Ravioli's are a true Italian delight. The store-bought versions are passable, and some name-brands are even quite good. However, they are no comparison to homemade raviolis. They are a lot of work, of course, but the end result is wonderful. Once you prepare these culinary treats, you probably won't ever forget how.
My first experience with making raviolis from scratch was quite a marathon (nine hours from start to finish), and I did it entirely on my own. I was helped along with a few bottles of wine (its a wonder I remember anything), and I swore I'd never do it again.
This was about twelve years ago. Inevitably, I've made them again perhaps once or twice a year, and each time I worked the pasta dough from scratch, and formed the ravioli using a manual ravioli cutter. The easiest part of this process was cooking the filling ingredients (on my first 'outing' I cooked ground beef and pork, with minced onions, garlic and spices). The clean up can get a bit sticky (rolling, cutting and forming the dough leaves that nice concrete-like flour residue in every nook and cranny).
These days Ravioli Maker Plates, Ravioli Die Machines and the Kitchen Aid Ravioli Maker can basically do the work of the ravioli formation, but I still prefer making them the hard way. Somehow it seems more satisfying than churning out the little gems in conveyer-belt fashion.
Below is a more ordered description of this art, and I hope I have refined it over the years. Even though I only do it once or twice a year it is still quite an event in my house. You'll see what I mean as you read on.
The first thing I do before beginning the ravioli-making process is define my work area. Once you get started - and as you near the end - your "work area" will become very important. The ideal setting is having as much space as possible, but if you don't have this luxury make do with what you have (as in the case when I made raviolis for the first time). Things can and will get very mucky if you don't clean as you go as well. Counter space is ideal, and if you have to clear off toasters, canisters, or knickknacks to increase work space, this would also be advisable. Clean surfaces are a must, and a cutting board or two won't hurt, either.
Below is a summary of ravioli filling ingredients, although these can vary depending on individual taste. Some folks prefer cheese or vegetable stuffing with no meat, or chicken and seafood fillings, but the following recipe is what I always use.
A large sturdy frying pan (with a Teflon cooking surface if possible), will do nicely. Even a large cooking/soup pot will work. Select filling ingredients to your own taste, although the basic ingredients include fresh garlic, olive oil, onions, celery, carrots, parsley, salt, pepper (and any other spices you prefer). Quantities depend on how much filling you want to prepare, and what your preferences are. I use a lot of garlic (freshly minced), and I always add a touch of Romano cheese to my stuffing mixture as it cooks. The choice of meat is also a personal choice, although I always use a combination of ground pork and beef. (Substitute with chicken, or strictly cheese and vegetables).
Make sure the meat is ground fine, and break it up more in the cooking process if necessary. The vegetable ingredients (onions, celery and carrots) need to be finely minced or grated. I start out with a large bowl, adding the meat, eggs, breadcrumbs and spices. Mix all of this together very well, and then spread out some of the olive oil in your cooking pan. Warm this up just a bit, and then add the grated/minced vegetables. Let these cook for a few minutes, stirring, until they become almost opaque. Then add the meat mixture, mixing in well with the vegetables. Cook on a low heat, stirring often, until all of the meat is cooked and the vegetables are tender. Add the spinach and Romano cheese and mix in well. Drain off any excess fat, but return the meat mix to the pan (or into another large bowl). Stir in the Ricotta cheese. I always mix in a bit more olive oil into the meat mix, but I also save some of it for when I cook the ravioli in water much later). This mixture will sit tight while you make the pasta dough, or you can cover it and set it in the fridge until you are ready to stuff the ravioli.
The quantities depend on how much you want to make, and how many raviolis you want to end up with. The above recipe will make about 150 raviolis. However, this is not as much as it sounds considering eight raviolis is regarded as one serving. When you are finished preparing the filling, it really does not look like much, either. But trust me, once you start stuffing the raviolis, it will seem like your filling mix is growing rather than minimizing.
To be honest, making the pasta dough and filling the ravioli to shape them is the hardest part, and the most time-consuming. But it is well worth the trouble and struggle, because there is nothing like the taste of well-prepared hot homemade ravioli.
The basic ravioli dough ingredients are as follows:
Ravioli can also be multi-colored by using dough ingredient variations such as spinach, squash and tomatoes. Adjustments may have to be made to the flour quantities when doing so.
Sift the flour into a large bowl, making a well in the center. Add the salt, oil, eggs and water. Mix the flour and the liquid together gradually with a wooden spoon, until all of it is absorbed. Place the dough on a floured board, and knead until the mixture seems dry and smooth. (Add more flour if the dough seems sticky). Cover with a tea towel and let stand for about fifteen minutes. Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough in handfuls at a time, until the flattened dough is very thin (but not transparent so that the filling may break out). Form the dough and cut into 4" circles.
This is where making the ravioli may become tricky, especially if you are using a manual cutter (also known as Dumpling Makers). The manual cutters can be purchased at any kitchenware department, and they usually come with small handles to fold the filled dough over. Place the dough circle (one at a time) into the center of the ravioli cutter, and put about a teaspoon of the meat mixture in the middle. Carefully fold over the cutter, so that the edges are pinched in and have formed a nice fanned look. The edges should hold together, but if you are having trouble with this as I did the first time, take a little cornstarch mixed with water, and rub the edges gently. Repeat this process with all of the dough and all of the meat mixture. Lay completed ravioli on a large cookie sheet while you finish. (Note: You may have some of the meat mixture left over, and this is always good to add as an extra in any meat sauce).
In a very large pot, bring water to a boil (enough to fill the pot 3/4 full). Add salt and olive oil to the water. When the water starts to boil, add the ravioli (perhaps ten to twenty at a time). Boil gently for about 10 minutes, or until the ravioli's rise to the surface of the water. Drain and cool carefully as not to rip open the ravioli skins.
If you only want to cook a small portion of the ravioli's for consumption, freeze the uncooked portions in plastic freezer bags. I would recommend freezing 16 per bag, which constitutes two servings. Layer the ravioli with wax paper to prevent sticking. Another method is to partially freeze the raviolis on cookie sheets before placing them into the freezer bags between wax paper layers. It is wise to layer the ravioli before freezing as they have a tendency to cling and tear when unthawed.
The ravioli's are best when tossed with a tomato sauce, or a cheesy-creamy Alfredo sauce. However, there are so many sauce variations that it would be impossible to list them all here. But you can create your own version by experimenting with combinations such as herbs and cheese; nut sauces; meat and vegetarian sauces. The fillings can be just as original - try ground turkey or chicken, pureed vegetables or sausage. The dough can be flavored with a touch of pumpkin, tomato, herbs or spinach as well.
The possibilities and combinations are endless. Once you are comfortable with the whole process of making raviolis the hard way, trying different variations can become a very enjoyable task. You might not always have the time or inclination to make homemade raviolis but when you do you will find yourself wondering (for the 100th time), why you are not doing it more often.
Reprinted exclusively for Food Fare
"Ravioli in the Kitchen" was written for entertainment purposes only and expresses the sole opinions of the author. This article is not meant to be a professional chef's essay on ravioli-making, but rather an observation about the generalities of the process from a home kitchen.
You are free to use the material in this article as reference, but if you happen to use direct wording from this piece, proper credit would be appreciated. Thank you.
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