Playdoh was one of my favorite things as a kid. It had such an interesting texture, smell, and what vibrant color! It squished wonderfully between my fingers. It transformed into animals and flowers, pretend foods and characters. It was perfect fun and kept an only child occupied for hours on end.
Now that I’m an adult, I need look no further than homemade pasta to fulfill my need for malleable creativity. I even have a pasta-making apparatus that I received from my deerslayer for Mother’s Day a few years back. It’s like a souped-up Playdoh-squirty thing that allows me to knead, roll, and create to my heart’s content. My junior deerslayers usually like to get in on the fun. During a recent trip to a gourmet cooking store, we came across a really cool little gadget that presses perfect little ravioli, a spring-loaded ravioli press! Once again, this was as much fun as a day with Playdoh. Kneading, squeezing, rolling, extruding, and now pressing! What’s not to love?!?
Now that we had this fun stuff to play with, the junior deerslayers and I decided to spend a day playing with pasta. We just had to decide on what delicious filling to use for the ravioli. We decided on the following:
1/4 cup of olive oil, (sadly, omitted from the photo)
2 tbsp. butter (also, sadly, omitted)
16 oz. baby bella mushrooms, sliced and washed
5 cloves of garlic, chopped
1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
a couple sprigs of fresh basil (stems removed)
1/2 cup of ricotta cheese (not nearly as much as appears in the photo)
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1. In a cast iron skillet, saute mushrooms in olive oil and butter. Add garlic, chopped sun-dried tomatoes, salt and pepper. Continue to stir until heated through and flavors are well-mixed.
2. In a food processor, combine sauteed mixture, ricotta (a little at time), and basil until well combined. Taste often! Just because tasting is fun!
Next, we decided that this tasty filling combination would be complimented nicely by a creamy sauce:
Creamy Tomato-Basil Sauce
a couple tbsps. olive oil
6 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
28 oz. or so of canned, crushed tomatoes
a glug (a couple of tbsp.) of red wine
1 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper (depending on preference)
1/2 tsp. ground white pepper
salt, to taste
1/2 cup half and half
1. In a cast iron skillet, heat olive oil and saute garlic. Add tomatoes and remaining ingredients except for half and half.
2. Simmer for 20 to 30 minutes.
3. Add half and half. Stir to mix.
4. Use immersion blender to bring to a creamy consistency.
Finally, we were ready for the fun part.
Playing with Pasta
Follow package directions for making semolina pasta. My experience is that, rather than using 100% semolina flour, a mix of 50% all-purpose flour and 50% semolina creates a smoother texture for the pasta.
3/4 cup Semolina Flour
3/4 cup All Purpose Unbleached White Flour
2 eggs (fresh if possible)
2 tbsp. Water
2 tbsp. Olive Oil
1. Combine flours and salt.
2. Add beaten eggs, water, and oil.
3. Mix to make a stiff dough.
4. Knead 10 minutes until dough is elastic.
5. Place dough in plastic zip bag and let rest 20 minutes.
6. On a lightly floured surface, cut dough in half and roll out flat (about 1/4 in. thick).
7. Run pasta through pasta machine in two batches according to manufacturer’s instructions until pasta is at thinnest setting. Be sure to dust both sides of pasta with flour to prevent sticking. Depending on your climate, you may need to lay a slightly moistened kitchen towel or paper towel over any pasta that you aren’t currently working with. You might also just put it back into a plastic zip bag.
8. At this point, it is important to notice that my pasta isn’t perfectly straight along the edges. That isn’t really necessary. Since we were playing with pasta, I used my new little scoopy thing to add about a tsp. of the ravioli filling to each square of pasta. In the picture, you can see the ravioli cutter. It has a spring-loaded center that allows it to adjust to different amounts of filling. The fluted edges provided a good seal all the way around each ravioli, which is important when the pasta is boiling, so that the filling doesn’t escape into the water.
It isn’t necessary to use the cool little apparatus that we did. We’ve made ravioli before by spreading out a thin sheet of pasta and applying about a 1/2 tsp. of filling every 2 inches or so down the length of the pasta. Using an egg wash as glue, dip a clean finger or pastry brush into the egg and paint around each blop of filling. Either fold over the other half of the pasta to cover the filling or lay a second layer of pasta over the filling to cover. Gently press second layer of pasta around filling, trying to remove as much air as possible from your ravioli. Seal around with your fingers and cut each ravioli out. There will probably be lots of scrap pasta. I always resquish, reroll, and use to make another batch.
9. Bring a large pot of water, with a little olive oil, to a rapid boil. Using a slotted spoon or spider (see picture of the one I received for Mother’s Day 2010) add ravioli, a few at a time, so they don’t stick together. Reduce heat to medium.
The ravioli will sink initially, so gently stir to prevent sticking to the bottom of the pot. It will take only about a minute or two for the ravioli to be done. It takes no time at all for fresh pasta. You’ll know they are ready to be removed because they begin to float to the top of the water.
10. Remove to a plate. Gently dab the bottom of the spoon or spider with a dry kitchen towel or paper towel to remove excess water.
11. Pour fabulous Creamy Tomato-Basil Sauce over ravioli and relish the moment!