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As far back as I can remember, my freezer's always been stocked with ravioli. Like instant ramen, Easy Mac, and canned soup, it's a perfect last-minute meal for those evenings when you're just too tired, lazy, or broke to head to the supermarket and pick up fresh ingredients. But the difference between prepackaged ravioli and the tender, thin-skinned homemade stuff is about as drastic as that between instant ramen and real-deal tonkotsu ramen; Easy Mac and the best stovetop mac and cheese; canned cream-of-mushroom and a rich, complex bowl of homemade chanterelle soup. Sometimes, the store-bought stuff will do. And sometimes only the real deal will suffice.
Luckily, fresh homemade ravioli also happens to be easy to freeze (assuming, unlike me, you don't eat it all), so there's no reason why you can't enjoy it on even the laziest of evenings. It's also incredibly simple to make, especially if you have a handy (and cheap!) ravioli maker or ravioli cutter to streamline the process.
If you're entirely new to working with pasta, you may want to pause here and pay a quick visit to our complete guide to making fresh pasta. Otherwise, just know that the only ingredients you'll need to make your own ravioli is the filling of your choice (more on that in a bit), along with all-purpose flour, eggs, and salt. It's also handy to have a rolling pin and a hand-cranked pasta-maker or stand-mixer attachment. Either one can be a bit of an investment, but if you use it regularly, it'll save you a lot of money in the long run.
While making ravioli may be relatively easy, it's also the kind of technique that you can hone and develop with time. Get creative with fillings and sauces, try different shapes (there are stamps in all shapes and sizes), or give the esteemed, runny egg yolk-filled uovo da raviolo a go.*
*We'll be getting to that one next week, so stay tuned!
I've included two relatively traditional recipes to get you started. One is for a sweet and funky butternut squash and blue cheese-stuffed ravioli, served in a brown butter sauce with frizzled sage. The other is for a classic ricotta ravioli, which gets some tang from Parmesan cheese, a tart squeeze of lemon juice, and a subtle hit of nutmeg. You could also easily use the mushroom filling I made for my tortellini. But no matter what combination of filling and sauce you go with, there are a few rules of thumb to keep in mind when it comes to making ravioli.
- The dough is just as important as the filling: Most store-bought ravioli suffer from thick, gummy skins that lack the tender, translucent elasticity of their handmade brethren.
- Avoid watery fillings: Fillings that have too much cream, butter, oil, or stock come out watery and loose, and can make your dough too sticky to handle.
- Make your filling flavorful and use lots of it: Creating your own delicious filling is one of the main advantages to making it from scratch—your filling should taste good enough to eat on its own with a spoon. And once you have that perfect filling, don't hold back! You want to the dough to be stuffed until it's stretched pretty tight for the right balance of filling to pasta.
- Watch out for air bubbles, but also accept that a little air is inevitable: Be sure to press out as much air as you can, regardless of the method you're using. But also know that, especially early on, you'll probably wind up with some bubbles. And guess what? Your ravioli will survive.
Okay, so you know the basics. Let's get the party started.
First things first, you'll want to mix your dough and wrap it up tightly in plastic to rest. Meanwhile, you can prepare your filling. You'll want to use about one tablespoon of filling for each ravioli; if you're comfortable eyeballing the amount, you can use a pastry bag (or a ziplock bag with one corner snipped off) since it's a little faster and neater. Otherwise, just grab a measuring spoon and keep it on hand.
Finally, if you don't have a ravioli maker, you should keep a pastry brush and a small bowl of water to seal the dough further down the line. Some people use egg whites instead of water, and if you have extra lying around, that's fine; it's just not necessary. If you do have a ravioli mold, though, then just a rolling pin (or a bottle of wine-cum-rolling pin) will suffice.
Once all your tools are within easy reach, it's time to start rolling that dough. To keep it from drying out, work with just a quarter of your dough at a time, keeping the rest under plastic or a kitchen towel. Roll it out to just thinner than 1/16th of an inch—usually the second-to-last setting on your pasta machine. (You may be tempted to roll it even thinner. Don't—you'll wind up with a less balanced ratio of filling to dough and, after boiling, a far less aesthetically appealing plate.) Ideally, the dough should be almost the full width of the pasta roller, between four and five inches across. Then lay the dough out on a large, flat surface lightly dusted with flour (semolina flour is ideal, since it won't make your dough gummy if it gets moistened, but all-purpose is perfectly fine) and cut it in half. Each quarter of dough will make approximately twelve ravioli.
From here on out, the steps will differ based on whether you're using a ravioli maker or working by hand (if you have a stamp, follow the by-hand directions as well).
If You're Using a Ravioli Maker...
Place the metal base of the ravioli maker in front of you and lay your first sheet of dough on top.
Then, take the plastic mold and gently press down to form depressions in the dough. You want to work relatively quickly, so that your dough doesn't have an opportunity to dry out and become brittle. If you press too hard and the dough tears, simply ball it back up and roll it through the machine again.
Once you have even depressions in the dough, place approximately one tablespoon of filling in each depression. Try to avoid getting filling outside the depression, since the flat perimeter is what our second sheet of dough will adhere to. You can gently wipe away excess with your your finger or a small towel if need be.
Gently rap the mold on the table to help remove any air bubbles.
Next, lay the other half of your sheet of dough over the surface of the mold, pressing with the flat of your hand to push out any extra air. Then take a rolling pin and run it over the surface of the dough until the ridges beneath become visible. At this point, you can flip the mold over and gently peel it away.
If you find that some ravioli are stuck to the mold, try rapping one edge against the table—any remaining pasta should come loose. At this point, you can place the ravioli on a sheet tray, wrap it in plastic and freeze it for later use. Otherwise, if the dough is sufficiently perforated to pull apart, go ahead and do so. It's possible, though, that you'll need to use a ravioli cutter to slice them into individual pieces.
Cover your ravioli with a towel to keep them from drying out and repeat with your remaining pieces of dough.
If You're Working by Hand...
Again, you should have one quarter of your dough rolled out and cut in half, so that you have two pieces of dough roughly 15 inches long and five inches across. Cover one sheet with a towel to keep it from drying out.
Fold the first sheet along its midline to make a light crease and then re-open it. Working so that your filling is approximately one-and-a-half inches in diameter and half an inch apart, place six even heaping tablespoons along the lower half of the dough. (Note that the photos below picture smaller amounts of filling spaced more widely apart than the instructions indicate. You're actually going for something that looks more like the spacing on the mold, pictured in the previous section.)
Moisten the dough lightly with your water and pastry brush...
And then fold it over along the crease, pressing from the folded point outward to remove excess air.
Gently pat the dough down around each lump of filling to create a seal.
And finally, use the fluted side of the ravioli cutter or a stamp to slice your ravioli into even squares.
Cooking Your Ravioli
Now, all that remains is tossing your ravioli into a pot of water at a low boil, and cooking for approximately three minutes, or until slicing into one reveals no starchy line in the center.
Serve your ravioli in the sauce of your choice—I personally find that a great filling often requires little more than a drizzle of olive oil and perhaps some chopped herbs. Tahdah!
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