If there’s a holiday or special occasion in my household, ravioli are bound to be on the menu. They’re my husband’s favorite pasta, conjuring childhood memories of helping his mother by pressing a fork into the edges of each pillow of dough to help secure the filling.
Ravioli also lend themselves to many different stuffings, and I have written posts about them several times — about pumpkin-filled ravioli in a walnut sauce; about beet ravioli stuffed with goat cheese; and about ravioli stuffed with pears and pecorino cheese.
But when I thought about making them last week to help my dad usher in his 99th orbit around the sun, I realized I’d never really blogged about the basic ravioli in tomato sauce that is the hands-down favorite in my family. I’m here to correct that now, with this bountiful platter of ricotta and parmesan cheese-filled ravioli. I sometimes deviate slightly and add greens to the traditional cheese filling (spinach, swiss chard or even the wild greens I forage for in the spring and freeze) and I’ve included that in the recipe below. Whether I add the greens or just fill them with the cheese, they disappear from the platter before you can say abbondanza.
Let me show you how I make them and hopefully get you inspired. If you take it in steps and make the sauce ahead of time, it won’t seem so daunting. I usually make a big pot of sauce with meatballs and sausage every couple of months, and freeze enough for four or five meals. It’s easy to pull a container from the freezer and just concentrate on the pasta-making itself. For the basic meatballs and sauce recipe, click here.
The dough can be made a day or two ahead of time too, and stored in the refrigerator in plastic wrap. I used to make it the old-fashioned way, by forming a mound of flour, then making a well, adding the eggs, and kneading it until smooth. But years ago, I started using the food processor to do most of the work, and haven’t looked back since. You still have to knead it a little when you remove it from the food processor, but it’s very little labor compared to doing it all by hand. It does need to rest at least a half hour before you proceed to roll it out and shape it into ravioli.
You can roll it out by hand with a rolling pin if you’re a purist (or a masochist), or you can get one of these hand-cranked pasta machines. I’ve had mine for 50 years (yea, I’m old) and it still works great. I keep it at the shore house for when I’m inspired during the summer.
The rest of the year, I roll out the pasta with the attachment to my KitchenAid mixer, which makes things go a lot quicker.
I have the filling all ready to go though, before starting to roll the pasta. Make sure to drain the ricotta a few hours or overnight. I have used cheesecloth, or even coffee filters to hold the ricotta, with weights on the top. You’d be surprised at how much water comes out. And I always buy the full-fat ricotta cheese. Don’t skimp on the calories here please. The filling in the photo contains wild greens, but as I said, you can omit the greens and just go with the cheeses.
Here’s another nifty tool that I started using a few years ago. It makes much more uniform ravioli, plus you won’t be likely to have ravioli with too much dough around the edges, as you might if you formed them by hand. But this too, is totally unnecessary, and in some ways, the hand-formed ones have a certain nostalgic charm, bringing back more vivid memories from my childhood, as I watched my mother shape them at the kitchen table.
Here you can see what to do when you make the ravioli using the form. I generally spray the form first with PAM, or brush lightly with oil. Then you place a sheet of the dough over the form, add a spoonful of the filling, wet the edges of the dough with water, and place a second sheet of pasta over the filling.
Press down carefully, starting from the center, to eliminate any air bubbles. Cut off the excess dough from the edges, then flip it out, and cut between each raviolo.
You’ll have perfect, uniform ravioli this way.
Alternately, if you don’t have the ravioli form, place a sheet of dough directly on your counter or board, add dollops of filling, and moisten between the filling with a brush of water, before adding a second sheet of pasta and helping it to adhere.
Then press down gently to eliminate air bubbles, and use a rolling cutter, or a knife, to cut between the individual ravioli.
You don’t really need to make the fork indentations if you’ve sealed between the layers of dough and pressed down properly, but my husband likes this job, and it’s a little more “insurance” to keep the ravioli from bursting open when you cook them in water. By the way, after they come to an initial boil in the water, lower them to a simmer, since a vigorous boil could also cause them to rupture.
With the leftover scraps, I roll out the dough again, but the more you add the leftover scraps together and reroll them, the tougher they get. So I cut them into small “quadretti” to use in soups, where the texture is less important.
I made the ravioli last week to bring to my dad, who lives about an hour away, with his wife. (I also kept a bunch for my husband or there would have been mutiny). My dad was recovering from some dental work and could eat only soft foods, but it was also part of my gift to him to celebrate his birthday. It’s hard to fathom that he was born nearly 100 years ago — the year Warren Harding was inaugurated president of the U.S.; the year Babe Ruth achieved 139 home runs; the year of the first Miss America contest in Atlantic City; and the year that the police in Sunbury, Pennsylvania, issued an edict requiring women to wear skirts at least 4 inches below the knee! Until the pandemic, he was still occasionally playing golf and beating guys much younger than he. I hope I’m as nimble and sharp-witted when (and if) I get to be his age!
I love making pasta, I love maintaining family food traditions, and I love my dad.
I hope you make ravioli for someone you love too.
It’s a win-win for everyone — including you, especially if you give yourself a big serving!
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- FOR THE FILLING:
- 1 whole egg
- 1 pound whole milk ricotta cheese, drained overnight if possible
- 1 cup parmesan cheese
- a few sprigs of parsley, finely minced
- optional - ¾ cup chopped spinach or wild greens, or broccoli rape, cooked and squeezed tight of liquid
- salt, pepper
- FOR THE PASTA:
- 1½- 2 cups flour, adding more as needed
- pinch of salt
- 3 eggs
- Mix the ingredients for the filling. If using frozen spinach, don't cook it. Let it thaw, then squeeze all the liquid, or as much as possible from the spinach. If using wild greens or broccoli rape, cook in water until tender, then drain, cool, and squeeze out all water possible. Mince and mix with other filling ingredients.
- For the pasta, blend everything in a food processor. It's best to start with less flour and add more as you need, since it's much more difficult if you have too much flour and not enough liquid. Blend everything until the dough comes together in a ball. If it's too wet, add more flour. Knead a little more on a floured surface until it's very smooth, like a baby's bottom. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rest at least a half hour.
- After it has rested, roll it through a pasta machine, starting with the thickest setting and ending up about two settings short of the thinnest setting. Try to roll it out so that you have an evenly long piece of dough that will fit across your ravioli form. If you're not using a ravioli form, just lay out the dough on the counter, drop about a tablespoon of filling, evenly spaced across the dough, then cover with another layer of dough. Spread a little water with your finger, along the edges, to help the sealing. Starting from the middle, press down on the spaces between the ravioli, working out to the edges. Using a pasta/pastry crimper (or a knife if you don't have one), crimp the dough between the filling, then separate the ravioli, and use a fork to crimp along the edges, ensuring the ravioli don't open when boiled.
- When cooking in the boiling water, lower the temperature so that the ravioli just come to a low simmer, or low boil. If they boil too vigorously, you risk bursting the ravioli.
- Serve with your favorite sugù, or sauce.