Homemade ravioli are my signature dish. These delicate pasta pillows stuffed with goodness are a great way to impress your guests, and would be perfect for a Christmas dinner. You can make them in advance and when it is time to serve them, they only take a couple of minutes to cook. The best part is that you get to make your own stuffing. The possibilities are endless and there are numerous recipes on this blog.
If you’ve never made ravioli before and you’d like to serve them for Christmas, or any other dinner party with guests for that matter, I recommend that you practice making them at least once. Making ravioli is not a lot of work (I made the 42 ravioli pictured above in 20 minutes including taking pictures) and it is not very difficult either, but it does require some practice. Making fresh pasta dough also requires some practice, but there is still time before Christmas to practice that as well 😉
I’ve been making ravioli for years now, and in this post I will share with you what I’ve learned over the years to make the best ravioli every time.
1. Make the dough from Italian 00 flour
In Italy, two types of flour are used to make fresh pasta: farina di grano tenero tipo 00 (Italian double zero flour from soft wheat) and semola di grano duro rimacinato (semolina flour from durum wheat). For the best ravioli it is important to make the pasta as delicate as possible, and therefore 00 flour is the best choice. Pasta made from semolina flour is more sturdy and has more flavor, which would detract from the all-important filling.
I advise against using other types of flour (such as all-purpose flour) to make fresh pasta, as they may not be suitable for making fresh pasta dough. After gaining some experience making fresh pasta, you can try out other flours to see if they work too. There are many types of wheat and many types of milling, and the flour from two bags that are both labeled as “flour” or “all-purpose flour” could behave very differently indeed.
As for the other ingredients, only flour and eggs are needed to make pasta dough for ravioli. Adding salt or olive oil is not necessary. You could substitute the eggs or part of the eggs with water, but that would diminish the elasticity of the dough, needed to roll it out thinly.
2. Make the sheet of pasta as thin as possible
Ravioli are all about the stuffing and allowing it to shine. A common beginner’s mistake is to make ravioli from pasta that is not thin, making the ravioli clunky rather than delicate. The sheet of pasta should be so thin that you can see through it. If you use a pasta machine to roll out the pasta (which I recommend), then you should continue all the way to the narrowest setting.
It is only possible to roll out the dough that thin without tearing it if the dough is very smooth and elastic, and only slightly sticky. It takes some practice to develop a ‘feel’ for what good pasta dough should feel like. This post explains how to make pasta dough using a stand mixer. For smooth and elastic pasta dough and rolling it out thinly, the following tips are important:
- Use Italian 00 flour (see above);
- Out of the dough made with 1 egg, you will yield about 20-25 ravioli. The classic ratio is 100 grams (2/3 cup) flour per egg, but start with all the eggs and less flour and gradually add more until the dough is only slightly sticky. If you start with too much flour, the dough will become very hard to handle.
- Knead the dough well, at least 5 minutes but preferably 10 minutes. Test whether the dough has become elastic: if you poke your finger into it, the dough should slowly bounce back;
- Allow the dough to rest for at least half an hour (both inside and outside of the refrigerator are OK; outside of the refrigerator is not a good idea for a longer time when it’s hot);
- Always wrap the dough in plastic wrap so it doesn’t dry out;
- When you start rolling out the dough using a pasta machine, first work it through the widest setting 5-10 times, folding it in half after each passage, until the dough becomes even more smooth and elastic;
- If the dough seems too sticky while you are rolling it out, dust it lightly with flour;
- If the sheet of dough becomes too long when you are rolling it out to such a thin setting, cut it in half and finish rolling out the two pieces separately.
3. Slightly over-season the filling
As with all cooking, tasting along the way is important. When tasting the filling for ravioli, you should always season it slightly more than seems right when tasting the filling separately. This is because the flavor will be ‘diluted’ by the pasta that will surround it. If you don’t over-season, the ravioli will end up tasting under-seasoned.
If you are worried about tasting a filling that contains raw egg (or raw meat or fish), cook a teaspoon of the filling briefly in the microwave or in a non-stick frying pan over medium heat until it is cooked through before sampling it.
4. Allow the filling to firm up
Most ravioli are best when the filling is creamy. For this reason, eggs and ricotta are often added. Such a creamy, slightly ‘runny’, filling can be difficult to handle when sealing the ravioli. The solution is simple: put the filling in a bowl, cover it with plastic wrap, and refrigerate it for a couple of hours. The filling will become firmer and easier to handle. When the ravioli are cooked, the filling will become creamy again.
5. Seal the ravioli without trapped air
There are many different methods of sealing the stuffing inside pillows of fresh pasta. No matter which method you use, it is important that they are completely sealed (such that the filling won’t leak out when they are cooked) and that they are sealed without trapped air (because that trapped air would expand when the ravioli are cooked, and cause rupturing and thus leaking).
My preferred method of making ravioli, because of its speed and easiness, is as follows.
Arrange a sheet of pasta on a floured work surface (to prevent the sheet from sticking to the work surface). The sheet of pasta should be about 10 cm (4 inches) wide and (approximately) rectangular. Do not dust the top of the sheet with flour, this should remain slightly sticky.
Arrange small heaps (teaspoon-sized) of filling on the sheet of pasta dough, just off-center, with about 2-3 cm (1 inch) space in between. You can do this either with two spoons, your fingers, or a piping bag.
If the dough is slightly sticky there is no need to moisten with water. If however the dough is too dry, moisten the edge as well as between the heaps of filling.
Fold over the sheet of dough.
Now lightly stroke (‘caress’) each heap of filling, working from the top to the sides, to ‘massage’ out any trapped air…
…pushing down firmly when you reach the part where there is no more filling and two layers of dough are touching. Repeat this with all the heaps of filling, making sure not to trap any air in between the two sheets of dough.
6. Cut the ravioli with a scalloped pastry wheel
Using a scalloped pastry wheel serves two purposes: it will make the ravioli look pretty and because of the ‘bluntness’ of the wheel it will help sealing the ravioli.
It is important not to leave too much ‘skirt’ around the filling, about 4 mm (1/6 inch) is sufficient, as otherwise the ravioli will end up looking out of balance (taking into account that the dough will expand when it is cooked).
You can gather all the scraps of dough that you cut off, knead them briefly, and use the dough to make more ravioli, or gather all the scraps and eat them the next day with a simple sauce as maltagliati.
7. Turn the ravioli to dry both sides
Arrange the ravioli on a floured tray or a tea towel sprinkled with flour. It is important to turn them after 10-15 minutes, as otherwise the bottom could become soggy and stick to the surface. You don’t want to find out after finishing the last ravioli, that the first has become stuck and ruptures when you try to pry it free. If you make the ravioli long before you are going to cook them, refrigerate them on the tray (do not put them on top of each other) once they are dry. (It is possible to freeze ravioli by freezing them on the tray first and then putting them into a bag, but fresh ravioli have a better texture.)
8. Cook ravioli very briefly
Because the dough is so thin, ravioli take only 1-2 minutes to cook in ample boiling salted water. If you cook them for too long, they may start leaking and the pasta will become too soft (no longer al dente).
When draining the ravioli, be careful not to break them. For this reason, I prefer to lift the ravioli out with a strainer and gently lower them into the sauce rather than using a colander. However, this method is only suitable if you work quickly and for a limited amount of ravioli, as otherwise the ravioli will overcook while you are fishing them out of the pot.
9. Dress ravioli with a light sauce
As ravioli are all about the stuffing, it is important to dress them with a sauce that does not distract from that. Classic examples are butter and sage, some gravy from braising the meat that was used in the stuffing, or a simple pink sauce of cream and tomatoes.
10. Serve small portions of ravioli on preheated plates
Serving a small portion of about 6 ravioli makes them more special. Rather than quickly stuffing yourself with a large quantity, such a portion invites you to enjoy them slowly, savoring the wonderful flavor and texture. It is important to preheat the plates, so the ravioli won’t cool off too quickly. However, do not make the plates warmer than about 100ºC/210ºF, as higher temperatures would cause the ravioli to stick to the plate.
I hope these tips will encourage you to try making your own ravioli. Please feel free to ask any questions.