Thursday, July 8, 2010

Challenge: Homemade Ravioli

There's a restaurant near my house. It's famous for its pizza, and rightly so. We love getting the chicken artichoke, but substituting tomatoes for the spinach. It's pretty delicious.

But they also serve pasta.

And they serve an all-you-can-eat pasta bar.

I only need one plate. I mean, really. Pasta's pretty filling. In my younger days, I could stomach more than one plate, but now...well, I leave the heavy eating to Jeff. Since I can really only eat one plate, I have to choose very carefully. I have to make my choice count, after all. And they have some great choices: there are usually 12 different types of pasta and 6 different sauces.

Choosing the pasta is never a hard decision. They have only a few freshly-made pastas, and those are what I pick from. I usually select the plain fresh fettuccine and the fresh whole wheat fettuccine. And I top one half with roasted red pepper sauce, and the other half with something else. Usually a white chicken sauce.

It's always delicious. The pasta is perfectly tender, slightly thicker than traditional pasta, and it absorbs the sauce like it was intended to. The red pepper sauce is amazing; perfectly creamy, flavorful, with just a slight punch. The Pioneer Woman posted a recipe for roasted red pepper sauce a couple of years ago, and I tried it. I like Ree, I really do. But I'm still on a quest for a good red pepper sauce. If I ever find one, I'll post it, rest assured.

I always wish I could eat more, but I also know I'll seriously regret it if I do.

Overeating is never rewarded.

This was, though, my first real exposure to freshly-made pasta. And it's been a treat for me ever since.

Since it's a treat, and my mother never made it, I always considered it an elusive dish. So, I challenged myself to make it. But not just any pasta, ravioli.

For some reason, I felt this would be the ultimate homemade pasta. I guess because regular dried pasta is adequate, but boxed ravioli just isn't. The filling is crumbly and dry, and salty. I mean, you can eat it. If you have to.

But good ravioli, now that would be a treat. Especially with fresh garden basil.

Which I just so happen to have.

Once I decided to make ravioli, I started searching online for recipes before I remembered that I happen to still have my friend's copy of The New Best Recipe, published by Cook's Illustrated. Since I had NO idea what I was doing, I really needed their background information to get me started.

They definitely delivered. I wish I didn't keep forgetting I had this book (although I'm definitely okay with it if my neighbor keeps forgetting I have this book). It's such a great resource. However, they were also definitely right on one key point. You really need a pasta maker. Which I don't have. I planned on borrowing my neighbor's, but soon discovered hers is not a manual one, but more like a playdough machine where it pops out the end of a mold all ready to go.

So, rolling by hand it was. I really don't think I got it thin enough, but have no idea how I could have gotten it any thinner. You really need a pasta machine.

Despite the thickness, it was still delicious. And definitely worth doing. It was not as time consuming or as difficult as I imagined and the taste could not be beat.

Homemade Ravioli with ricotta-basil filling
Adapted from The Best New Recipe
Printable Recipe

For the pasta:
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 large eggs

Pour the flour into the bowl of a food processor and process for a few seconds to evenly distribute and aerate the flour. Add the eggs and pulse for about 30 seconds, until the dough forms a ball. If the dough sticks to the bowl, add flour, a tablespoon at a time. If it's overly crumbly (there will be a few crumbs), add water a tablespoon at a time.

Turn the dough onto a clean, dry surface and knead for a minute or two, until it is smooth. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate. Allow the dough to rest for at least 15 minutes, but preferably about an hour. It can be refrigerated overnight. While it's resting, make the filling.

For the filling:
1 cup ricotta cheese (low fat is fine)
3/4 cup grated cheese ( I used a mixture of parmesan, which the recipe called for, and mozzarella)
1/2 cup minced fresh basil
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon salt
pepper, to taste

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl. This can be refrigerated overnight.

To assemble:

Working with a quarter of the dough at a time, roll the dough out using a pasta maker. You'll want to roll it as thinly as possible, so use the last setting.

When you're done rolling, you should have a long rectangle about 4 inches wide. Place small spoonfuls of filling (about a teaspoon) along the pasta, just below the center of the pasta, leaving about 1 1/4 inch between. Fold over the tip and press to seal with your fingers. Try to get the air out of the pockets by sealing between the filling first, but it's okay if you don't.

Using a pastry wheel, cut between the pasta and trim the cut edge, if desired. You can also trim the folded edge if you wish. Continue with the rest of the dough, rolling out a quarter of the dough at a time.

At this point, you can refrigerate the ravioli on a lightly greased sheet, covered with plastic wrap, for several hours.You can also freeze them. If you opt to freeze them, make sure you freeze them spread out on a cookie sheet so they don't lump together.

When you are ready to eat, bring a pot of water to a light boil. An aggravated boil may rupture the pasta, unless you have super-thick pasta like I did.

Boil for 3-5 minutes, until cooked through.

Serve with your favorite tomato sauce and parmesan cheese.

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