Making ravioli from scratch to me is about the most rewarding dish I can think of. Just to know I can keep up with the food experts, the Italians, gives me a reason to hold my head up a little higher. The best part is the result… When you taste the meat, spices, fresh pasta and tangy sauce all in one bite…you’re gonna cry tears of joy. To me ravioli is the ultimate in the four food groups uniting.
Summer is winding down and I don’t mind standing next to a warm stove these days. It’s also fun playing with dough; kneading, rolling, stuffing and cutting…all good and even better when the family gets involved.
To make the pasta it’s easy if you have a food processor and a pasta rolling machine. I have a processor but the old rolling-pin will have to do for me to make thin sheets of whole wheat pasta. I start with 2 cups whole wheat flour my husband and daughter ground a few months back. Put that in the processor along with a pinch or two of salt, three eggs and a splash of water. Sometimes you need water sometimes you don’t. It just depends on how the dough comes together. If it’s not coming together, splash it (1 tbsp). I give the dough a good minute in the processor to make the dough really stretchy but not too sticky. When it collects into a big ball it’s time to turn it out onto a heavily dusted surface. I use all-purpose flour to help me work the dough…it just turns out smoother that way. Knead the dough a while adding touches of flour until it is no longer sticky. I the wrap the dough in plastic film and refrigerate it for about thirty minutes. During that time I begin work on the filling.
I use about 1/2 pound of lean ground beef, a small red onion cut in tiny dice, two cloves of minced garlic, a couple good handfuls of fresh spinach, 1/4 cup of diced tomatoes smashed up, 4 bread heals crumbled, a half teaspoon each of salt, pepper, oregano, thyme, and 5 or six leaves of freshly chopped basil.
In a non-stick pan on high heat I start cooking the onion and garlic in a spot of olive oil. I add the ground beef , the herbs and spices, and then I crumble little pieces of the bread heels and stir that in. I turn down the heat when things start to get sticky then add the tomatoes. The moisture in them helps deglaze the pan. Now the filling will set aside while I get that pasta out of the ‘frige.
I cut the dough ball in thirds and begin to roll out some pasta. Using a generous amount of flour I coat the dough on both sides and begin to flatten it with my hands then roll it out with the rolling-pin. I keep flouring each side and rolling until the hunk of dough gets more and more spread out. When the dough is so thin you can easily see light through it, it’s getting there. I keep adding flour and rolling until it is like a silky sheet of uniform thickness. It’s not a perfect rectangle but as I roll, I try to guide it into a rectangular shape. When I’ve made it the thinnest possible sheet, I trim the sides to make a better rectangle…one that is twice as long as it is wide. In this sheet I can imagine 18 squares (3×6). One half of the rectangle will have the filling on it in spots of about one teaspoon each. The other half I will fold over and cover the spots of filling.
My grandmother had a kitchen tool for every purpose and I happened to inherit this odd little gadget. I never knew what it was for until I made ravioli. One end of this thing cuts pastry and the other end is used to press pastry edges together like little won-tons or calzones. It gives a cute crimped pattern to any dough you might need to seal…the cutting edge gives that ric-rac shaped edge to your pastry trimming efforts. Cool tool! I love it! I just wish I had never put it through the dishwasher as it made the black lacquer finish chip.
Well, now that the pasta is loaded with filling, I use another tool, just a barbecue brush from which I removed the brush from the handle and painted a tic-tac-toe pattern between the filling spots and around the outside edges with plain water. I then folded over the pasta sheet to cover all this and pressed the edges and in-between areas in order to seal the filling into little squares. Water and flour make glue so these ravioli are now glued shut. All I need to do is cut them into squares and boil them.
I get the water boiling and add about a teaspoon of salt. While it gets there, I finish the other two-thirds of dough, rolling, filling, tic-tac-toeing, sealing and cutting. The water must be in a full rolling boil before adding the ravs. I slip them in nine at a time and boil them for 10 minutes. This gives me time to make a quick marinara sauce using tomato paste, garlic, a little olive oil, and a large can of crushed tomatoes.
First, I put a little can of tomato paste in the pan on high heat with a spot of olive oil, and a clove of minced garlic. The tomato paste starts to darken a tiny bit and I add the crushed tomatoes. I chop about four more basil leaves and add that along with parsley, thyme, pepper, salt, and a pinch of sugar just to cut the tomato acid. I stir this together and turn the heat way down to a low simmer. It can bubble like hot lava on high heat so be careful.
Well, the ravs are done. I fish them out with a slotted spoon and place them on plates. The sauce is well heated and blended and ready to spoon over the pasta. I spread it out and then top it with freshly grated parmesan cheese. I have to tell you, I have eaten four ravioli with sauce and am completely stuffed! There was enough for four easily. I never even got around to making the last third of dough into ravioli. I had to pack everything up and save it for another time.
In St. Louis there is a dish indigenous to this place called toasted ravioli. Instead of boiling the ravs you deep fry them in vegetable oil until they float. Fish them out drain them a while and sprinkle them with parmesan cheese while they’re hot. You then dip them in marinara sauce to enjoy an appetizer just like many other St. Louisans. They are quite delicious and are found on almost every casual dining menu in this area. Also for the vegetarian crowd you could substitute the meat for mushrooms and a little more bread crumbs. Please enjoy this dish as we do, now that the weather is getting a little more Diva of Delicious friendly.