Sunday, January 16, 2011

Adventures in Ravioli Making

Let me start by saying that not every meal can be perfect. I've tried making homemade pasta on multiple occasions and I can never seem to get it quite right. First I tried the pasta maker attachment for my Kitchen Aid mixer. That was a gooey, sticky mess. Both times. Then I tried gnocchi. They ended up overcooked and falling apart. So tonight I thought I'd attempt to hand-make ravioli. It wasn't a complete failure, but let's just say I learned some (more) lessons.

I went back to our trusty Mario Batali cookbook, which did me so well yesterday with the meatloaf. Tonight I was excited to use my new ravioli cutter, so I found an amazing-sounding recipe in the book (and made some minor adjustments because let's be real ... Mario calls for some pretty sophisticated ingredients sometimes). All of my lessons learned are incorporated below.

Ravioli with Chicken, Sausage and Goat Cheese
Pasta Ingredients:
3 1/2 cups flour
5 eggs

Filling Ingredients:
4 tablespoons butter
1/2 white onion, chopped
1/2 lb. ground chicken
1/2 lb. mild Italian sausage
3 tablespoons goat cheese
1/4 cup grated pecorino romano cheese
1 tablespoon dried marjoram
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Salt and pepper

Sauce Ingredients:
4 tablespoons butter
1 cup baby portabella mushrooms

To make the pasta, Mario says to mound the flour on a large cutting board and make a well in the center. Then, you're supposed to add all 5 eggs to the well and whisk them with a fork. Well, I thought a nice short cut would be to whisk the eggs a bit prior to adding them to the flour (because just tossing them in seemed like it would create a giant mess).

I proceeded to make a giant mess. Either my well wasn't deep enough or whisking the eggs was a bad idea, because it overflowed and I ended up with a puddle here, a puddle there. So I just got to work mixing in the flour. According to Mario, you should work in the flour and continuously shape the well until the dough starts to come together. I just kept mixing the mess until it began to come together.

Mario says it's very important to knead the pasta dough for 10 minutes to result in a silken texture. So, like I did with my bread dough, I set the kitchen timer and got to work. My arms were sore at the end, but the dough came together pretty well. I wrapped the dough in plastic and set it aside for 30 minutes.

To make the filling, melt the butter in a skillet and add the onion. Cook until very soft, about 7 to 8 minutes. Add the chicken and sausage and cook until no longer pink, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and cool.

Put chicken-sausage mixture in food processor and pulse until mixture is fine, almost paste-like (I'd compare the texture to a coarse pate). Combine goat cheese, romano, marhoram, parsley, nutmeg, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add chicken-sausage mixture and stir until well-combined.

Now here comes the tricky part. To roll out the dough, you're supposed to feed it through a pasta machine. My Kicthen Aid pasta attachment doesn't have a sheet attachment, so I thought I could break out the old rolling pin. Now, you're supposed to roll the dough to about a 1/4-inch thickness BEFORE passing it through the machine. I got Bill's muscles in on the action and between the two of us, we probably came away with two sheets of dough that were about a 1/4-inch thick. And for the sake of our arms, we had to stop there.

This ravioli cutter I bought from Crate and Barrel wasn't as easy as I thought it would be either. It took a bit of strength to cut through the dough, but I'm not sure if the trouble was the tickness of the dough or the lack of sharpness of the cutter.

Technically, the recipe asks you to place teaspoonfuls of filling about a 1/2-inch apart on one sheet, top it with the other sheet and use a ravioli cutter to cut around the filling. Given the thickness of my dough, I wasn't so sure that was going to happen, so instead I cut through the single sheets, placed teaspoonfuls of dough on one dough slice, dampened the edges, topped it with another dough slice, and used a fork to seal the edges.

I dropped them in a pot of boiling water. Mario's ravioli take about 3 to 4 minutes to cook. I decided to judge their doneness by when they floated to the top of the pot. I'm not exactly sure how long that took, but it was certainly more than 3 to 4 minutes.

While the ravioli were boiling, I made the sauce. This part is super simple. Melt the remaining 4 tablespoons butter in a skillet over medium heat, add the mushrooms, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook until soft. When the ravioli floated, I drained them and added them to the pan with the mushroom-butter sauce.

So the ravioli were a bit tough. No doubt this was because my dough wasn't rolled as it should have been. I've decided that I absolutely need to go out and get myself an old-fashioned pasta maker ... the kind with a crank handle. That will still be a workout, but I think the end result will be worth it.

Luckily, the ravioli filling was delish, as was the mushroom sauce. And actually, the pasta wasn't so bad if you split the ravioli and ate a single layer at a time. Still, I was disappointed that I didn't get homemade pasta right ... again.

Thank goodness we were able to end the meal on a high note because I had made espresso creme brulee again. And this time, I had butane for my torch! I used it to create a very tasty sugar crust, which definitely took the brulee up a notch. Plus, playing with fire was tons of fun :)


  1. This sounds like one of those things that takes a lot of practice to get right. I'm talking years!

    My aunt used to make pierogi like a MACHINE, but it took her making thousands over years to get it right! My mom makes the dough and rolls it out by hand to a super thin consistency, then uses one certain, special wine glass to cut the rounds, one special spoon to measure out the filling, then sticks it together by hand. I don't know how many busted pierogi it took to perfect that. They make pierogi dough cutters and contraptions that you can put all the ingredients in and just press it together, but anyone I've ever heard with experience has said it's best to do it by hand. Sounds like this is the case with these too! Same with rolling the ravioli dough, even though it's tough.

    I always say that none of that matters as long as it tastes good. A mess still tastes as good as something perfectly constructed. Sure seems like this tasted good so..success!

  2. I actually found a different recipe and slightly different technique here:

    I'm fairly confident this will be better, so I'm going to give it a few weeks and try again. I really think my dough was too tough, due to a disproportionate amount of dry to wet ingredients. But I still want to buy an old fashioned pasta roller!