By Laura Damron
Food, for me, is pretty much always associated with something more than just a meal. It’s about those it was shared with, or the people who helped prepare it. Homemade pasta is one of those things that immediately transports me back to my childhood home in New Jersey – or more specifically, my across-the-street neighbor Joe’s house. Every so often, Joe’s grandmother would come to visit and spend the day making pasta. I couldn’t have been more than 6 or 7 at the time, but I remember the day my mom and I were there helping like it was yesterday: the feel of the dough, the pasta drying on dowels all over the kitchen and dining room, and everyone chattering away in the kitchen. Heart of the home, indeed.
So today, I thought I’d wander down memory lane and make up a batch of homemade ravioli, in order to share my recipe with you. Making your own pasta is easy, but it does take a little bit of time – mostly because you need to rest the dough periodically, or else it’s just too tough to work with.
For the filling:
1 cup whole milk ricotta
1/3 cup shredded Italian cheese blend (This is one of the few situations where I really prefer using a pre-shredded mixture; not only is it less expensive than buying the components separately, but I prefer the texture of the drier cheese.)
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
3 to 5 roasted garlic cloves (optional, but totally worth it)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl, mix well, and set aside. If you’re using the roasted garlic, mash it thoroughly first, and then add to the cheese mixture before stirring well to incorporate evenly.
For the pasta:
Measure out 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour on a clean countertop, making a well in the center. In a small bowl, beat 3 large (or 4 medium) eggs along with 1 teaspoon salt, until mostly smooth and then pour the eggs into the well, like so:
Using a fork or your fingers, stir the eggs gently in the well, as you gradually pull in flour from the sides to combine. Take your time, or it can be a little messy. I like to have a dough scraper handy for this step; when the dough comes together it’s going to be pretty shaggy and will stick to your work surface.
Once the dough is combined, knead it a few times and then set it aside in a covered bowl to rest for 10 minutes. The dough will be pretty stiff by now, so you’ll appreciate the break.
After 10 minutes, take the dough out and knead it again, until it’s smooth and elastic. The gluten will have relaxed somewhat, so it will be easier to work with than before. Once you’re done kneading, cut the dough into 4 equal sized pieces and set them aside in a covered bowl to rest for another 30 minutes. Don’t skimp on the resting – set your timer and walk away.
After the 30 minutes is up, the dough is ready to be rolled out and then filled, one ball at a time. You can use a rolling pin if you like, but I prefer using a pasta machine – they’re not expensive and do a much better job of it than I would on my own. The end goal is to have your sheets of dough rolled out to a consistent 1/8th inch thick. Using the machine, that means making several passes with the dough through the rollers, making it progressively thinner with each pass.
Once you have your dough rolled out nice and thin, you’re ready for the filling. The first thing I do is figure out where the halfway point is on the dough – one half is going to get folded over the other once the filling is down. I like larger ravioli, so I use a tablespoon measure to portion out my filling. Make a ball with the filling, and space them out on your dough about 2 inches apart. If you’d rather have smaller ravioli, then go right ahead and use a smaller measuring spoon.
When you’re ready to fold your dough over, go slowly and, using your fingertips, press out any air from around the filling, working your way out to the edges. Air bubbles will likely pop in the boiling process, so you really want to take your time to get them out. Once everything has been pressed into place, take a pastry cutter and trim the edges back. If you don’t have a pastry cutter, just use a knife and then crimp the edges closed by pressing down on them with a fork. You don’t need to go far, just a quarter-inch or so in, all the way around.
A word about trimming – set the trimmed-off pieces back in your covered bowl, until you’re done with the four main balls. If you have any filling left over, and if you have enough trimmings, you can re-roll the leftover dough after it has rested for at least a half hour.
Finally, you can either cook your ravioli (let them air dry for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, first) or freeze them for later. To freeze, simply flour the bottoms well and lay flat in a single layer on a baking sheet in your freezer for about an hour. Once they’re frozen, you can put them in a sealed container without having them stick to each other. For added insurance against sticking, you could put parchment or waxed paper in between layers, if you’re so inclined.
To cook: Bring 5 quarts of salted water to a rolling boil. Drop your ravioli in one at a time, so they don’t stick, and boil for 5 minutes, or until the edges are tender. Frozen pasta just needs about 1 extra minute; you don’t have to worry about thawing them first. Depending on how many you want to serve, you may need to do this in batches – you don’t want the pasta crowded in the pot. Once the time is up, drain thoroughly and top with your favorite sauce.
Once you have the pasta down, the filling possibilities are pretty much endless. Enjoy!
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