Cooking

How to make ravioli like an Italian

I hired an Italian lady to look after Carys while I participated in the Reggio Emilia study group; I have to say that Alvin was more than a little nervous about it (“What do you mean you haven’t done a background check?”) but Adriana – whom I found on the Italian equivalent of Care.com – ended up being simply fabulous.  She picked us up at the train station after a very confusing journey (the guy at the fast train ticket counter told me the trains were full for the rest of the day, when it turned out that only the fast trains were full and there was lots of space on the regular trains, and I hadn’t even realized there were different ticket counters for each kind…) and took us grocery shopping.  The Study Group began with a walking tour of the town the next day, so Adriana came over early to spend some time with Carys while teaching us how to make pasta.

I’ve made pasta several times before at home, and I have to say it was simply terrible.  Now I see a large part of the problem was the Bon Appetit recipe I was using, which I’d discovered when I needed to get rid of some egg yolks.  It calls for 3 egg yolks, 6 tbsp water, and 4 tbsp olive oil – but I now know that pasta should contain nothing but flour, eggs, and salt.

I’ve made Adriana’s recipe twice since I’ve been home as well and it came out pretty well both times.  It wasn’t as yellow as the Italian version but that’s because the Italians have special eggs for pasta.  The chicken feed is laced with E110 Sunset Yellow food coloring, which makes the yolks – and thus the pasta – yellow.  Even my pasture-raised eggs weren’t enough to make my pasta super yellow, but the taste was unaffected.  The first time I rolled it a little thin and it went a bit flabby when it was cooked.  The second time I left it thicker and it was MUCH better – it had a really nice ‘bite’ to it.

The amounts called for are on the rough side, which is how Italians seem to cook.  The weather really impacts the pasta as well – it was raining when I made mine in Berkeley and the dough absorbed a lot of flour.  Use the pictures as a guide.

Be mindful that this recipe does contain eggs.  Carys is getting pretty good about not eating during cooking (except for granola), but we kept an eye on her anyway to make sure nothing with raw egg in it went in her mouth.

Spinach Ravioli Recipe

Serves roughly six people.

For the pasta:

  • 300g Italian “Type 00” flour.  This flour is ground much more finely than American flour and will make your pasta much less chewy than with any other kind of flour.  I found it in my local grocery store or you can get it on Amazon.  I’ve read that bread flour is an acceptable substitute if you just can’t/don’t want to get Type 00 flour, but I haven’t tried it.
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 big pinches salt

Pile the flour onto a large cutting board or work surface, sprinkle the salt on top, and make a well in the center.  Break the eggs into the well.  Use a fork to beat the eggs, pulling in flour from the sides of the well to incorporate.  Keep doing this until the mixture forms a dough.  Knead, adding flour as necessary, until the dough is very dry – basically until it can’t absorb any more flour.  (This was a key mistake I made in previous pasta attempts – I had been making a nice supple bread-style dough, when I should have been aiming for something much more dry.)  Set aside while you make the filling.

 

pasta by hand

homemade pasta recipe

how to make pasta

what should pasta dough look like

pasta cutter

 

For the filling & topping:

  • 8 oz frozen chopped spinach, defrosted
  • 8 oz frozen chopped kale, defrosted (Adriana uses beet greens, but I couldn’t find those in the U.S.)
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 2 shallots, finely minced
  • 3/4 cup milk (preferably whole milk)
  • 2 big pinches salt
  • 1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 egg
  • 10 oz parmesan, finely grated (and if there’s a recipe for which it’s worth using Parmigano Reggiano I’d say it’s this one, as Parmigiano Reggiano actually comes from Reggio Emilia and the surrounding area)
  • ~3oz butter for the “sauce”

Finely chop the spinach and kale, or pulse it for 15 seconds or so in the food processor.  While my package of kale showed pictures of leafy greens I actually got about half a package of stems, so the food processor will help to break those down.  Put the greens in a colander and press out as much water as you can.

Melt the butter in a large frying pan and gently fry the shallots until they are translucent.  Add the greens and milk and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until no liquid remains in the bottom of the pan.  You can add a tablespoon or so of Panko or other dry breadcrumbs if the greens won’t dry out as much as they should.  Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

Mix in the salt, nutmeg, egg, and 9 oz parmesan (save the rest for sprinkling over the finished dish).  Set aside.

 

spinach parmesan ravioli filling

 

Assembly

Check the texture of your dough.  After resting mine got quite a bit more soft and damp in texture so I put it back in the KitchenAid and kneaded in some more flour until it was dry again.  Basically you want it to be at the point where the dough cannot absorb any more flour.

Roll out the pasta to about 1 mm thick.  Really, this is kind of a pain in the butt to do by hand.  We did it in Italy and it was fine for small quantities – with two of us rolling – but at home I doubled the recipe and it would have been a nightmare to do all that rolling by hand so I used the KitchenAid pasta attachment.  Take 1/3 of the dough and run it through on the #1 setting.  Fold in half and re-run; fold in half and re-run.  I find this process helps to prevent tears in the pasta as you move to the thinner settings.  Now, dusting the pasta lightly with Type 00 flour after each rolling, pass the dough through the rollers on the #s 2, 3, and 4 settings (I rolled to the #5 setting my first time at home and it was too thin).   The KitchenAid gives you a pasta sheet about 5 1/2″ wide which is a little wider than you need so trim it to 4 1/2″ for a better balance of pasta and filling.  (Add the trimmings back to your dough ball and roll it out again with the next batch.)

If you’re doing it by hand, roll a strip about 4 1/2″ wide by as long as it turns out, and about 1/32″ (1mm can be easier to visualize) thick.

Place rounded tablespoons of filling at intervals slightly off-center along the sheet of pasta.  Allow about 1″ between each pile of filling.  Fold the sheet lengthways to cover the filling.  Cup your fingers around each pile of filling to press out the air around the filling and at the same time press the two sheets of pasta firmly together.  (Having made many apple pies over the years I’d assumed the egg wash that the Bon Appetit recipe uses to seal the pasta was necessary; it turns out that it is not.)  I find it helpful to shift the little piles of filling together a bit so the top layer of pasta doesn’t get too stretched as you seal it around the filling.  Cut between the ravioli, and also tidy the long edge, with a ravioli cutter or just with a knife.

 

homemade ravioli

handmade ravioli

 

The ravioli freeze very well at this point; freeze them in a single layer on a baking sheet and then transfer them to a bag.  When you defrost them, make sure they don’t touch – they get incredibly sticky and will tear when you try to separate them (trust me ~sigh~).

Melt the butter for the “sauce” in a small frying pan over a low heat and set aside. (This is the sauce.  You could consider alternate types of sauce but that ain’t how they do it in Reggio Emilia.)

Bring a large pot of water to the boil.  Adriana uses an absolutely enormous amount of salt (I seem to recall it being about 1/4 cup); she actually had me taste the water to check the seasoning and it was quite salty.  At home I used 2 tbsp Kosher salt and the water did taste salty and the cooked ravioli was adequately salted.  If you’re on a low-salt diet then salt with caution.  Otherwise, go for it.  Cook the ravioli for about 2 minutes, or until they float.  Check any that aren’t floating to make sure they’re not stuck to the bottom.  Drain the ravioli briefly on a wire rack and then transfer to plates.  Pour over the melted butter and the reserved parmesan.

Serve with a light salad – e.g. arugula with a balsamic/olive oil dressing.  (This is my addition.  Adriana does not serve the ravioli with a salad :-))

 

ravioli spinach parmesan recipe

 

This was just the start of Adriana’s time with Carys – I have to say that the whole week went much better than I could have even hoped.  Adriana had delved quite deeply into my blog to learn about Carys, memorized a list of words Carys uses that don’t always sound much like the original versions, and even bought her a cuddly monkey toy as a “welcome” gift.  If you’re considering taking your child with you on a Study Group in Reggio Emilia, drop me a line and I’ll send you Adriana’s contact information – she’d love to see if she can work with you.

 

At the end of the trip we went to Florence's Central Market and found the secret to perfect ravioli...

At the end of the trip we went to Florence’s Central Market and found the secret to perfect ravioli…

 

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