I dream of ravioli

Posted on | September 17, 2009 | 51 Comments

When I asked Chris what he’d like for his birthday dinner this weekend, he thought for a few minutes, then said ravioli.

Ravioli?

Really?

Bo-ring.

At least, boring for me. I like to have a challenge when making a special dish for someone I love, and dumping a couple of bags of frozen ravioli into boiling water isn’t remotely challenging. Sure, I can jazz it up with homemade sauce, some spicy sausage from Butcher Boy, a fresh and zingy salad and a decent bottle of the grape, but still.

What about homemade you ask? Well, yes, that’s the question isn’t it?

pasta

It’s a question I’ve been asking myself for nearly two decades just about every time I wipe away the boiling water splashes on the stove top after emptying the frozen, lumpy nuggets of gooey pasta out of a plastic bag into the pot. I always think to myself: one of these days I need to learn how to make ravioli.

The first time I ate handmade ravioli was when I waited tables back in the late 1980s at Pasquini’s, in Yuba City, California. An awesomely kind lady, (I think her name was Alice, but don’t hold me to it, that was six lifetimes ago), came in with her basket of goodies through the back kitchen door a couple days a week to make the raviolis and cannelonis. She rolled the dough out by hand with a thin wooden rolling pin on a peninsula style counter while the kitchen staff bustled all around her, prepping for the night.

We worked our legs off at that restaurant, which was always busy because the food was always fresh and homemade. I’m really excited to see that the new owner has taken it to a whole new level. He planted a 2 acre kitchen garden next to the restaurant, and serves that truly local produce to his customers. If I ever make it back that way, it’s at the top of my list of places to eat. I think my two years working there informed a great deal of my enthusiasm for preparing fresh, yummy food for my friends and family, and gave me a much better understanding of how to cook meat that’s helped me turn out some great roasts.

But, I wish I was more curious in my early 20s. I enjoyed cooking, but I just muddled through anything new on my own. It never occurred to me to ask for direction from the many masters in my life. I was just focused on making enough money to pay for school and rent, and having enough leftover to keep me well-supplied with Miller Genuine Draft and Long Island Iced Teas. And let us not forget the many late nights out dancing. Oh, how times have changed.

I remember standing at the same counter with Alice, slicing hearts of palm for the house salads while she rolled and shaped and pressed. We chatted about her kids and my school work. I watched her hands move with confident precision. Habitual motion with no recipe to refer to, just the one in her mind and in her hands. I can see her now, her sleeves rolled up, apron tied around her middle, the fluorescent light flashing off the lenses of her huge 80s style glasses. She made the most succulent little pasta pockets filled with sweet-salty cheese and tender little bits of meat and herbs.

I wish I could go back and ask her to show me how.

I spent a little time searching the internet recently, thinking about this question of how to make good pasta. I attempted fettuccine with my KitchenAid attachment, and it was a complete disaster. That was ten years ago, and I haven’t dared try it since for fear of wasting precious time and still having to order pizza at the end.

Perusing Michael Ruhlman’s blog, I saw this post on making sheet pasta. It’s got some good technique info and inspired me to stop being afraid.

Yes, that’s the same photo you see above, taken by Michael’s very talented wife, Donna. She awesomely invites bloggers to use her medium resolution photos to illustrate their own writing. How cool is that? (I really need to start taking pictures again, though. So much to learn!)

Next I turned to a couple of my new-to-me, used cookbooks: Jamie’s Italy and Lidia’s Family Table, both of which have great information on making homemade pasta (though not specific to ravioli).

So that leads me to you, dear readers. I’m ready to dive in and make my own ravioli, but I need some pointers. What are your favorite recipes? Do you have a trusted resource you’d be willing to share? Any tips on the best techniques and ingredients?

It may not happen for the weekend dinner, but it’s definitely the next thing I intend to learn to do well. Enough frozen gummynuggets already. And if you’re wondering what Kelly wants for Christmas this year? Yeah, baby. One of these would do me just fine. Hey, I’ll make you dinner!

Photo: Pasta Large Noodles ©2009 Donna Turner Ruhlman, used with permission.

Comments

51 Responses to “I dream of ravioli”

  1. sandra
    September 17th, 2009 @ 12:29 pm

    Blasphemous, especially in light of the content of your post, but after failing miserably to make my own pasta for ravioli (even using one of those thingybobs you linked to) more than once, I’ve decided to take the suggestion of a friend and next time, try wantons. :)

    [Reply]

    Kelly

    Kelly Reply:

    @sandra,

    sandra, not at all… I’m telling you my fettuccine was a glop of congealed flour and egg. nasty.

    besides, wontons are delicious!

    [Reply]

  2. Toni
    September 17th, 2009 @ 12:42 pm

    I would love to make my own ravioli too and will be reading with interest. Even better if there’s a way to roll your own like Alice did. Yum.

    [Reply]

    Kelly

    Kelly Reply:

    @Toni,

    Toni, I’ll definitely do the ravs hand-rolled… but really want to try that sheet pasta recipe on Ruhlman’s blog. Sounds heavenly.

    [Reply]

  3. Jason
    September 17th, 2009 @ 12:47 pm

    Biggest tips:

    1) No air pockets, no holes!
    2) Your filling needs to be pretty dry.
    3) Don’t use too much filling.

    Homemade ravioli can be super delicious. I hope they turn out well!

    [Reply]

    Kelly

    Kelly Reply:

    @Jason,

    Jason, thanks so much for the tips! Just added your lovely blog to my feed reader, too. Sweet photography!

    [Reply]

  4. El
    September 17th, 2009 @ 1:32 pm

    There’s a touch to hand-made pasta, just like most breads. Semolina flour is pretty much de rigeur only because it doesn’t get all nasty/glutiney when it’s rolled. I sometimes handroll but mostly just use the pasta roller; that way, it’s barely any work by me except turning the crank. Good work for a 5 year old.

    And ravioli filling: my favorite remains butternut squash with a touch of ricotta. Served with brown butter, shallots and browned sage, it’s heavenly. (I have the ravioli-making attachment on the pasta maker, a fortuitous wedding gift not on the registry.)

    So: just get to it, Kel. It’s not hard. And the pasta-maker makes it easy.

    [Reply]

    Kelly

    Kelly Reply:

    @El,

    El, thanks so much for the encouragement! A friend is sending me her long-unused pasta machine and as soon as it gets here, I’m all over it. I love butternut ravioli with the sage. I’ve made butternut and sage gnocchi before, and it’s amazing.

    [Reply]

  5. marcyincny
    September 18th, 2009 @ 8:59 am

    I’m wondering what happened with the KitchenAid attempt? I’m not all that coordinated; I love being able to feed the KitchenAid with two hands. As El mentioned, flour can make a difference especially when your developing a feel for the dough. I’ve been pleased with King Arthur’s pasta blend. Good luck!

    [Reply]

    Kelly

    Kelly Reply:

    @marcyincny, with the KitchenAid attempt, I used a semolina recipe and I think I overworked it. The pasta came out like glue.

    [Reply]

  6. Vicki
    September 18th, 2009 @ 1:48 pm

    Holy heck, I’m not that far from Yuba City!

    I have something that might be especially helpful in your pasta rolling venture:

    http://www.youtube.com/user/HHHTatanka

    The six pasta videos are amazing.

    [Reply]

    Kelly

    Kelly Reply:

    @Vicki,

    thanks so much for the link!

    [Reply]

  7. George Africa
    October 15th, 2009 @ 7:39 am

    Hi Kelley;

    My wife went to a b-day party and the dinner included ravioli as you described above–winter squash, brown butter, sage, shallots. Outcome for me is to find a pasta maker. You asked for one listed on Amazon: CucinaPro 150 Imperia Pasta Machine. Interested in who has experience with these and is this a good buy, works well, easy to clean, etc? I really want to do this.

    George Africa
    The Vermont Gardener

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    To go with the pasta, I made wilted spinach salad with warm bacon vinaigrette dressing. I prepared the salad from start to finish while John made the ravioli, so dinner was entirely ready in well under 15 minutes. Spending so little time in the kitchen freed me up to mingle and skip around on my iPod until I had completely forgotten I ever made a playlist, which I think is probably what Donna Reed dreamed of doing in the ’50s, but she never got to go near her iPod because she was too busy checking on the roast the whole time. I wonder if people in the ’50s ever got tired of eating “the roast” every time a special occasion or a Sunday rolled around.

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