If there are two things everyone (except vegans) likes, it’s pasta and cheese. Put them together, and life is complete — thus ravioli was born. Even better is homemade ravioli, but it’s usually only found in a grandmother’s kitchen or the finest Italian restaurants. My friend Adriana told me making ricotta cheese, perhaps the most common ravioli filling, was really quite simple, and making pasta is a surprisingly easy feat, so the conclusion was obvious: Let’s make ravioli all from scratch. It was adventurous, challenging, even audacious, but we embarked on a journey to craft pasta perfection.
Adriana worked on the ricotta while I watched in fascination and worked on the pasta. The recipe we used was adapted from Smitten Kitchen. The ingredients are easy to acquire, as ricotta is a fresher cheese than most. All you need is whole milk, cream, salt and vinegar (and some red wine, as all Italian cooks do). It makes about one hefty cup of ricotta:
3 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt
3 tablespoons white vinegar
First, pour the milk, cream and salt into a three-quart saucepan. Attach a candy thermometer (or keep one handy), and heat the mixture to 190 degrees, stirring occasionally. Once it hits 190, remove it from the heat and add the vinegar, stirring slowly a couple of times before letting it sit for five minutes.
If for some reason you are like us and have cheesecloth lying around, line a colander with it and place the colander over a bowl. Otherwise, use two paper towels. Pour the mixture (formally known as “curds and whey”) into the colander so the curds can drain. This process should take about one hour. Use this time to continue making the pasta.
Pasta is really quite simple: flour, eggs, water, olive oil and salt. Many pastas don’t even have too many ingredients. We adapted ours from an Alton Brown recipe.
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
3 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
If you’re using a food processor, first combine flour and salt. Then whisk the eggs, water and oil in a measuring cup. While running the machine in pulse mode, pour the liquid into the flour mixture. If mixing by hand, do the same, but instead mix with two fingers until all the wet ingredients are incorporated. If you’re rolling by hand, knead the dough on a floured surface for eight to 10 minutes, then form it into a disc, wrap it in plastic wrap and put it in the fridge for one hour.
If you time it right, the pasta and the ricotta should be ready at the same time. When the ricotta is done, it should be tender and spreadable. You can use it right away or put it in an airtight container and into the fridge. We sauteed arugula and spinach and mixed it with our cheese to make the ravioli filling.
The trickier part begins now. Take the pasta disc out of the fridge and transfer it to the floured work surface. Using a rolling pin (or a wine bottle), roll out the pasta into sheets. The pasta should be about 1/8″ thick.
Make a quick egg wash to help seal the ravioli, with one egg and equal parts water. Once you’ve rolled out your pasta, cut it into squares or circles depending on your preference. We made circular ravioli but would recommend squares so you can get the most out of your dough. Once your shapes are cut, fill the middle of the pasta with a tablespoon (heaping, if you like) of filling. Brush the perimeter with your egg wash, place another piece of pasta on top and press around to get out any air.
Boil a half-gallon of water and season it with salt and olive oil. Once assembled, gently drop the ravioli into the pot. Cook the ravioli in batches, taking them out when they float to the top (usually after only a few minutes).
Meanwhile, you have time to whip up some tomato sauce. In a pan, saute a few cloves of garlic and half an onion in olive oil, add canned tomato sauce, salt, pepper and any other seasonings you like (oregano is recommended). Simmer. When the ravioli are done, add them to the sauce and stir gently so that the pasta is covered in savory sauce.
Serve with some grated parmesan and enjoy. It’s a little bit of work, but hands-down, it will be the best ravioli you’ve ever had. The components are simple, and the ravioli will impress everyone you know.
Image source: Fiona Hannigan, Daily Cal, and Adriana Vazquez