The first time I saw fresh pasta made, I must have been very impressed. I say this because even though I don't remember the precise moment, I do recall suddenly morphing into a pasta-making fool in my sophomore year of college. I must have made pasta three times a week in those days, and considering my kitchen's limitations, that was true dedication.
I lived in a tiny, one-room apartment off campus (Yay! A place of my own!) with no counter space and about six feet separating the electric range and my bed. This proximity turned out to be a good thing, when I found myself circling in place looking for somewhere to deposit the pasta draped over my arms so I could continue to roll out more. My bed was typically inundated with odd plates and pans brimming with kitchen overflow (sexy, I know).
I don't know how I strayed so far from making my own pasta, but when I recently found myself reaching for commercially-made "fresh" pasta in a mega-grocery store, I knew it was time for self-intervention. In the past, my unspoken rule had been, if you're not willing to make your own pasta, eat dried. Quality dried pasta is delicious in its own right, and it has integrity. Brand name "fresh" pasta seems contemptible to me because it's trying to be something it's not - and it fails.
Obviously, if I really wanted fresh pasta I was going to have to dust off the old Atlas machine and get cranking.
This time around, I substituted my usual standby of all-purpose white flour with a semolina and durum flour specially blended for pasta.
And since I had recently purchased a metal ravioli form I was dying to test, I decided to make basic - but classic - cheese raviolis.
Finally, in order to allow the ravioli to shine, I opted for a very light tomato sauce using gently cooked home-canned tomatoes.
I began with making the pasta dough so it would have plenty of resting time while I prepared the sauce and ravioli filling.
The following "recipe," from Michael Ruhlman's "Ratio - The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking," is in fact, a ratio: a fail-proof one of 3 parts flour to 2 parts egg that is easily adjusted for any number of servings. The ratio is based on weight, so if you lack a kitchen scale this is but one of many good reasons to buy one. Otherwise, go by the volumetric quantity of flour provided below.
Basic Pasta Dough (serves 3 to 6) *This quantity makes 40 large ravioli
9 ounces flour (about 1 1/2 cups)
6 ounces eggs (3 large eggs)
Combine flour and eggs in a food processor until they just come together.
Turn contents out onto a floured counter and knead 5 - 10 minutes, until very smooth and springy.
Wrap dough in plastic and set aside for at least 10 minutes and up to an hour. (Dough can be refrigerated up to a day before rolling out.)
Very Simple Tomato Sauce
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 -3 garlic cloves, finely minced or put through a press
2 pints home-canned tomatoes, or equivalent commercially canned, pulsed in food processor to a rough puree
5 big basil leaves, torn in two
1 tablespoon butter
salt & pepper to taste
Heat oil in large saucepan; add garlic and cook over medium low heat for about 5 minutes, slowly heating it through and infusing the oil without browning.
Add tomatoes and basil leaves. Simmer gently, covered, for about 30 minutes. Stir in butter and season with salt and pepper.
Makes enough for 4 servings of ravioli.
Two Cheese Ravioli Filling
16 ounces ricotta
1/2 cup fresh grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
salt to taste
Mix all ingredients well in a bowl; transfer to a zip-lock bag and place in refrigerator until needed.
Rolling out pasta dough:
Before rolling out pasta, sprinkle corn meal over a large sheet pan and set aside.
Cut pasta dough into 4 equal sized pieces; re-wrap 3 in plastic wrap while you work with first piece.
Set rollers on manual pasta machine to the widest setting (# 1 on my Atlas machine). Flatten dough slightly between palms, then feed between rollers to flatten more. Fold dough into thirds and run through rollers again. Repeat this process 6 times, dusting dough with flour if it sticks or catches at all.
Adjust rollers to next setting (gradually getting narrower) and run pasta through once, without folding. Adjust roller to next setting and repeat running pasta through without folding; continue this way until you have run the dough through the finest setting and you have a long thin sheet of pasta. Place pasta sheet on sheet pan and continue.
You could probably roll out all portions of dough before forming ravioli, but I was concerned the sheets would get too dry in the process so I assembled ravioli with each sheet before moving on to the next portion of dough. (If you aren't living with dry heat and cramped kitchen space, go for it.)
To assemble ravioli:
Spray metal ravioli form with non-stick spray of choice. Cut pasta sheet into segments slightly longer than ravioli form (width should be just right if dough reached maximum width on machine as it was rolled.)
Place a pasta sheet on metal form, being sure it just overlaps all edges. If necessary, gently stretch dough to edges and apply pressure with fingertips to hold dough in place). Place plastic form over the top and press down very gently to create indentations for filling. Remove plastic form and fill indentations with cheese filling. *** This is very easily done by snipping a corner off the zip-lock bag and squeezing filling through the hole, as with a pastry bag.
Place a second pasta sheet on top of the first, being sure to line up edges again. Roll over form with a rolling pin, pressing down forcefully and rolling back and forth until all the edges have sealed and the raviolis are mostly separated in the form.
Turn form over onto counter to allow raviolis to slip out; give a light nudge if needed to remove them all. Separate raviolis and place on sheet pan.
Repeat process with each portion of pasta dough.
Allow raviolis to sit for 30 minutes before cooking. If you won't be eating all right away, freeze the rest on a sheet pan; then transfer to a plastic freezer bag.
Cook pasta in boiling salted water for about 4 minutes, or until the edges are al dente. (Remove a ravioli from water and slice a small portion off an edge to test.)
Drain ravioli and top with sauce. If desired, drizzle a bit of extra-virgin olive oil over all, and serve.
Makes 4 servings.
Do not thaw frozen ravioli before cooking. Increase boiling time a few minutes as needed.