To many people, ravioli conjures up a specific image: square mounds of thick, doughy pasta filled with meat or cheese (it's often hard to know which) and smothered with a heavy-duty tomato sauce. A green cylinder of “Parmesan style” grated cheese completes the picture.
That isn’t the style of pasta I’ll show you how to make here. Homemade ravioli can actually be delicate and delicious. In fact, the ravioli dishes at my restaurant can be the most subtle and refined of all my pastas, and their sauces tend to be simple. While unstuffed pastas are often paired with a complex sauce (spaghetti alla puttanesca or fettuccine Bolognese, for example), ravioli are best served in a light cream sauce or in a broth or, as in the recipes here, with a simple roasted tomato sauce or brown butter with Parmesan. These are quick to make, and they complement the ravioli without overwhelming it.
Making ravioli from scratch doesn’t require special equipment. A pasta rolling machine makes fast work of rolling out the dough, but it’s not essential; a regular rolling pin will suffice. For shaping and cutting the filled pasta, a ravioli mold and a scalloped pastry wheel are nice tools, but you’ll also do fine with a biscuit cutter.
Making your own egg pasta dough takes practice, but it's worth it
Successful ravioli starts with a moist, supple egg pasta dough, which must be rolled into thin sheets, filled, and then cut into shapes before the dough starts to dry out. If that sounds like it takes some skill, it does, but it’s a skill worth having. Once you’re comfortable with the technique for making the dough, you can make any homemade pasta you like, such as fettuccine, lasagna, or orecchiette.
Fresh pasta is made with flour, eggs, olive oil, and salt. Italians often use a soft flour called “00,” and some recipes call for pastry flour. These are both low in gluten and produce very delicate pasta. At my restaurant, I use a combination of “00” and all-purpose flour, but you’ll get excellent results using only all-purpose flour.
Making fresh pasta is more about mastering a process than a specific recipe. Because of variations in different types of flour, sizes of eggs, and even weather conditions, following any one recipe to the letter would probably give you less than optimal results. To tell the truth, I don’t even bother measuring my ingredients anymore. I just use the following rule of thumb: one egg per person and between 1/2 and 3/4 cup flour per egg.
The key is to know when to stop mixing in flour. If you don’t add enough, the dough will be too wet and will stick during kneading and rolling, which just means you add more flour at that time. But if you go too far, the dough will be hard and dry and will crumble during rolling, and there’s no remedy for this except starting again. How can you tell when the dough has enough flour? By sight, to some extent, but even more by the way it feels. It won’t easily absorb more flour, and you’ll notice that dried bits of floury dough are flaking off the mass.
Before starting to knead, scrape up all the leftover flour on the work surface. Pass the flour through a sieve; you’ll see lots of hardened dough bits left behind. Throw them out. While some frugal Tuscan cooks save these (boiled in a broth, they turn into tiny pasta dumplings), you don’t want them floating around in your dough. They wouldn’t integrate and would create holes when the dough is rolled out. Keep the sifted flour handy because you’ll need a bit more for the next step, which is kneading.
You’ll knead the dough until it becomes smooth and resilient. If it needs more flour to keep it from sticking to the work surface, that’s fine, but again, don’t add too much.
By the way, you can mix the dough in an electric mixer using a dough hook attachment if you want, but unless you’re making a lot of pasta dough, you’ll probably lose more time cleaning the machine than you saved in the mixing.
Three tips for making tender, moist pasta dough
A deep, wide well of flour makes a tidy mixing bowl. Start beating the eggs with a fork, being sure to stay in the center as you bring in flour from the sides.
The dough will tell you when it has enough flour. The dough will become smooth and homogeneous and won’t easily absorb more flour.
An “innie” becomes an “outie. ” When the dough is sufficiently kneaded, a finger dent will bounce back. Stick your finger into the center; it should feel a bit tacky.