Celebrating the Unusual

August 12, 2013

Sometimes making dinner decisions is really easy for me.  I crave something and I make it.  Maybe I get the recipe from one of my many sources, sometimes I make it up.  Often times I am inspired by produce at the markets, or by a dish I had in a restaurant, or something I saw on a menu, or a dish described to me by my mother or a friend.  And then there are times when I get stuck.  I page through my books and nothing pops out for me.  Cooking dinner looms as a chore, not the thing I look forward to each evening.  That is when I turn to Heidi Swanson.

If you read my blog, chances are you also read Heidi’s as well and you might even have one or both of her cookbooks.  She is a very talented woman from whom I have pulled inspiration for years.  An amazing photographer and a healthy and inventive cook is a pretty compelling combination.  The reason I turn to her when I am stuck is her tendency toward the unusual.  I’m a good cook and I often create my own recipes but I don’t think I have the flair that Heidi does.  I often find things in her ingredient lists that I would never think to put together and what I have found is that the unusual, when left to her capable hands, always works.

This dish takes ravioli and Middle Eastern harissa and marries them together with some of my favorite ingredients – broccoli, oil-cured olives, and good feta.  I bought some plump fresh spinach and ricotta mini ravioli (raviolini?) and patted myself on the back for being a good wife and making a dish that provide leftovers for Randy’s dinner the next night.  Except that, between the two of us, we finished the whole platter.  Two notes on the platter.  First, use one instead of a bowl.  Heidi instructs you to mix the cooked pasta with the broccoli and the harissa oil in a bowl, but mine were tiny and delicate and I just knew a toss would destroy too many of them.  On the platter, everything can be laid out and the sauce drizzled over top.  Second, the one you see in the photos belonged to my great-grandmother Lena.  I always thought I would name a daughter after her but alas, I have two boys.

A few notes on ingredients.  Harissa can be found in well-stocked grocery stores.  It usually comes in a jar and can be found on either the international food aisle or the condiment aisle near the olives.  Speaking of olives – oil cured olives can sometimes be found in jars but are easier to seek out at an olive bar.  They are very black and wrinkly and are my favorite olive.  You could always substitute kalamata.  Finally, as I will say whenever I talk about feta cheese, buy the good stuff in a brick, not the pre-crumbled stuff.  I’ve always been happy with Mt. Vikos brand but there are other good ones out there.

One Year Ago:  Blackberry Buttermilk Cake, Cilantro Scallion Bread
Two Years Ago:  Grilled Onion Guacamole, Double Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie
Three Years Ago:  Lavender and Honey Tea Cakes, Polenta with Corn, Tomatoes, and Basil,
Four Years Ago:  Cheese Balls Three Ways, Rosemary and Walnut Paté, Melon Soup with Cucumber Chile Ice
Five Years Ago:  Olive and Jarlsberg Sandwich, Farro with Green Beans and Corn

Harissa Ravioli
Adapted from Super Natural Everyday
Serves 4 (not in my house)

This is super close to the recipe in the book.  My little tweaks were more lemon and less oil in the dressing and more olives, plus the platter and not bowl.

1 clove garlic, smashed
¼ tsp. fine-grain sea salt
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsp. harissa
3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
12 ounces fresh or frozen ravioli or tortellini
8 ounces broccoli florets, trimmed into bite-size pieces
¼ cup pepitas, sliced almonds, or pine nuts, toasted
Scant ¼ cup crumbled feta cheese
8 oil-cured black olives

Bring a large pot of water to boil.  In the meantime, make the harissa oil.  Sprinkle the smashed garlic clove with the salt and chop into a paste.  Transfer it to a small bowl and stir in the lemon juice, harissa, and olive oil.  Taste and add more salt, if needed.

When the water boils, salt it generously, add the ravioli, and boil until they float and are cooked through, usually 1 or 2 minutes.  About 30 seconds before the ravioli has finished cooking, add the broccoli to the pot, boil for the remaining time, then drain.

Lay the ravioli and broccoli out on a platter and drizzle generously with the harissa oil.  Scatter the pepitas over top, followed by the olives and feta cheese.  Drizzle with more oil if desired.


  1. I feel similarly about Heidi…everything I make of hers is always amazing but there’s also always something a bit unusual, or that I never would have thought of, tucked into it. I mean..harissa and ravioli?! Who’dve thunk it?!

    Comment by Joanne — August 13, 2013 @ 2:26 am

  2. I have made this a couple of times. It is so good. I will try your way next time… one can never have too much lemon.

    Comment by Cathy — August 13, 2013 @ 6:09 pm

  3. Thanks for sharing Heidi’s blog – her photography is beautiful! And I will be making your White Chocolate Almond Chunk Cookies this weekend!

    Comment by Emily — August 13, 2013 @ 6:26 pm

  4. Lovely dish, I like unusual combinations. Heidi does have a broccoli pesto that is quite good. The other day I “improvised” on a pasta concoction that was… let’s say… not happy.

    I used broccoli, ricotta, roasted red bell peppers – the ingredients were good to start with, but I think I abused them (sigh)

    I guess we win some, we lose some.

    Your recipe is clearly a winner… ;-)

    Comment by sallybr — August 13, 2013 @ 6:28 pm

  5. Looks delicious. Love yours and Heidi’s blogs!

    Comment by jamie @ arugulaholic — September 4, 2013 @ 2:52 pm

  6. WHere are you…come back!

    Comment by Lori — September 10, 2013 @ 9:24 pm

  7. I know it’s been forever Lori. Will be back tomorrow!

    Comment by dana — September 10, 2013 @ 11:45 pm

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