taste something a chef cooks for themselves is a practically voyeuristic pleasure. It tastes like the comfort of your own home on a rainy day. The kind of simple pleasure we can all relate to.
Cooking can be freeing for people who bake. However, baking is the science of cooking, and it can be as rigid as your junior cert theorems with no wiggle room. For example, Grainne said,” for pastries, I always measure everything. But when it comes to cooking traditional food, I’m just enjoying what was there and try not to be so focused on measuring and calculating. So it’s more about flavour.”
There were, of course, refinements to be made, but the essence of this special is in the seasonal flavour of the butternut squash. Like many Italians before her, Gráinne was inspired by her mother. “My mom, she grows pumpkins and butternut squash in her garden”, so it’s nice to have something a bit more authentic and genuinely Irish as well.”
The flavour combo works harder than a lipsynch assassin trying to get the final of Ru Paul’s Drag Race. Butter ties everything together but making it a brown sage butter is like taking it straight from Charmander to Charizard. Skipping the awkward teenage years. She said, “the pine nuts as a little bit of sweetness”. The brown butter adds a charming coating so you “get that lovely salty note on the outside before you break into the inside, which has that nice sweet feeling”. In the cheesiness, you get a touch of salt that’s something close to genius. So yeah, it’s kind of a tasty flavour. That’s quite unique, but I think the brown body really elevates it and brings up nothing else in the squash on the stage.”
As dishes go, Gráinne’s Ravioli is an ideal representation of what Sprezzatura does. This is the kind of collab I think Dublin is rife for the making. We can’t wait to see what the cross-pollination of Irish culinary creatives brings us next.
The Butternut Squash Ravioli by Gráinne Mullin’s is available in both Sprezzatura locations till Thursday, September 28. So get in, and don’t miss out.
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