Pastravaganza, and other Portmanteaux: A recipe for basic pasta dough, and a non-recipe for the craziest ravioli you’ve ever had

In the midst of our insane winter solstice kitchen-fest, we performed the questionable American tradition of watching TV as a family and tuned into the Food Network’s Iron Chef America: Super Chef Battle White House. A lot of great stuff happened on the show (Michelle Obama’s numerous references to sweet potatoes in combination with her sweet-potato colored dress, Alton Brown’s almost-excessive-but-sort-of-really-great dramatism, etc). The greatest thing for me, though, was the beautiful, orgasmic looking and sounding uova di raviolo – a raviolo with an egg inside -which Mario Batali stuffed with ricotta and spinach and characteristically covered with an absurd amount of shaved truffle.

You might argue that he does a lot of things that are absurd. Especially if you are his son, who is obviously responding to his own probably forcibly donned gem-studded crocs with a classic pose for the camera: palm to forehead accompanied with expression of serious psychic pain.

But I digress. There are few things that are not improved with a fried egg with an oozy, slightly runny, richly yellow yolk. I just never thought that thing would be pasta. It was an “I didn’t know you could do that!” sort of moment. Sort of like a lot of feminist theory. Too far? Okay. I digress again, obviously.

We didn’t have a pasta roller (we have since acquired one), but we did have a lot of bicep power between the three of us (Baniel, Captain Tinyfeet, and Beanpie), so with the guiding light of Mario Batali shining upon us and our almost embarrassingly low level of experience, we started to make pasta. We also turned to Alice Waters and Alton Brown for support, and learned that we were to use semolina flour (which comes from durum wheat and is higher in protein) for a better, yellower, more beautiful and pliable dough. Some people just use AP flour, and some use a mix, but we got semolina flour at Weggie World, so we decided to go for it. We didn’t have a recipe guiding us, so we played it by ear.

We experienced failure – heartbreaking, I-guess-we-just-won’t-eat-any-dinner-because-we-don’t-deserve-it failure. But we learned from our mistakes. And also Skyped with Amin, who had actually read Alice Waters’ guide to making pasta dough. And we did way better the next time.

Our improvised pasta dough recipe and a guide to uova di raviolo after the jump. You don’t need a roller, but if you need your arms the two days after, you might want one.

Our Basic Pasta Dough Recipe: Our basic pasta recipe is as follows – and keep in mind that we consulted few experts other than engineering student extraordinaire Amin Younes while we were putting this particular part of our recipe together.

Make a volcano on the table with 3 cups of semolina flour (or a well in a bowl – see Serious Eats for what that looks like) and fill the middle with 4 egg yolks.

Why egg yolks, and not just whole eggs? Max should probably weigh in on this in terms of the properties of egg yolks as opposed to whites, but as far as I’m concerned, why have less cholesterol when you could have more?

Right? As a side note, my new favorite way to separate yolks from whites is just to crack all the eggs into a bowl, and then scoop out the yolks with my hands, one a a time, passing them from hand to hand – it’s easier on the yolks, and fun to do. Just make sure your hands are clean if you have plans for meringues or egg white omelettes. Erm… probably your hands should be clean regardless, actually.

Where were we? Oh, yeah, yolks. Four of them. If you’re not convinced, you could probably also use 2 eggs instead. Add a sploosh (maybe 2 TBS) of olive oil and a pinch of kosher salt to the center of the volcano, and then work the liquid into the flour starting from the middle of the volcano so it doesn’t spill all over the table. Mix with your hands!

Once the liquid is incorporated, continue to knead and gradually add water, about 1 cup in all, while you’re kneading. Keep going. Is the color pretty consistent? Is the dough past crumbly, but before sticky? You’re done adding water. Knead until you’ve worked the dough for about 15 minutes. I usually stop when it looks something like this, or maybe a few kneads after.

Then, we tightly wrap the dough in saran wrap, and rest for 45 minutes. Don’t know why. I’ll let you know if I find out. After that, it’s ready to use – roll it out by hand, or with a roller. Experiment with fillings – go crazy! We’ve tried spaghetti (or at least, thin, circular strands of pasta), ravioli, and tortellini and have gone rogue with probably half a dozen different cheeses, three bean salad, grilled fish, pork belly, celeriac puree, and a few other items.

Though Food Lab research on how to cook pasta is kicking Alton Brown’s skinny ass all over the place in terms of water requirements (how hot and how much), his and probably your grandmother’s wisdom about at least¬†a gallon of water, salted and boiling for pasta (for about 4 people) is still legit when it comes to pasta that’s fresh.

A Guide to Uova Di Raviolo: We read over Mario Batali’s Food Network recipe for this culinary gem, but took a lot of creative license with it, and you should too! Here’s our basic guide for about 4 raviolos.

Roll out enough pasta dough so that you can cut eight rounds of dough that are about 6 or 7 inches in diameter. (this should only be about 1/3 or 1/2 of the dough you made in the above recipe, if that). The rounds should be a few millimeters thick – if you’ve eaten lots of ravioli you’ll have a good sense of the thickness you want. You can do this with a rolling pin or a pasta roller, and bowls/plates are great for cutting rounds – just place your bowl upside down on the pasta and cut around the edge.

Place your rounds on a floured surface, or parchment or wax paper – just make sure they don’t stick!

Mix about 1 cup ricotta cheese with a handful of chopped, blanched spinach (just pop it into boiling water for five seconds). Another vegetable could be good here too, like pureed celeriac or shaved caramelized fennel. Season with kosher salt and white and/or black pepper to taste. Batali also adds parmesan, which we opted out of, but you could add any kind of delicious, strong cheese, really.

Your filling should be perhaps a little saltier than you want it so the flavor of the ricotta and spinach can stand up to the richness of the egg yolk and whatever sauce you put on your raviolo.

Spoon equal portions of the ricotta mixture – about 1/4-1/3 cup, if I had to guess – onto the centers of four of the pasta rounds. Then, use your finger to spread the mixture into an ring – the hole in the middle should be about an inch and a half wide – just the right size for an egg yolk and a little bit of white.

You might be tempted to pipe the mixture onto the pasta, but we’ve found that creating the ring by moving the ricotta mixture creates a good seal that holds the egg inside the ricotta ring – you don’t want egg white leaking out and ruining the sealed raviolo (this is what happened in the picture below!).

Then, place 1 egg yolk (and some white, if you wish, but not the whole thing!) in the center of each ricotta ring. We use Happy Hens chicken eggs – if you can get your hands on some eggs that are really fresh, or even some duck eggs (oooh…), you’re a badass and will be rewarded in spades. This is a good time to stick a little pat of truffle butter (or any other kind of butter, for that matter) right on top of or next to the yolk.

Then, place pasta rounds on top of each pasta-ricotta-egg unit. Use your fingers to press down right at the edge of the ricotta ring, and try not to leave too much air into the raviolo. Then, use a fork to seal the deal. You may wish to use an egg wash (egg white + water) or some other form of moisture to help seal. You may also want to trim the edges so you have a nice uniform raviolo (the upside down bowl trick works great here too).

Bring a gallon of sea-water-level salty water to a boil. This salt is realllly important! It will make your pasta absolutely heavenly. While you’re waiting, you should probably make a butter sauce – try 1 stick of butter and some fresh herbs (tarragon, thyme, whatever you have) in a saucepan over medium-low heat until it takes on a nice brown color and a delicious, nutty smell. Beurre noisette = yum.

Once you’ve got a rolling boil, very gently pick up your uova (you may want a spatula or turner) and slip it into the water. Stir it around a little to keep it from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Most fresh pastas cook in 2 or 3 minutes, but for a delicious, oozy but well warmed yolk, you should give the uova about 5 minutes of cooking.

We actually prefer 7 minutes:

The yolk is creamy, not solid, but not watery either. But we’ll let you decide how you like yours done.¬†Spoon some beurre noisette on top, and enjoy this heavenly, decadent, delicious homemade treat. And then try to tell me there is something that can’t be improved with an egg yolk and a little truffle butter. Let us know how it goes!

10 Responses

  1. Max Hull says:

    Irene, this is my favorite post by you ever. Awesome work all around.

    I think I can offer some illumination on the subjects of egg yolks v. whites, and resting pasta dough. Egg yolks impart a few beneficial properties to a pasta dough: delicious flavor, fun yellow color, moisture, but mostly tenderness. The white is where the formidable protein content of the average egg is most highly concentrated. Were one to add alot (that one’s for you Allie) of extra protein to a high protein durum wheat flour the resulting texture would be more suited to fruit leather than delicious fresh pasta.

    As for resting the pasta dough, this is necessary to allow the flour to absorb all the moisture that has been incorporated into the dough thereby imparting a smooth and consistent texture. We wrap ours super tight with plastic wrap so that the outside doesn’t dry out and to slightly speed up this process which traditionally takes an hour (this technique was used to great effect in an episode of Iron Chef: America reducing the resting time to around 15 minutes). Well, Gilmore Girls is starting so I have to stop writing and look up how to tie a noose. talk to you later!

  2. irene says:

    Max,

    Thanks for your kind words. I only wish Allie read this blog. Also, thank you for your additional explanations. Why are you being subjected to Gilmore Girls? I can show you how to tie a noose when I get back, if it’s not too late.

  3. LinziMG says:

    This is really impressive Irene, nice work. I’ve seen people make their own pasta before, but you’ve definitely upped the stakes here.

  4. lexi says:

    holy shit. egg on my face. this needs to be in the book, pronto.

  5. Grandma Phyllis says:

    One of my earliest memories is a dream of opening the mailbox to find a package of home made egg noodles from my Bubbie- my mother’s mother. I don’t remember seeing her make them, just the dream, but over 3/4 century later the memory is very clear.

  6. Barbara Bartholomew says:

    That you can write this fascinating article about food I’ve been very fortunate to consume, and my mother in California can respond with a dream she had 75 years ago about something I never knew about my unknown progenitor (that she made egg noodles from scratch – ok, of course she did, I mean I never thought about anything she did as she moved about her day, just a very vague general idea that she lived, spoke Yiddish and never English, was married to a man who owned a fruit cart in Manhattan and then was a kosher butcher, had three daughters and a son, was an observant Jew. I’ve not seen a photo of her. They were poor, so perhaps no photos. I believe she was born in Vilna, Lithuania, or her parents were. I think Vilna was a great center of Jewish culture, and I’m pretty sure Grandma Edith’s father was a rabbi as well as a butcher. Or maybe that was her grandfather.) I also wanted to mention that Grandma Phyllis used to tell me how my father’s mother, Grandma Sarah, made challah – same as ravioli dough, with mountain of flour and wet ingredients in the middle. I’m not sure how the yeast was handled in this scenario.

  7. Barbara Bartholomew says:

    I realize I didn’t finish my first sentence, here it is: amazes me.

  8. Judy says:

    Irene,
    Barbara sent me your absolutely fabulous article (I realize that I’m stealing the name of a Brit sitcom). I enjoyed reading it, and I don’t even particularly like raviolo (Is that really the plural of ravioli?).
    I do remember seeing my grandmother cooking stuff from scratch, a rather clear, nondream memory of her with foodstuff around her in her Brooklyn kitchen, but whether she was making noodles, I can’t remember.
    Judy

  9. irene says:

    Phyllis, Barbara, and Judy,

    Thanks for sharing all these memories! I think raviolo is the singular of ravioli. Would love to hear more stories soon!

  10. admin says:

    how did i not comment on this before? i am HUNGRY now. i will take a spoonful of egg yolk and truffle butter, please.

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