Thursday, July 8, 2010


One of my goals this summer was to learn to make pasta.  I didn't want to do anything fancy really.  Ravioli seemed pretty straight forward.  It's just squares with cheese.  Similar to a tiny grilled cheese sandwich.  I make those all the time.  No problem.

Every cookbook I looked at had a basic pasta recipe that involved flour and eggs.  Again, straight forward and simple.  Only two ingredients.  How hard can that be?  Most of the cookbooks also had a sections that explained how to mix pasta by hand or using a food processor and how to cut the pasta using a pasta press or by hand.  There was nothing in the books that made me question my goal or my plan.  I could practically taste my ravioli.

I spent Sunday and Monday pouring over the cookbooks.  I made a list of the ravioli recipes that sounded really tasty and discounted others.  I wasn't interested in ravioli made with wonton wrappers.  That defeated the purpose of learning to make my own pasta.  I even decided that if I was taking the trouble to make the pasta, I  should also make the sauce.  How could I pollute perfect homemade ravioli with a jar of store bought spaghetti sauce?  I narrowed my ravioli choices down to three recipes and made my grocery list.

Tuesday, I did my grocery shopping.  I found pine nuts, sun dried tomatoes, red wine, ricotta, parmigiano-reggiano, pecorino romano, parsley, yellow onions, roma tomatoes.  I was set.  I even stopped at the farmer's market for eggs.   I picked basil from my garden.  I read my recipes again and decided that if I was going to do this I needed a pasta press. 

Originally, my plan had been to make my first pasta with as little cost as possible.  I didn't want to invest in any equipment until I was sure I liked to make pasta.   After my visit to the grocery store and the cost involved in all the ingredients I decided it was crazy not to invest in the one tool that could really make this endeavor a bit more manageable.  Wednesday morning found me at the local kitchen outlet store purchasing a pasta press.  It was the best decision I made during this pasta experiment, other than buying extra wine.

Wednesday afternoon found me pouring over my cookbooks again and preparing to make pasta.  I got off to a pretty good start.  I looked at my three different ravioli recipes, the clock and my cabinet of wine and decided that I needed to pick one recipe and double it for this first effort.  Three different kinds of ravioli at once was just silliness and I wasn't feeling particularly silly.  I chose a chicken stuffed ravioli with a homemade tomato sauce to begin.

The sauce was pretty straight forward.  A bit of chopping and mixing and I had a lovely tomato sauce simmering on the stove top.  The filling came together easily, as well.  Chopped chicken, cheeses, basil, garlic.  Impossible to go wrong with those ingredients.  I was certain that if the pasta was a flop my kitchen would still smell delicious.   I measured flour onto my clean counters, made a well and added the eggs.  Everything at room temperature, of course.  The flour and eggs mixed beautifully. The dough was a good consistency and fairly easy to manage.  I'm a baker and love to kneed so that was no problem.  In no time I had a slightly shiny, elastic ball of dough ready to be transformed into ravioli.  In fact, because I doubled the recipe, I had two balls of dough ready to be formed into ravioli.  Unfortunately, none of my books had warned that when doubling a pasta recipe, keeping the pasta moist can be an issue. 

Figuring out the press presented my first real challenge.  I read the instructions that came with the press first.  I was commanded to run the dough through the press 5-6 times on the widest setting to help kneed the dough.  Lack of moisture in the dough was becoming even more of a problem and I hadn't actually made any pasta yet, just dough.   I continued to run the dough through the press and was frustrated by dough that would pull apart or not feed through evenly.  I had lots of jagged edges and nothing that looked like I'd be able to make lovely ravioli from it.  Reading and rereading the instructions for pressing my pasta from my instruction manual and three recipe books led to throwing them all down in disgust.  I began experimenting with the dough on a quest for the perfect press technique. 

As I was ready to move onto the next step of pressing my parents arrived.  Dad pitched in with the pasta and together we moved on to the next set of instructions, begin to run pasta through press again. This time we were told to dial the press smaller with each roll.   More jagged edges and uneven feed but we could see progress.  Pressing was still a very slow process and I began to wonder about all those recipe books that said rolling pasta by hand was an acceptable option.  I said a prayer of thanks for sanity and my pasta press and swore I'd make it a priority to spread the word that pasta should not be made without a press.  Any attempt by amateurs at hand rolling pasta is potentially dangerous and just plain silly.

I filled the ravioli and sealed the edges while Dad continued to roll the noodles.  We made a pretty good team.  Despite lots of interruptions, a bit too much help and a spilled glass of wine, we were in fairly good spirits when it was time to boil the ravioli and put dinner on the table.   The ravioli was experimental to say the least.  They were not of a uniform size or shape.  I couldn't figure out how much stuffing to put in each piece.  Some of the edges didn't want to seal.  Even with all their imperfections they made it into the pasta pot and onto our plates.  It was an elegant meal due to the time rather than to the presentation.  Crusty bread, watermelon, chicken ravioli and tomato sauce.  Salt and pepper were necessary to pep up the taste.  I'll be tweaking the recipes as well as the pasta cutting technique but no one left the table hungry.  After dinner we took the remainder of the dough and cut it into spaghetti noodles then left them on the counter to dry.  Those will provide a nice lunch later in the week.  Dad and I were both pleased with how much easier it was to make the long noodles than it had been to make the ravioli.  The dough was dry enough by that time that some of it would no longer feed through the press at all.  I'll need to research the best technique for keeping dough moist.

I am now, officially, a pasta maker.  So is my dad and I'm pretty sure that wasn't anywhere on his list of things to accomplish this summer.

Here are some of my most important lessons learned from my pasta making experience.

#1  Frozen ravioli is cheaper and more tasty than my first effort at homemade ravioli.  That's okay.  It was worth doing anyway.

#2  If a job is worth doing, it's worth getting the right tools to do the job.  Making pasta without a pasta press is not a good idea.  If someone you know suggested this possibility, they are not truly your friend.

#3  All pastas are not created equal.  Spaghetti or linguine is a much better place to begin making pasta than any of the stuffed pastas.   Even if your ultimate goal is stuffed pasta, start simply.  Get use to the process and progress to the more challenging pastas.

#4 Buy plenty of wine.

1 comment:

  1. Great post about a fun time. My first time out was similar to your except I consulted an Italian cooking cookbook which told me to keep the unused dough wrapped in saran wrap while working with a portion. Hopefully you'll get the hang of it next time.
    Oh yeah, my first ravioli were also uneven and it took a lot of time. I still don't have the ravioli press but I am doing better with a pastry wheel to seal the edges. If you would like to see some more filling ideas or recipes and tutorials, come by my blog sometime.