I love making ravioli. Love it. Namely because, it’s methodic and yields a beautiful result (and is therefore to me, relaxing), it involves time-proven techniques, and, I’ll be honest, it’s gratifying when you set down a restaurant-quality dish, both visually and gastronomically, that you’ve just cranked out yourself. The last part might be the most secretly satisfying because there is a huge secret. It’s really pretty easy to make. Since I love it so, I am hereby starting a small series on the dish, starting today with notes on making the pasta itself, the process of adding the filling and making the shapes. Paul introduced me to homemade ravioli long ago (our first result was about as delicate as a boiled empanada) since then I have improved and with practice have been able to master this particular pasta. I am excited to share what I’ve learned over years of making homemade ravioli, and hopefully help reduce the barrier to entry!
Wait what barrier to entry? Well, it can seem complicated, like it will take forever and make a big mess, not to mention the fresh pasta options in the grocery story can be really good, and a *lot* faster. And I won’t sugar coat it, making homemade ravioli is time-consuming. That said, there are several degrees of make-ahead that can help optimize the process. Plus, with the right recipe you can make quite a bit of it and it freezes very well, so you can turn it for a low stress special treat. And guess what – the store bought fresh pasta option is nine times out of ten going to be frozen, and can get pretty expensive. Also re store bought: it’s just not as good, no matter how good it is. And it’s nice to be in charge of what’s in the filling. As for the messy part – it’s no more messy than any other recipe involving dough or batter.
In terms of the make-ahead components, they are two-fold, both related to the filling. Let’s say you’re making roasted carrot ravioli. You’ve got to roast the carrots, sauté some shallots, measure out a little half and half, and blend them all together. Well, there is no rule against roasting the carrots one day and proceeding with the rest of the recipe the next. For example you could roast a dish of carrots for the ravioli next to the chicken you’re roasting for tonight’s dinner, or just pop them in the oven while you’re doing something else nearby. The roasted carrots are then ready and can be stored in the fridge for a day or two until you’re ready to proceed. Tangentially, it is almost always possible to prepare the entire filling recipe a day before you complete the ravioli.
The pasta dough can’t really be made ahead unfortunately, because it will dry out. This is part of why homemade ravioli takes time – assembly of the dough ingredients all the way through ravioli completion has to be done in one go. The dough can be perplexing at first because it starts out so crumbly, after just a few ingredients are pulsed together in the food processor:
But what becomes apparent very quickly is how well it holds together. Simply pressing that pile of crumbs together a few times will have you well on your way. Take your hands on each side of the pile and firmly press the crumbs together, and almost immediately the pile becomes a clump that can then be shaped into a ball.
Where you go from the dough ball takes a little practice, but even more so, confidence. The hand-cranked rollers that most home cooks use to make pasta could’t be easier to operate, but handling the dough as it passes through the rollers can be tricky. The working components of the gadget below are two parallel stainless steel rollers, a lever that controls how far apart the rollers are, and a hand crank. When you first start, the two rollers are at their furthest possible distance apart. As you continue to feed the pasta dough through the rollers, they are adjusted gradually to become closer together, so that the dough is rolled out into an increasingly thinner sheet.
The number one reason making homemade ravioli can be tricky is that the dough can get jammed up while rolling through the pasta rollers. Ensuring smooth sailing really starts with getting the first pass lined up correctly. Once you’ve got your dough ball, it is sliced into four equal pieces, and you proceed with one piece at a time. To ensure that it makes the first pass, the dough must be pressed as thin as you can get it with your hand, but not so wide that it will catch on the edges of the pasta crank. Once it’s passed through the first time, you’ll have a thick slab of dough, which gets folded into thirds (as in the photo above), pressed again by hand and then rolled through the crank again. That process is repeated one last time before you then graduate to the next smallest setting. The pasta roller in the photos above has six size grades, and the dough shown above that’s in the machine is in the middle of the pass through the narrowest (the sixth) opening. As you can see, it is sturdy and holding up just fine. This is because I took care during the initial passes to keep the size of the slab uniform. If it gets off on the wrong foot, start over.
As the dough thins out it also by design gets longer. I place a cookie sheet right next to the crank so that I can guide the pasta out onto the sheet. As you can see I let it pile up some, stopped about 2/3 of the way through to spread it out, and continued.
Because the pasta gets dry very quickly, I complete the process of filling and stamping the ravioli as the sheets are made, one by one. Therefore the next step after a pasta sheet is completed is to go to the ravioli press. It is made of two parts, one is a plastic mold with indentations for where the filling goes, the other is the metal form that stamps out the shapes. The best method I’ve found is to set half the sheet of pasta I’ve just rolled out down on the plastic part, and gently press the sheet down into the indentations, working two at a time. Then I add the filling to the indent, and smooth the pasta around it out as best I can, and continue down the mold working two by two, eventually adding filling to all the indentations. Then, I carefully line up the metal template and press down as hard as I can. When the template is removed, the individual raviolis are stamped out, and things are starting to get fun.
Many times the dough is cohesive enough to where the metal press does not actually cut through all the way, and trying to pull the pieces apart as if they were perforated paper causes them to stretch out and generally get ruined. That’s where the fluted roller comes in. Simply trace it over the lines and the dough gives way. (I do this right on the mold, if you turn the pasta out onto the counter first, be sure to dust some semolina on the work surface to avoid sticking.) It’s also possible to freestyle the whole thing and only use the fluted roller, however I find that it’s harder to get the air out of each pocket when working freehand. The uniformity created by the mold can be nice too.
It’s of course satisfying to cook some of the raviolis and enjoy them right away. This recipe makes ton, and as mentioned they freeze really well. What works best is to take an airtight container and line it with parchment paper, then place one layer of ravioli down, and cover with another sheet of parchment, layering as you fill the container. This prevents the pasta from sticking to the container or itself. Sprinkling a little semolina as you go will also make them easier to remove later. Seal tightly and freeze for up to a month.
There are several recipes for homemade pasta. The one below is from Food & Wine’s October 2010 issue and has been very reliable.
Intro to Homemade Ravioli
Hands-On Time: About 1 & 1/2 Hours
Special Equipment: Food Processor, Hand Cranked Pasta Roller, Hand Held Fluted Pasta Roller
- 2 Cups All Purpose Flour
- 1/2 Tsp Salt
- 1 Tbsp Semolina Flour, plus more for work surface
- 3 Large Eggs (Not Extra Large)
- 1 Tablespoon EVOO
- Pinch Nutmeg (Optional)
- In the food processor, pulse the flours, salt and nutmeg to mix.
- Add the eggs and pulse to throughly incorporate, until the mixture is like sand.
- With the processor running, add the olive oil in a steady stream. Mix until the oil is evenly incorporated. At this point the dough will still be sandy.
- Dump the to-be-formed dough onto a work surface. Push the pile of crumbs together, firmly gathering up the pile. When a clump forms, firmly form the dough into a ball. Do not over-knead.
- Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let sit for thirty minutes.
- Then, cut the dough into four equal pieces. Work with one piece at a time, and leave the others in the plastic wrap.
- Press the portion of dough into an oval shaped disk as evenly and thinly as you can using your hand. (Using a rolling pin can cause it to break unevenly and get overworked.)
- Pass the flattened dough through the pasta rollers on the widest setting. Fold the sheet into thirds, then pass through again, and repeat the folding and rolling once more.
- Pass the dough through each setting, working through each progressively smaller setting, until is is passed through the smallest setting.
- Cut the pasta sheet in half and place one half on the ravioli mold. Place filling accordingly, then, stamp out the shapes. If necessary use the hand held roller to trace over the pattern to cut the dough all the way through.
- Refrigerate and serve same day, or, freeze for up to one month.