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Pasta Proficiency

From humble beginnings, ravioli squares have taken the world by storm and now line supermarket shelves. Have you ever thought to try making your own?

Tiffany Duncan
Tiffany Duncan
February 28, 2019

Have you ever had the experience of visiting a fancy Italian restaurant, been enticed by the description of the stuffed raviolis, ordered them, and then been totally flummoxed when your entrée arrives with about five raviolis? True, they are delicious in the 60 seconds it takes to consume them, but then you literally have to eat a second dinner afterward to get full.

Sound familiar? Perhaps in this situation you felt as if you’d been swindled. But I’m here to tell you that I now fully understand the difficulty that is making stuffed raviolis from scratch, and I will no longer be shocked by the minuscule portion set down before me. Quite the opposite, I will now appreciate the artistry and intricacy that’s involved, even if I have to hit up the McDonald’s drive-thru after.

To almost all of us, ravioli is something purchased in the dried pasta or refrigerated sections of the grocery store, hardly given a second thought. They look innocuous enough — just teeny little cheese-filled squares. Which is why I must have thought it would be easy to “whip” them up for dinner. Well, let me tell you, there was no “whipping up” of any kind going on; there was only four hours of unexpectedly tedious labor that yielded 13 raviolis. “Thirteen.” I ate seven; my husband ate six (I got the extra one because, duh, I was the one who suffered for it). Then, we had to make a second dinner on top of it all.

I’m not entirely sure what I expected when I decided to make scratch raviolis, but I did not anticipate the amount of detailed steps involved. First off, I had to make the dough for the pasta. The video I watched on YouTube showed a guy make a well of flour on his countertop with three neatly cracked eggs in the middle. A pasta-making book I’d read one time said that this was also the preferred method that little Italian grannies used when making homemade pasta. But little Italian granny I am not, so I promptly busted through my flour well when trying to “whip the eggs in the middle while gradually incorporating the flour around the sides.” Runny eggs poured forth over my countertop. Excellent start.

After stubbornly refusing to start over, I salvaged the runny countertop eggs and managed to incorporate it into the flour, making the dough ball. Enter first unexpected step No. 1: refrigerate dough ball for 30 minutes. I hate when a recipe rudely blindsides me with refrigeration time, even though I have no one to blame but myself for not reading the recipe beforehand.

While the dough ball chilled, I used this time to make the filling. I browned the ground chuck and sausage combo, then tediously cut up the spinach and parsley to add to the meat. I also added one cup of freshly grated parmesan, 16 ounces of ricotta cheese, chopped garlic, and olive oil. Once it was mixed, I sent it through the food processor and set it aside.

At this point enough time had elapsed to retrieve my properly chilled dough ball from the fridge. I cut it into three parts and rolled the first cut out a bit with a rolling pin before feeding it through my hand-crank pasta machine — a sleek red contraption that is displayed in my kitchen more as a decoration than useful tool the other 364 days of the year.

As satisfying as it is to crank out smooth ribbons of dough, it also does not come without its own complications. There are five or six different notches on the machine, and each one shrinks the distance between the rollers, making the dough thinner and thinner the lower they are set. But here’s the thing: you can’t cheat and start with the lowest setting first. You have to start big and work small or else the dough will get caught and mangled because it’s too thick. This means passing the same piece of dough through each notch at least twice, while folding it back into thirds in between each pass.

Finally, when I’d achieved a flat-enough ribbon, I tried to cut out little ravioli squares, but I used a cheap dough crimping tool that only managed to mangle my pretty ribbon — needless to say, that tool now sleeps with the fishes. I had to roll the dough back up and completely start the process over. My second attempt went OK, and I cut out the little squares using a pizza cutter, which worked much better. When I got to the third and last cut, however, I discovered another fun fact: pasta dough gets super dry, super quick, and I had to throw it away because it would no longer pass through the rollers.

I thought the little beasts were finally ready to be filled, but lo and behold, I did not notice that the filling needed to be chilled also. Of course it did. So I covered the raviolis with a damp tea towel on a floured baking sheet so they wouldn’t become rock hard (it was at this point I was starting to realize the raviolis obviously should have been made last, not first). I went ahead and made the pesto, which required toasting a third cup of pine nuts first. Luckily I did not burn them, and I added them to the food processor along with some lemon juice, olive oil, three cups packed basil, salt, and freshly ground black pepper. After blending it until smooth, I tasted it and immediately knew that no matter how this dinner turned out as a whole, this easy pesto sauce would become a staple in our household — it was that good. I highly recommend it.

The filling was finally chilled, so I began the most tedious part of the process: filling and sealing the raviolis. I placed about a teaspoon of filling into the center of half the tiny squares, egg washed the edges so it would act as a kind of glue, placed another little square on top, and sealed them all around with a fork. I then placed them in salted, boiling water for approximately three minutes, hoping and praying the filling wouldn’t bust through, which is a common problem that can occur at that point. To my credit, each and every one of them stayed sealed. Small victories, people.

After they’d cooled slightly I tossed them with the pesto, and I stepped back to admire them because they really did look beautiful, even if they weren’t all quite uniform in size. But I also just had to laugh, because after four hours of work I somehow hadn’t even made enough to fill my stomach, let alone my husband’s as well. I called him before he got home and asked him to stop at the grocery store for more food.

Reflecting on whether or not I nailed or failed this, I think it might be both. Failed, because I did not assemble the ingredients in proper order, nor am I fluent in efficient pasta dough making/rolling. But nailed, also, because they did look like they were supposed to, for the most part, and that pesto really was “delizioso.”

However, never, ever will I attempt homemade ravioli again. I’ll just shut up and eat my five restaurant raviolis in quiet deference from now on.