FOOD WISE: Homemade pasta

Chef Renee’s Braised Short Rib Ragu with Bone Marrow Ravioli and Honey Glazed Carrots. (Courtesy Photo)

By Chef Renee Morgan

Last Friday, I had a really great day. Most people would not consider my day very fun, but culinary people, admittedly, have a somewhat odd idea of fun. You see, I spent most of the day making homemade ravioli with another chef friend named Cheryl. We made several hundred ravioli of four different varieties.

Were we catering some big event, you ask? No, this is our idea of fun. I know what you must be thinking. You are probably asking yourself why anyone would think this is fun. Just sounds like a lot of work, right? Well, it can be. But for a chef, it’s an opportunity to experiment with new combinations of food with other like-minded foodies. Playing with your food is fun. Plus, we have the opportunity to develop new dishes for our clients. I really hope all of you appreciate our sacrifice.

Making homemade pasta is much easier than you might imagine. The ingredients are inexpensive and readily available. All you need is a little pasta flour, also called semolina, a couple of eggs, a teaspoon or two of water and olive oil, and salt. All this gets mixed together and passed through a pasta machine multiple times and then cut into shapes. You can even add spinach, beets, tomato paste, cocoa or squid ink into the dough if you want colored pasta. If you want to try and tackle it, I’ve included a pasta recipe for you.

Here’s an even easier idea for making ravioli. Why not use wonton wrappers? Wonton wrappers are those square pieces of dough used in Asian cooking for making egg rolls. You can find them at most any grocery store. The one I shop at keeps them in the produce section, close to the bean sprouts and snow peas. You can cut them into any shape you wish, stuff them with anything you like and serve them with whatever sauce you like. What could be more versatile?

Here’s how it works.

You’ll need a package of wonton wrappers, a small dish containing water, whatever fillings you like, a small spoon or scoop, an assortment of shape cutters such as circle or square cookie cutters, and a sheet pan lined with parchment or waxed paper and sprinkled with semolina to keep the pasta from sticking. Once you open the wonton wrappers, keep them covered with a damp paper towel while you work so they won’t dry out. Simply lay out a wonton wrapper, cut the wrapper into a desired shape, put a small amount of filling in the center, either fold the wrapper in half to enclose the filling or put another cut wonton wrapper on top of the first one to enclose the filling. Then wet your finger in the bowl of water and apply to the edges of the wrapper. Stick the edges together, carefully pressing out any air bubbles and firmly press the edges to make sure they won’t come apart.

When you are ready, bring water to a rolling boil in a large pot. Drop the ravioli into the boiling water and cook two to three minutes, until the pasta rises to the top of the water. Scoop the ravioli out of the water and set aside. You can finish them by either gently tossing them with your choice of sauce or browning them in butter in a skillet. Yum!

When Cheryl and I get together to cook, it’s a time to visit with each other and catch up on what’s going on in each other’s lives. We also make a dinner of it. If we are going to all the care to make homemade pasta, we figure we owe it to ourselves to match it up with the perfect wine, side dishes and dessert. The best part is, we made enough that each of us were able to take home several zip type bags of each type of pasta to put in the freezer for later. Score!

We made four kinds of ravioli, experimenting with roasted red and golden beets, butternut squash, different kinds of cheeses and even bone marrow. (Don’t judge until you’ve tried it.) The great thing about filled pasta is that it can be customized to your preferences. You can make it vegetarian, meaty, cheesy or full of delicious seafood or any other combination.

I recommend mixing your filling ingredients with a little breadcrumb so that it holds together well. You can keep the sauce light and healthy or  more hearty and it can be buttery, creamy or tomatoey.

We served one of ours with a braised short rib ragu. It was heaven! The possibilities are vast. This kind of variety is sure to include something for every taste. I encourage you to try some cooking projects with your friends. It’s a great way to spend a day.

Have fun making up ravioli fillings and sauces, but if you do find you have questions, please email me at ChefRenee@LHIndependent.com.

Homemade Pasta Dough

1 2/3 cups Italian “00” flour or Semolina

2 large eggs

1 tablespoon olive oil

A pinch of sea salt

1. Sift the flour onto a clean work surface and make a well in the center with your fist. Break the eggs into the well and add the oil and a pinch of salt to the well. Gradually mix the egg mixture into the flour using the fingers of one hand, bringing the ingredients together into a firm dough. If the dough feels too dry, add a few drops of water; if it’s too wet, add a little more flour.

2. Knead the pasta until smooth, 2 to 5 minutes. Lightly massage it with a hint of olive oil, pop the dough into a plastic food bag, and allow it to rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.

3. Start to feed the blob of pasta dough through the widest setting of a pasta machine. As the sheet of dough comes out of the machine, fold it into thirds and then feed it through the rollers again, still on the widest setting. Pass the dough through this setting a total of 4 or 5 times. Pass the pasta through the machine again, starting at the widest setting and gradually reducing the settings, one pass at a time, until the pasta achieves the required thickness.

4. After the pasta has reached the requisite thickness, hang it over a broom handle or the back of a chair to dry a little. Or, you can dust a sheet pan with a little semolina and lay the pasta out on the pan. Shape the pasta by hand or pass the pasta through the chosen cutters.

5. Throw the pasta into a large saucepan of boiling, salted water. You will need about 4 quarts water and 3 tablespoons of salt for every 13 to 18 ounces of fresh or dried pasta. It is the large volume of water that will prevent the pasta from sticking together. Stir the pasta only once or twice—if you have enough water in the pan and you stir the pasta as it goes in, it shouldn’t stick. DO NOT COVER the pot or the water will boil over. Quickly bring the pasta back to a rolling boil, stir, and boil until al dente, or firm to the bite, about 2 minutes. Drain the pasta. Dress the pasta straight away with the sauce directly in the pan.