Friday, December 11, 2009

Crank it

I said in my last post that I had a couple of pumpkin recipes coming up. Well, here is one that is good for Christmas and celebrations in general (we always do Italian food Christmas eve): pumpkin ravioli.

But first, you need to learn how to make fresh pasta. Unlike pie crust, this is one staple I think I am pretty good at making. I've been doing it for years on my own, and even had a cooking lesson in Italy where I made it with a couple of actual teachers.

This post will be just about the pasta, and then I'll do another one for the filling later. This is the same basic recipe and technique for any kind of flat-shape or filled pasta (the only stuff you can make at home, really).

First, a word about equipment. The easiest and most common way to make pasta is with a pasta roller, which looks like this. I think this is the exact same one I have. There are also electric models. You can also make pasta by hand and/or with a rolling pin, though I've never done this. It is the more old-fashioned way and I think it yields a different texture. I can't advise on that method, but Marcella Hazan can if you want to check out one of her cookbooks. She really talks it up. She can also explain about different flours, which I'm not going to do. For the normal person at home, you can just use all-purpose, or half all-purpose and semolina. And you can throw in some whole wheat as well if you want to be healthy, though this does make the dough a little harder to work with.

First thing to do is this.
Put about 1 cup of flour on a cutting board or counter, and heap it up. Then carefully make a big well in the center, all the way down to the board. It's more like a donut of flour around an empty space than a crater. And really make sure the walls are solid. Crack two eggs into a bowl (this is easier, I think) and then pour them carefully into the well. You can also crack them right in.

Now, use a fork to whisk the eggs. As you whisk, draw in small amounts of flour to gradually thicken up the eggs. Work slowly and carefully. It is fun and satisfying to do it right. If you rush, you can have bad leaks and major egg runoff disasters. You can see I have one rivulet above, but the flour can generally handle a couple of those.

When the mixture is too thick to stir anymore, push the rest of the flour into it and start working it by hand. Have extra flour nearby. Push and knead the dough ball until it is uniformly smooth. You may have to add more flour, or, the ball may not be able to absorb all the flour. When the ball comes together and is relatively smooth, brush off the crumbs and bits from the cutting board and wash your hands.

Now it is time to knead. Opinions on kneading time vary considerably: I've seen/done 3 minutes to 20 minutes. Marcella says at least 8. Kneading is easy. You push the dough flat, fold it, and push again. It's not so exact, and it is a good work out. When done, the dough will be almost shiny, totally uniform, and not sticky at all.

You can now wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate it if you want to make your finished dish later, but you will have to knead it back to room temperature before using it.
So the machine has 6 widths. Divide the dough into quarters, set the machine on its widest setting, and place the dough on the roller as above. Push it in and crank it through. The first roll is very rough and looks really bad. Fold it in half, and put it through again. Do this a couple times, until it looks about like this.
If the dough is really ripping apart and full of holes, you will need to sprinkle it with lots of flour. Just keep rolling and folding and flouring until it is smooth. (If this happens it is because you did not knead long enough, or left it too sticky.)

Reduce the setting by one. Pass the strip through, then fold, and pass through again. It will start looking pretty nice, like this.

Now keep folding, rolling, and decreasing settings. A nice thing to do is to fold the dough with the edges coming in and meeting in the middle, if you get what I mean...This way, you have smooth ends. I guess I didn't do it this time, because my ends are uneven.

Warning: do not skip settings! This is evil and wrong and will backfire. I don't know how or why, I just know it is a terrible idea.

If you are making ravioli, go all the way to the thinnest setting. As you approach the thinnest setting, your dough may get too long to manage. In this case, cut it in half and deal with each part separately.

When it's done, the dough will look really smooth and lovely, like this.

Now, you can do anything with it. The machine comes with cutters for spaghetti or fettuccine size noodles (they're pretty self explanatory), or you could cut it by hand into super thick ribbons (which is AWESOME). You may want to do this now and consider this your practice batch.

For ravioli, use a pizza cutter, if you have one, to trim the ends, and then cut squares. The easiest way to do it, I think, is cut about 8 or 12 squares at once and then arrange them like they are in this picture. Then place your filling (only about a teaspoon) in the centers of half of them.

Before you cover them, lightly moisten the edges around your filling with water (just use your finger). Now put the top dough piece on--and this is another place where you have to work slowly and carefully. You want to do your best to get all the air bubbles out from between the layers. Try to kind of "cup" your hand over the center and work all the air out before pressing down the edges to adhere.
When all that pesky air is out, gently press down the edges to adhere. Do the ravs one at a time rather than assembly-line style: moisten edge, cover, press; now move on to the next one. When they are all covered, as above, start crimping. This is slightly fun. Oddly I don't have any pics of it. But all you do is take a fork and press the edges down to make a ruffled edge. I usually do both sides.

With scraps and irregular sized pieces, you can do stuff like this. (Of course, once it is cooked it is not quite as cute, but still fun to make and eat.)

That is all for now. Pumpkin filling will be next post.

Note: If you want to make a batch of fresh dough for noodles before making ravs, be aware that you do not have to let them dry--though you have probably seen images of hanging noodles (and on this very blog, in fact). You can cook them right away; I always hang them just so I have somewhere to put them as I am working. I think that's what everyone does. And they can hang for awhile, but become hard to handle if they get too dry.

And regarding shapes. The ravioli I made are probably big enough to be considered something else, like tortelli. You could also do circles (but this wastes dough, and necessitates re-rolling) or fill each square as above and then fold it up in a triangle shape (use less filling).


  1. Like the "more photos" format here but you forgot to include the most important photos - the FINAL PRODUCT!!! We want to see these fabu ravioli in all their saucy glory!!! more pics, more pics!!!!

  2. thanks! that will come with the filling and finished recipe post...