A how to-guide for making your own ravioli, tortellini, and more
While the prospect of preparing fresh, stuffed pasta may sound quite the endeavour, the reality is it’s shockingly easy to make and only requires a bit of elbow grease and patience as you learn the ropes.
It’s also a fun kitchen project for recruiting the help of friends, family, and kids alike. This how-to guide will break down the three basic elements of any stuffed pasta: the dough, the filling, and the shape, to get you on your way. Just put on that Andrea Bocelli playlist and you’re all set!
At its most basic, pasta dough can be made of just flour, water, and salt. Usually, recipes call for the addition of eggs (some combination of whole eggs and yolks) to add richness to the dough, helping to make it more tender, while also contributing to a golden yellow colour. While you can use all-purpose flour in a pinch, try to get your hands on some 00 flour, which is higher in protein and finer in texture, yielding a silkier finished product.
The “recipe” for making fresh pasta is so simple that it’s more of a formula or process than it is an exact recipe. For a standard batch, you’ll need about 2 cups of flour (280 g if you’re weighing), 2 whole eggs, 2 egg yolks, and a pinch of salt. Clear your counter or work in a large bowl, add in the flour and salt and make a well in the middle. This is where all the wet ingredients will go. Add in your eggs and egg yolks, and use a fork to whisk the eggs in the centre of the well. Once the eggs are broken up, gradually start to whisk in the flour, incorporating more and more of it into the eggs. Eventually you are going to want to switch from the fork to your hands, and begin kneading the dough together.
Water will toughen the dough, so only add it if the mass you have at this point is too dry to hold together. It can be helpful to use a spray bottle to do this so you’re only adding as little water as possible. Knead for 10 to 15 minutes until the dough becomes smooth and supple. At this point, rest the dough for at least 30 minutes before rolling it out. If you want to get your mise en place down ahead of time, you can make it the day before and rest it in the fridge overnight. Just make sure it’s wrapped well with cling film so that it doesn’t dry out.
While this base recipe is tried and true, you can always add in other flavourings to spice it up. The addition of even the smallest amount of squid ink yields a striking, jet-black pasta (just beware, it will also temporarily dye your hands). Herb purées or even beet juice can be mixed into the dough for green or pink pasta, respectively.
When it‘s time to roll out the dough, you might want to invest in a pasta machine if you don’t have one already. A standard hand crank model will do the trick, but these days there are also attachments you can buy for your stand mixer that may be more your speed. The beauty of making filled pastas is that you only have to roll out your dough into large sheets (rather than then taking those sheets and cutting them into finer strands).
Make sure to start with the machine on a wider setting as you begin to feed the dough through, working in small chunks (don’t try to feed in the entire dough ball all at once). After this first pass, you can turn the setting finer with each pass. Depending on the machine, you likely won’t have to take it down to the finest setting, but stopping at the second or third finest should do the trick.
The brilliance of filled pasta is that at the end of the day, you can fill it with pretty much whatever you want. Standards could include, but are not limited to, ricotta cheese laden with spinach, pecorino, and plenty of black pepper, roasted squash puree with thyme and maple syrup, or ground beef with tomato paste and rosemary. For this article, I’ll let you get creative in coming up with the combination of your choice, and will focus on highlighting some of the dos and do not’s, so you avoid ending up with a countertop full of raw pasta and messy filling.
First, you don’t want a filling that is too wet otherwise it will seep out and make the pasta impossible to seal. Second, you don’t want a filling that is hot, otherwise the pasta will start to disintegrate and be difficult to work with. If your filling requires cooking to prepare it, like a meat sauce, make it ahead of time and thoroughly chill it in the fridge before stuffing. It may even be wise to pop your filling in the freezer to harden it to the point where you can use an ice cream scoop or melon baller to plop rounds of it onto your sheets of pasta. If the filling is less chunky and more of a puree, using a piping bag to distribute it is usually the easiest way.
If you’re especially ambitious, you can also think about incorporating fillings within fillings. A classic example of this is egg yolk raviolo. Effectively a large, palm-sized ravioli, it is made by creating a circular border of ricotta or mascarpone cheese, and then nestling an egg yolk in the centre, before gently sealing another layer of fresh pasta on top.
Of all the stuffed pastas, ravioli is by far the easiest and one that I would recommend as a starting point if you’ve never tried your hand at stuffed pastas before. The basic premise is that you lay down a sheet of fresh pasta and dollop small, circular portions of your filling evenly along the sheet, leaving enough space between dollops to be able to cut them into individual ravioli. After doing this, use a pastry brush to dab water or egg yolk around the border of the filling. This will help the bottom and top layers of pasta stick to each other.
Once this is complete, you can drape the top layer of pasta over the filling, working from one end of the sheet to the other to work out any air bubbles that may form between the filling and pasta (this can become problematic when boiling them). Once everything is sealed, you can then take a ring mold and cut out the individual ravioli. Alternately, you can cut square ravioli with a knife or pasta cutter, which wastes less dough.
After you’ve perfected your ravioli, you may want to try your hand at agnolotti or tortellini. Agnolotti are tubular bites that are made from piping a single dashed line of filling lengthwise down your sheet of pasta. You then fold the sheet over on itself to close the tube, and cut through the unfilled dashes to separate the pasta into individual units. Some could argue that this method is even easier than ravioli.
In contrast, tortellini are much more fiddly, but produce a beautiful finished product. They are made by cutting your larger sheet of pasta into individual squares and dolloping filling in the lower quadrant close to one of the points but leaving enough room for a border. Take the square, folding it diagonally, sealing the pasta and bringing the two points of what is now a triangle together. It should look like a bishop’s hat (albeit much tastier).
Whatever shape you try your hand at, be sure to make plenty, as they freeze well. After all, if you’re going to take the time to make stuffed pasta from scratch, there better be leftovers. They’ll serve as a pleasant surprise on a busy night after work when you find them tucked away in the bottom of your freezer!