Making fresh ravioli from scratch becomes much easier, and a great time, when you share the work. Gather your friends and family and try this recipe.
For many, time spent in the kitchen in December is all about baking; prepping for cookie swaps, building gingerbread houses and dousing that fruitcake with another spoonful of rum. But for me, my family and now some of my friends, it’s spent making ravioli.
In a tradition that began long before I was born, my father’s family gets together one weekend after the turkey has been forgotten but before Santa is on his way to make the ravioli we will all share on Christmas Eve.
Ravioli is special. We only eat it this time of year, partially because of all the work that goes into making it. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realized it’s also special because I’m making it in a group with people I love.
The act of making pasta is this big Christmas-themed word cloud that encompasses love, family, friendship, joy and even a little magic when you see a ball of dough turn into a hundred cheese-filled crimped ravioli.
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It’s the same reason why so many of my Mexican friends make tamales to eat at Christmas, or my North Dakota family gets together to make lefse, a Norwegian flatbread; many hands make light work and the result is something you all share in together.
Since I no longer live near my immediate family, over the years I’ve found other people to make ravioli with each holiday season. Yes — I have made it alone, and trust me, it’s nowhere near as wonderful. But there have been times I have taught friends the wonders of fresh pasta and still others when I have been a guest at another friend’s pastry board, getting in on her annual ravioli-making day (and even learning a trick or two).
The process is simple and can require as many or as few special tools as you would like. Over the years I have upped my game and sprung for a pasta roller, a crimped pastry wheel and a ravioli rolling pin (my most recent one purchased at Culinary Essentials in Ballard), but my 89-year-old grandmother still uses only a rolling pin, a sharp knife and a fork to crimp the edges of her ravioli together.
Once you’ve assembled your team, making the dough is the most important step. The difference between tough pasta and ravioli that melts in your mouth depends on how long you have kneaded the dough. Turning the dough from a shaggy mess to a smooth, slightly elastic ball requires a full 10 minutes, pulling and stretching it into submission. It’s nearly impossible to over-knead, and the dough will tell you when it’s ready. If it starts to become too tough to push around, you know it’s done.
When it comes to filling, stick to a classic three-cheese blend — ricotta, Parmesan and pecorino Romano — kicked up with fresh ground black pepper and a generous amount of fresh parsley. It’s a versatile filling that pairs well with everything from sage brown butter sauce to the classic red sauce we serve on Christmas, studded with braciola, meatballs and hunks of pork shoulder.
Once the dough is mixed and has rested, it’s easy to get into the groove with your friends and family. One person rolls the dough while another plops down filling. A third does the cutting while a fourth can do the crimping. (If there are scraps left over, my family turns these into small noodles we call covadilles — but you can just as easily cook these up the day of for a satisfying treat.) Finally, finish the job by freezing the ravioli flat on sheet pans to then be placed in bags, ready for a pot of boiling water come Christmas Eve.
Makes about 200 ravioli
For the pasta:
6 cups flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 large eggs
a splash olive oil
scant 2 cups warm water
For the filling:
1 15-ounce tub full-fat ricotta
½ cup grated Parmesan
½ cup grated pecorino Romano
1 cup loose packed flat leaf parsley
2 tablespoons coarse ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1. If mixing by hand, divide the dough ingredients into two batches, to make it easier to work with.
2. Mix together the flour and salt, either in a bowl or in a mound on your countertop. Make a well in the middle, crack the egg, and place in the well. With a fork or your fingers, start beating and incorporating the egg into the sides of the flour, widening your circle. It will first look like you are making scrambled eggs. Slowly drizzle in the oil, mixing all the while. Gradually add the water, just enough for the dough to come together in a shaggy mass — you may not use it all. Once it becomes too tough to beat with the fork, turn the dough out of the bowl (if using) onto a lightly floured surface and start rolling the dough together with your hands, to form a ball.
3. Begin to knead and really work the dough, stretching and rolling on your countertop until all the flour has been incorporated, at least 10 minutes. The dough should be smooth and slightly elastic.
4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 with remaining ingredients, creating two equal-sized dough balls. Cover dough with a clean kitchen towel and let rest for 45 minutes.
5. While dough is resting, finely chop parsley and mix all filling ingredients together in a large bowl, adding salt and pepper to taste. This can be done one day in advance. Keep the filling cool in the refrigerator until ready to use.
6. After resting, cut the dough into three even pieces (six for the full batch). Cover the rest of the balls when working with one.
7. On a large surface roll the dough until it is about 2 millimeters thin — about the thickness of a quarter. It will feel smooth and thin, almost like paper.
8. If using a ravioli rolling pin, fold the dough in half evenly, making a slight crease. Evenly spread filling on one half of the dough, leaving the width of a fingertip as a border. Fold the other half of the dough on top, and roll firmly away from you from bottom to top with the ravioli rolling pin to create the ravioli. Cut with a sharp knife or pastry wheel, setting the unfilled edges aside for scraps.
9. If using your hands, cut the dough into long strips. Take one strip and drop a teaspoon of filling about 1 inch apart. Place another strip of dough on top, and press around the filling mound to release any air bubbles. Slice around the ravioli and crimp edges together with a fork.
10. Place finished ravioli in a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze until completely frozen, about 30-45 minutes. Place frozen ravioli in sealable bags.
11. Repeat until all dough is used.
12. To cook, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Drop in frozen ravioli and cook for 4-6 minutes, or until they rise to the surface. Remove from water and serve with the sauce of your choice.