What is it about ravioli that has us so captivated? Is it the soft supple texture of the pasta or the multitude of ingredients that we can fill them with that makes these little dumplings so popular? One thing is for sure, there are a few things to consider when adding handcrafted ravioli to your menu.
Are you going to make your own pasta dough, or will you use a pre-made pasta sheet?
If you want to make your own pasta dough, you’ll need to decide which type of flour to use.
We often associate Semolina flour with pasta making because it is a very course ground flour and it will produce a rough and dense pasta that will soak up your sauce better. But that texture and density will compete with your filling, which is really what you want to stand out.
Most all-purpose flour will do, but I prefer Doppio (double) Zero all-purpose flour. Its super fine texture yields a very light and delicate pasta perfect for showcasing your delicious filling.
Although you are not proofing the dough because there is no yeast in recipe, you still need to allow time for the gluten structure to develop which will allow you to stretch the dough without tearing it. This can take anywhere from 30 minutes up to a few hours.
If you choose to use pre-made pasta sheets, there are many brands and styles to choose from, thinner is better where ravioli is concerned. Pasta sheets definitely have some advantages. They are easy to use, store easily and can save labor hours. The flip side is that pasta sheets can be more expensive than purchasing the raw ingredients to make pasta dough in house. When deciding which route to take, weigh the added cost and convenience of the pre-made sheets against your labor cost and staffing availability. Perhaps the biggest advantage to using pasta sheets is that you can get right down to the business of making your filling.
Tools. There are many tools and techniques available to handcraft ravioli. You can use a pasta making attachment for your stand mixer that will sheet your pasta dough. Then fill and press the two halves together all in the same process. You might decide to use a countertop pasta sheeter and a ravioli mold to manually fill and shape your raviolis. Lastly, you can lay your sheeted pasta dough on the counter, dollop the filling on the dough and after pressing the two halves together, use a cutting wheel or ravioli stamp to shape and perforate the dumplings. In any case it is all the same process. Sheet, fill, press and cut.
Filling! Once you have decided on the particulars of flour, shape, size and tools, all that’s left is the filling. You don’t have a lot of real estate to work with, so simple is better.
If you have too many ingredients, your flavors could get lost and overwhelm the palate.
Ensure that all ingredients are fully incorporated and avoid big chunks of meat or vegetables.
If your filling contains raw meat, consider lightly sautéing it beforehand. This brings the flavors together and since fresh pasta cooks so quickly, it may be over done before your filling is at a safe serving temperature. If you are using a cutting wheel or ravioli stamp, ensure that you are not overfilling your ravioli or they will burst during the cooking process. I like to use a .5-ounce disher, to ensure consistency.
If you are using a mold, you’ll be able to see the indentions where you will place your filling. This will help you to know how much filling to use. The ravioli making attachment will automatically fill the ravioli for you, eliminating the guess work.
Whether you are using pasta maker/sheeter or a rolling pin, the desired thickness is generally 1/16-inch, but follow the manufacturers guidelines for your pasta sheeter/maker.
Once you have made your ravioli, allow them to rest on your work surface for about 15 minutes before handling them. This will allow them to form a good seal and dry slightly so that they will not stick to each other.
If you are going to cook the ravioli immediately, there is nothing left to do but boil your water and start cooking. If you will be preparing your ravioli to order it is best practice to pre portion them before storing them. This will save prep time on the line and is a great portion controlling measure. In my experience, an 8-ounce portion of ravioli is about right for most guests. I base this portion on a 1.5-inch square ravioli (about 17 in a serving)
To store fresh ravioli, place them on a sheet pan lined with waxed paper or a silicone mat and place in freezer until they are frozen on the outside. I like to use sandwich bags to portion the ravioli into single servings because they are inexpensive and easy to store in a container in the freezer.
Consider creating a seasonal special with your hand-crafted ravioli and bring in flavors that feature the best that the season has to offer. One of my favorites is a filling made with house-made bulk sausage with hints of sage and clove, dolce ricotta and smoked mozzarella, drizzled with a butternut squash reduction and candied walnuts. Paired with a nice pour of your favorite Bourbon, a warm sweater and you are set for a great fall or winter meal!
Each of these methods has their advantages and draw backs. Consider your restaurant’s volume, your staffing levels, the amount of storage available for the raw ingredients and how often you plan to feature hand-crafted ravioli. If ravioli will be a staple menu item, then speed is more of a consideration than wasted dough. If ravioli is a seasonal or weekly special, you may decide that the hand-crafted artisan look is worth the time and labor. In any case the love and energy you put into your ravioli will show in the end product.
MELISSA RICKMAN is co-founder of Wholly Stromboli in Fort Lupton, Colorado, and member of the World Pizza Champions.