I dream of ravioli

Posted on | September 17, 2009 | 66 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.

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