Use Your Noodle II (Ravioli)

The Kitchen

    Ever wonder if there's one particular dish that's common to most world cultures? Well, there is. In Poland they call it pierogi, in China gao gai or won ton, in Japan they've got pot stickers. Ukrainians enjoy varenyky, the Jews kreplach, Koreans mandu. While up in Siberia babushkas still stash pelmeny, or however you say it, in banks of snow for winter storage. And Italy has ravioli. I am, of course, speaking of filled, or noodle, dumplings. Now there are a lot of people who believe that Marco Polo first brought noodles from China to Venice around 1295, but how does that explain the fact that Romans had been enjoying these [raviolis] for about 200 years at that point?
What's my point? Simply that some ideas just happen spontaneously, especially great ideas, and by the middle ages the filled dumpling was simply an idea whose time had come. Today it's an idea that's come to your kitchen and to Good Eats. [goes to take a bite from the ravioli plate but is stopped by the see-through world map curtain] Oh bother.

The Kitchen

    Since this is only a half hour show, we're going to have to bypass some of the lesser known varieties of filled noodle and stick with those Americans love best, like ravioli, which is not made from the same kind of pasta as extruded pastas like this spaghetti. This is made from nothing but water and a high protein flour called semolina which is milled from a particular kind of wheat called Durham. The resulting dough is so tough that in the days back before industrial three-phase mixers, it required hours of kneading by foot. [which he is doing while he talks] Filled pastas are based on fresh pasta which contains fat in the form of eggs and oil. And it is a lot easier on your feet. And, if you stick to traditional methods, it's pretty easy on the dishwasher, too.
    Oh, enough of that. Oooh! [stands up with feet still in dough, falls over]

    This is two large eggs beat with three tablespoons of water, half a teaspoon of salt and a teaspoon of olive oil. This is a big ole pile of all purpose flour, about three cups. But you don't have to be too picky about it right now. Here's why: we're going to make a bowl out of the flour instead of putting the flour into the bowl. So just make yourself a little kind of a volcano crater in the middle and make sure that it's pretty stable around the sides. We're going to pour in just a small amount of the egg mixture.

2 Large Eggs
3 Tbs. H2O
1/2 tsp. Salt
1 tsp. Olive Oil

3 Cups All-Purpose Flour

    Just use two fingers and slowly spin that egg mixture around. Use your other hand to support the wall while slowly kind of pushing it in towards the middle. Antiquated though it may be, I love this method because you never work too much or too little flour into the mixture. The dough simply takes what it needs. Now if you really can't stand playing with your food, you can do this with your food processor but I for one would call you a sissy.
    Now as soon as it comes together into a firm paste like this, wrap in plastic wrap, flatten into a disk and refrigerate for at least an hour to let it rest. Sure. Yeah. It does look a little ooey and gooey for a dough, but you can always add flour when you roll it out. And remember, a lot can happen in here [the refrigerator] in an hour.


    [voice over] Given some time, the flour particles will hydrate or soak up the surrounding moisture. This will make the dough strong, flexible and roll-able. Just don't try to rush the process. Give it an hour and your patience will be rewarded. Now speaking of rolling ...

Hydrating Flour Particles

Cook's Warehouse: Atlanta, GA - 10:32 am

GUEST: W, Equipment Specialist

    Meet the original pasta machine. [a rolling pin] Still the choice of purists and Italians everywhere it features no moving parts so it's pretty light on maintenance. But it can be pretty heavy on the ole arms. Now since I'm not a purist and I'm certainly not Italian, I prefer the mechanized vision, if you get my drift. The average home pasta machine is very efficient, produces perfect little sheets of pasta. You just drop the dough right in-between these rollers and give the crank a ...

W: [rolls AB's finger into the machine and removes the handle] Mmmpgh. [talking to the camera] Although all manual pasta rollers are based the same design, there are details worth noting. This knob changes the space between the rollers. Since most pasta recipes ask for those of specific thickness, you want this to be clearly indexed. Most machines come with a set of cutters that turn sheets into ribbons. For ease of use, look for a machine with a removable cutter. And since pasta becomes hard to manage the longer it gets, look for the widest machine you can find. There's nothing better for cleaning than a pastry bush. And last but not least, look for a model that has an optional motor. You may not want to make that investment up front but if you make a lot of noodles, you will eventually.
W: [to AB] Oh, and by the way, my people were making filled noodles when Rome was just a mule stop on the Tiber.
AB: I know that, W, but that is another show.
W: Oh, really. Well, then, arrivederci.
AB: Hey. Hey, no! Give me that handle. Hey, come on. This isn't funny anymore.

The word macaroni is derived from the Greek makar, meaning "blessed."

The Kitchen

    You know, if a pasta machine's going to do you any good at all, you've got to be able to securely anchor it on a piece of counter that leaves you plenty of working room on either side of the machine. [can't get the clamp on] Ooooarrraggh! There's got to be a better way. [a light bulb comes on above his head] Aahhhh! An ironing board will provide the perfect pasta rolling platform.

    [voice over] Now it's easy to attach things to ironing boards because they make them out of perforated metal to keep the weight down. So all we have to do is find a couple of holes, take an ice pick and ... [punches a hole on either side of the pasta machine through the ironing board] ... heck, it's only a 10 dollar ironing board cover.* A small sacrifice to make for perfect pasta. Now I need some kind of bracket. [searches in a drawer] Hmmm. Bracing material from a hardware store, a couple of long screws and I'll put another piece of bracing on the bottom and seal that up with a couple of wing nuts. Yeah, that'll do the trick. Now I just have to work on my Nobel speech. Heh, heh, heh, heh.
    Now like puff pastry and pie dough, you want to keep pasta dough cool while you work it. So if the weather's suitable, just roll outside..

The Kitchen / Deck

GUEST: Announcer Voice

    [voice over]
    Step one: remove any arm or finger adornments that the pasta might catch on.

    Step two: lightly flour the ironing board. Since it's fabric, it won't take near as much to do the job as it would if you were using a hard surface like a counter.

All Purpose Flour

    Step three: using a dough blade or a board scraper or bench scraper, cut the dough into equal portions and kind of shape each one into something that looks like a, I don't know, a white candy bar. And then send that through the pasta machine at its widest setting. Now at this point we're not shaping the pasta, we're kneading the dough. Fold it over in thirds, kind of like a wallet, turn it 90 degrees and send it through the machine a second time. Now this is going to stretch out the gluten formation and make a strong, flexible, stretchable dough. Fold into thirds, turn 90 degrees and send it through a third and final time, still at the widest opening.
    Now we're ready to actually shape the pasta. So dial to the next size down, number 2, and send it through. Keep reducing the size of the aperture one step at a time and sending through the dough a single time per size until you get up to number 7. [ed. note: AB's machine went to 9]
    Now once you get to 7, you should have a dough that's the perfect thickness for ravioli and just long enough to reach from one end of the board to the other.

    I'm just going to trim up this funny little end here, there, and get a little space to actually fill the dumplings [he removes the pasta machine]. Now some folks do this completely free hand. But when I do that, I end up with something that looks like, I don't know, the dumplings of Dr. Kilgare{?}. And that's why I always use a yardstick. What I basically do is just put the yardstick about in the middle and make yourself a little mark, a little indentation, just enough to guide your hand when you're filling.
    Now when it comes to the delivery of the filling, I like to go with something really, really small like a teaspoon, okay? Now it doesn't seem like a lot but we've got a very flavorful filling and that means ...

AB: Flavorful filling. Heh.

    Of course the nice thing about ravioli is that you can fill it with just about anything that won't give off liquid. Added liquid would be bad. And since you only get a little bitty bit of the filling with every bite, we want to make sure that the filling is really, really flavorful. And so ... aaah. What do you know? Left over Good Eats meatloaf mix. That'll be perfect. Of course, we might want to add a little extra flavor.

Meat Loaf Mix

    Of course, I suppose this could use a little bit of spicing up so we'll grate up some of this cheese—parmesan, you could use Romano—and you know what? I think a little vinegar would be nice, say, balsamic vinegar. And we need an herb, um, oregano! Oregano. Oregano will do very, very nicely indeed. Perfect. Now we'll just stir this together, briefly. It's also good to loosen up that mix a bit. There.

3 Tbs. Grated parmesan
1 Tbs. Balsamic Vinegar
1/2 tsp. Dry Oregano

    [voice over] Now we'll start laying this out every couple of inches. Any less than two inches and we won't have enough dough around the filling to seal properly. Any more than that would just be silly. By the way, you can use a melon baller to do this if you want to. I just lent mine to a neighbor. There.

    Now with all the payloads in place, it's time to close. And for that we're going to need a little glue. [is handed a bottle of Elmer's glue] Heh, heh, heh. That's not exactly what I had in mind, but it's not far off, either. Usually this kind of glue is full of proteins from things like horses' hooves.

    But there's something else that has a lot of protein in it: an egg. And it makes great glue. But it's kind of hard to apply like this so we will stir it up with a little bit of water and end up with the protein paint known far and wide as an egg wash.

1 Egg
Mixed With 1/2 tsp. H2O

    Of course to apply it, we'll need a tool. Uh, I'd like a roller. Aah. Your basic, foam trim roller available at just about every hardware store. We dip to wet and then we roll. Once right down the middle [of the pasta]. Once down the outside [next to the pasta]. And then once right down the middle [between the dollops of filling]. It doesn't take much. In fact, you want to use as little as possible.

Water is not an ingredient in dry pasta, although it is used to
shape the dough and then removed during the drying process.

The Kitchen / Deck

GUEST: AB on a small TV, clip from the Pantry Raid I: Use Your Noodle episode.

    Now we fold. Now this is really the most important part of construction because any air that is sealed inside these will expand during cooking, blowing your dumplings to bits. So close thusly. Move your fingers up starting at the fold side and go around each little mound of meat pushing out towards the open side. There. Make sure you get your fingers right up against the meat. There. I usually get 13 or 14 per strip of pasta and we've got two of these per batch so that's a total of 26 to 28 dumplings per batch. Not a bad yield.
    Now to separate these into individual dumplings, we could use a lot of different tools. But I really do prefer my pizza cutter. Ah. The best multitasker of all time. Here we go.
    Pick up each one and kind of inspect it just in case you've still got an open end and seal it with your fingers. Odds are very good the action of the pressing and the cutting will take care of things but you want to be sure. Because if you've got any openings, well, there's going to be ugliness. Great.
    There. To store, just slide the pan straight into the freezer and leave them alone until they're rock hard, about 3 hours. Then you can bag them and tag them. I think I'm going to eat these.

Pasta's original use was as an extender in soups and some desserts.

    Bring at least half a gallon of water to a boil along with a teaspoon of kosher salt and a shot of oil. Any oil will do.

1/2 Gallon H2O
1 tsp. Kosher Salt
1/2 tsp. Oil

ABTV: And do not add oil to the water, ever. It just floats on top like an oil slick. It doesn't do any good whatsoever. What does ...

    [pushes the TV onto the floor] Okay. Oil may not do anything for the pasta, but it does reduce the surface tension of the water and helps to prevent foam overs. Okay? So once you've got a boil, add the ravioli but just add a handful, no more than 10 at a time. More than that and it will take too long for the boil to recover. Now since these are rock hard, it's going to take at least 3 minutes to cook. But hey, they're still a convenience food because you don't have to thaw them.

From 1700 to 1785 pasta shops quadrupled in Naples, resulting in pasta drying everywhere, including the streets, on rooftops and balconies.

    How do you know when they are done? That's how. When they float. Why do they float? Because we got most of the air out of the dumplings but not all of it. As the air trapped inside the filling expands, the ravioli become buoyant. All you got to do is fish them out, let them drain and then move them into a bowl with just a little bit of oil. That'll prevent sticking.
    Now if you haven't considered a service scenario, now would be the time. Oh, sure. You could slather on some thick, nasty tomato sauce, but you'd really be kind of smothering the flavor inside.

    So try heating a skillet over medium-high heat, toss in a pat of butter. When the butter melts and foams—yeah, you let it turn brown, it's going to smell a little nutty—and toss in the ravioli and let them fry, tossing often, just until they start to turn brown around the edges. Add a little sage, very finely shredded of course, a little bit of pepper, and grab a fork. Now that's good eats.

2 Tbs. Butter

    What? Oh, you're not going to buy a pasta machine. Okay, fine. We just have to back up a little bit.
    If you plan rolling this out yourself with a pasta machine, you can stop right now. But if you plan to go it alone, you'll need to continue kneading for 8 to 10 minutes to produce gluten, that protein network we're always going on and on about. Now since kneading is easier when you can use your body weight, I like a little change in altitude. [he steps up on a stool] Now I can really get over it. Could you do this in a stand mixture like we did our pizza dough? Sure. But the thing I really like about pasta is you can do this without dirtying a single bowl. And yes, I'd rather knead than wash.
    When the dough is smooth and plastic without being dry—kind of like [a bubble gum bubble enters and exits] yeah, kind of like that—then you are ready to wrap and rest in the refrigerator.

Franco-American, the first company to can pasta and sauce,
boasted using a French recipe.

The Kitchen

GUEST: AB's Tortellini Self, a.k.a. #2

    [voice over on a small monitor talking to the camera and his other self while his other self does the tortellini presentation]

    Rolling and filling hand rolled pasta isn't fast but it is easy if you stick to basic round shapes.

ABvo: Okay. Now take one batch of dough and cut it into four equal pieces.

    You can use a dough blade or a knife or, heck, scissors for this if you feel like it.

ABvo: Good. Now just cover three of those with plastic so they don't dry out and take the one piece and using your childhood Play Dough skills, roll it out into a nice long snake, okay. It's a lot easier if you use your middle fingers to apply the pressure. Okay. Good. Now keep working that on the counter until it's about half an inch thick.

    Now if it sticks to the counter just put some flour down. But if you put down too much flour, it'll slide instead of roll. That'll be good. All right.

ABvo: Cut that into one inch pieces. Okay.

    It's kind of like making gnocchi only we're not really making gnocchi.

ABvo: Good. Good. Okay, now just shove all of those over to one side, there, and take that one and roll it into a ball. Right.

    It's kind of like making a marble.

ABvo: There you go. Good. That's enough. Now mash it flat. Good.

    Now we're kind of making the blank that we're going to roll the shape out of. So, put down a little bit of flour.

ABvo: And not too much. There. Now we're going to roll that out.
ABts: [brings out a regular sized rolling pin]
ABvo: Oh. Whoa. Whoa. Wait a second. That's kind of overkill there.

    It's like rolling over a frog with a steamroller. What we need here is a wooden dowel, let's say 6 to 8 inches long, half an inch thick.

ABvo: Yeah, whatcha got ... yeah, yeah. That'll work. That'll work. Okay. Now try to roll with the pressure directly over the disk, okay? And turn it 90 degrees and roll again. Good. Good.
ABts: [the pasta sticks to the rolling dowl]
ABvo: Ah, see. You didn't have enough flour. Okay. Flip it over and repeat. Good. Good. And twist it another 90 degrees. You turned it over. I didn't tell you to ... ah, it's no big deal. Okay.

    Now you don't want it thicker than about a nickel, okay? Because when we fold it over it's going to get twice as thick. Right. So.

ABvo:  Good. That looks good.

    Now you could leave it alone; kind of go with the rustic style. But I like to cut mine with a cutter, a nice round shape.

ABvo: Good.

    You could use a biscuit cutter, cookie cutter, whatever.

ABvo: That's a nice round. Good. Okay, you're going to need some filling. You got your filling ready?

    I like to stay traditional with this, just make a ricotta-spinach filling. You're going to need a half cup of ricotta cheese. Now you can get that at the dairy section of your local megamart. And it's a lot like cottage cheese only it's got a finer grain and it's much drier, which is important for this. You'll need to add to that a quarter of a cup of grated Parmesan cheese, two tablespoons of frozen spinach that's been thawed and thoroughly drained, one egg, a few grinds of black pepper and just a little bit of freshly grated nutmeg. Please, not the stuff out of the can, okay? Just mix that together and get ready to fill. Yeah, that looks right. That's good.

1/2 Cup Ricotta Cheese

1/4 Cup Grated Parmesan
2 Tbs. Chopped Spinach
1 Egg
1/4 tsp. Fresh Ground Black
1 Pinch Grated Fresh Nutmeg

ABvo: Woah, woah, woah, woah, woah, woah, woah, woah, woah, woah, woah, woah, woah, woah. That's, that's way, way, way, way too much, okay? It's going to blow up all over the place. We need a smaller spoon. You got like a quarter teaspoon? Yeah. That'll work. Okay. Just a little bitty scoop, very little bit, right in the middle. Good. A little dollop. You really do need to practice this.

    Okay. It's really important that the spinach be dry. I can't emphasize that enough.

ABvo: Now you're going to need some egg wash to dry ... to glue that closed. Just put it on one half, okay?

    Because egg wash sticks to dough, not to more egg wash. Okay.

ABvo: Roll it over. Good. And be really careful to squish that edge. You want to get the air worked out of the dumpling. Good. Good. Now put that over the back of your index finger. Good. Good. And kind of push the lip up ... there, there ... and close it on the other side. Hey, you made tortellini. Nice trick.

    You can cook them or you can freeze them.

The Kitchen

    Well, I hope we've given you the confidence to try your hand at a food which knows no borders. Filled dumplings. Our journey may have begun here at the crossroads of Asian-Arabian influence. But hey, after you've mastered the basics, you'll be ready to punch out some pierogi, crimp some kreplach, or fold your way through the edible origami of pot stickers. Believe me, no matter where you go on that map, you're going to land on some good eats.

horizontal rule

*editor's note: I suggest buying the bracket and then punching the holes so you get the correct spacing

Proofreading by Sue Libretti

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Last Edited on 05/01/2011