Why It Works
- Draining the ricotta keeps the filling firm but creamy.
- Adding lemon juice provides acidity to balance the undercurrent of nutmeg.
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 mold or ravioli stamp 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 ingredient 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 (see our guide to the best tools for homemade pasta for more). 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.
I've included two relatively traditional recipes to get you started. The recipe below is a classic ricotta ravioli, which gets some tang from Parmesan cheese, a tart squeeze of lemon juice, and a subtle hit of nutmeg. The other is for a sweet and funky butternut squash and blue cheese-stuffed ravioli, served in a brown butter sauce with frizzled sage. 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 of 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 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.
Rolling Out the Pasta
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 mold, 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 1/16 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 12 ravioli.
From here on out, the steps will differ based on whether you're using a ravioli mold or working by hand (if you have a stamp, follow the by-hand directions as well).
Shaping Ravioli With a Mold
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 it 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 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 pasta wheel 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.
Shaping Ravioli 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. 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!
20 ounces fresh ricotta cheese (see notes)
4 ounces freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 recipe classic fresh egg pasta
Extra-virgin olive oil, for serving
Lay a clean kitchen towel or a triple layer of lint-free paper towels on a rimmed baking sheet. Spread ricotta evenly over surface of towels. Top with a second clean kitchen towel or triple layer of paper towels. Press with hands or a second rimmed baking sheet and let rest 5 minutes. Transfer ricotta to a medium bowl (it should come right off the towels).
Add Parmesan cheese, nutmeg, and lemon juice to ricotta. Season to taste with salt and pepper and stir to combine.
Meanwhile, divide dough into 4 even sections. Working one section at a time, with remaining sections tightly wrapped in plastic, roll dough through machine until sheet is just under 1/16 of an inch thick (typically second-to-last setting). Cut sheet in half to create 2 pieces of dough roughly 15 inches long and 5 inches across.
If using a ravioli mold: Place first sheet of dough over metal base. Gently and evenly press plastic mold down to make depressions in dough. Remove and fill each depression with approximately 1 tablespoon filling. Rap mold once or twice to remove any air bubbles. Place second sheet of dough over surface and pat down. Run rolling pin over dough until ridges beneath become visible. Flip the mold over and gently peel it away. If ravioli remain stuck, rap edge of mold on table. If ravioli do not separate easily, use fluted pasta wheel cutter or kitchen knife to complete perforation. Cover ravioli with towel to prevent drying. Repeat with remaining dough and continue to step 6.
If working by hand: Fold first sheet along its midline to make a light crease and re-open. Place 6 heaping tablespoons half-inch apart along length of lower half. Moisten upper half with pastry brush dipped in water and fold over, pressing down to remove air bubbles and create a seal around filling. Using fluted pasta wheel cutter or kitchen knife, cut between filling for 6 even squares. Cover ravioli with towel to prevent drying. Repeat with remaining dough.
At this point, ravioli can be frozen: place ravioli on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet and freeze completely. Transfer to a freezer bag, press out as much air as possible, and store in freezer for up to 2 months. Frozen ravioli can be cooked straight from frozen (add 30 seconds to cooking time).
To cook ravioli, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook ravioli by submerging in boiling water and cooking for 3 minutes (ravioli should float). Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of cooking liquid. Return ravioli and the cooking liquid to the pot. Add 1/4 cup olive oil and cook on high heat, stirring gently until oil and pasta water emulsify into a creamy sauce, about 1 minute. Serve immediately, drizzling with more extra-virgin olive oil at the table.
|Nutrition Facts (per serving)|
|Servings: 4 to 6|
|Amount per serving|
|% Daily Value*|
|Total Fat 21g||26%|
|Saturated Fat 11g||56%|
|Total Carbohydrate 24g||9%|
|Dietary Fiber 0g||0%|
|Total Sugars 0g|
|Vitamin C 0mg||1%|
|*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.|