A two-parter this time, this week we'll cover the ravioli themselves, and move on to the sauce and bruschetta for another article. Also, by request, I'll be covering this dish as a vegetarian meal (not vegan, though)..
It's easy enough to go and buy ravioli from the store. To be honest, if you just kinda want some pasta, I don't know that there is a good argument to be made against using pre-made pasta, the soft kind you buy in plastic-wrapped boxes (or dry packs if you must) and boil in water. That said, there's a certain amount of satisfaction to be had at making it entirely by hand, and, ultimately, there's something to be said for the ability to customize your pasta to suit your tastes. Either way, one device I cannot sing enough praises for is my Atlas Noodle Maker
. I've tried making pasta noodles, both for ravioli as well as for spaghetti, with just a rolling pin, and nothing really can compete. The perfect, uniform thickness at ultra-thin measurements is, frankly, impossible to beat.
The first thing you'll need to decide upon is your pasta mix. Your real, super basic pasta blend will be roughly 1 egg per 100 grams (7/8 cup) of flour, plus 1/2 Tbsp of olive oil. From that, you can feel free to expand on it, adding paprika, red pepper, basil, whatever you wish. The key to any additions is to start with small measurements and work your way up. Either way, for this time around, I worked just with the basics: 2 eggs and 200 grams of all-purpose flour, and a tablespoon of olive oil.
Start out by pouring your flour into a large bowl and making a sort of "volcano" out of it. Add in your eggs in the middle and then your oil. Start mixing the ingredients with a wide spoon, pushing flour over and into the volcano and blending down and inward. You'll need to keep working the spoon for a while until it becomes unmanageable with it. Once it gets too stiff to work with utensils, give yourself a wide space covered with flour (I used my largest cutting board), dump it out, and work by hand.
Continue kneading and mixing the dough by hand until you can form a solid ball with the consistency of soft Play-Dough. Then, pound it out flat to about half the width of your noodle maker, and maybe 1/4" thick. Cut the dough to lengths of about 6", wrap in plastic wrap, and set aside.
Now's a good time to start making your ravioli filling. I took half a dozen white mushrooms, a couple sprigs of thyme, some lemon zest, and a bunch of cloves of garlic. Dice the garlic and mushrooms, then get a hot seasoned and oiled pan going. Add in your garlic and cook until it starts to brown into crunchy bits, then add your mushrooms. Toss until the mushrooms begin to brown, then add a couple knobs of butter. Once the butter has melted, sprinkle in your thyme and zest (for the zest, I just took a lemon and grated the peel into the mix with my finest grater). Continue until the mushrooms are cooked throughout, and then set aside on a paper towel to cool and drain the oil.
Take your mushroom mix and add about two parts of ricotta cheese per unit of mushrooms, blending well until you get a nice uniform mix. As a second filling, I also took some ricotta cheese and red pepper flakes and mixed it up (about ten parts ricotta to one part flakes). Set your fillings aside and get your noodle maker.
Even though it has a heavy base, you'll want your hands free, so I c-clamped the maker to my countertop. Even then, sometimes it's easier to make the pasta with someone to help. You'll want to do multiple runs through the pasta maker, slowly approaching your target thickness, in order to avoid causing the pasta to break up and flake. For the Atlas, I set it at it's thickest setting (1) first. Run the pasta through at a slow-to-medium pace. You're not churning butter here, and going to fast will also make your pasta break off. Once you get the pasta through the bottom end, you'll want to hold it and pull it along to keep the dough feeding through.
Once I ran it through at the (1) setting, I ran it again on (3), and finally on (5). If you have the room to lay the entire pasta out, great, otherwise, you'll want a partner in order to sprinkle it with flour as it comes out, in order to keep it from sticking to itself. I also found that once I got the dough started through the machine, I could lightly fold the dough on the feed side so that it unraveled as it continue to press.
(5) was about the perfect setting for the ravioli, though the machine goes up to (7) or (8). Too thin, and your ravioli will rupture when you cook them. I also found it beneficial to cut the tips of the pressed dough prior to re-feeding it through the machine, so that it starts out drawing the entire width through all at once. If I didn't do that, occasionally the dough would pull off-kilter and mess up the run. Don't worry about waste, anything you cut can be remixed with the remaining dough and run through again.
Lay out one layer of your final dough on your cutting board, then place one spoonful of filling every three inches or so. Lay your second layer of pasta on top, and press around the edges of the filling to reduce any pockets of air. You could try cutting freehand, and get unique shapes for every ravioli, but I went with a ramekin (a.k.a. tiny bowl). In any case, you'll want something with a large wide lid to press a decent amount of the dough together. Then, I cut around the edges and ended up with perfectly uniform ravioli.
For cooking the ravioli, there are a number of things you could do: boiling them and baking them are two popular methods of preparing them, I went for first pan-searing them with a dab of olive oil, then steaming them. The pan-searing gives them a bit of a firmer consistency and just a touch of crunch, and then the steaming them simply by adding a couple spoonfuls of water to the pan and covering, in order to cook the bits that didn't touch the pan.
As I mentioned, next week we'll cover making a tomato sauce from scratch, and the bruschetta - a simple way to add a bit of freshness to your italian meal. Mangia!