One Sunday, I can’t remember when, I was scouring through antiques and stalls full of old thingamabobs at our local antiques and brocante outdoor market, when an item in particular caught my eye.
It was the prettiest brass ravioli wheel, stuck in a pale wood handle, and bent by time and usage.
No sooner I picked it up to take a closer look at it that a scene painted in my head: a woman in a long azure dress – something that might have belonged to the early 1900s, wearing a long white apron, was in her home on a sunny day crafting ravioli out of this wheel, on a not-so-big pastel bright blue table with a marble top. There might have been a couple kids fretting around her, probably trying to dip a finger in the ravioli filling. The kitchen doors opened into a sunlit garden, the shades the same beautiful pale azure color of the table and her dress.
It was so serene.
I think I bought that wheel for no more than three euros.
I wasn’t the one driving that day and I held that wheel in my hand all the way home, and I kept looking at it several times for the following days.
Silly as it may be, I have these theory that there are things – especially when we talk about rural countryside homes – that can never leave a house. Things that are forever bound to a life that acquires the traits of the never-ending, and that never seem to get unstuck from their original soul. Maybe it is karma. Maybe they are remainders of our past lives; signs trying to make their way back to us. [..]
You surely have seen this wheel multiple times throughout my photos, as it is my favorite prop. But, truth is, I never used it.
So I thought this would be the perfect chance.
I have a very talented acquaintance who sews historical costumes, and I asked her wether she could make me one of those romantic, Hepburn-style 50’s skirts. I was thinking of asking her for a high-waisted white apron to go with it…only I couldn’t decide which color I would like the skirt.
It just hit me now that it should be obviously azure.
The art of Ravioli Making
Ravioli is a kind of pasta that is as demanding as a posh lady. It is a fine-tuning of balance between thicknesses and ratios: the ricotta-to-greens ratio, the fat-to-lightness of the cheese ratio, and the dough, which must be rolled thin enough not to overshadow the filling but not so thin that it could break while cooking, or result slippery in the mouth. What fascinates me the most is that, while lots of people need to do research upon the subject to end up with the perfect ravioli, all these ravioli notions always seemed to come naturally to the women in my family.
Classic ravioli has always been a staple Sunday morning preparation in our home and at my grandma’s. I have seen them made in a plethora of ways: with the square metal cutter, with that special ‘box’ that looks like a sort of ravioli mold, with the funny-looking ravioli rolling pin that my mom used more than any other method (‘it is the quickest,’ she would say. ‘and the pasta-to-filling ratio turns out perfectly!). It was the method that made the most sense, too: I have never seen a pasta machine enter our household and the dough was always rolled out with the rolling pin method, producing a large, tablecloth-like circle that was overall easier to fold over in half than to cut into regular strips.
Then I presented my family with a third method, the ‘ravioli del plin’ one, and everybody fell in love with it. This method creates pockets that catch the sauce wonderfully, and it is much, much easier to show than to explain (click for video!).
In this guide I am going to show you 3 ways to fold and close your ravioli, starting from pasta strips, since most of you probably roll out pasta with a pasta machine.
For a full guide on how to make the pasta dough, click here.
TIPS FOR MAKING THE FILLING
~ Choose a mixture of young greens: I like to use a mix of young chard, young (not baby!) spinach, and a little bit of foraged, non-bitter wild greens. Make sure the greens you use are not bitter and do not have a strong taste, as beet greens might have, for example. You can also use just chard or just spinach.
~ Cook the greens in a pot with very little water, as they will release tons of it and squeezing the water out can be quite a pain. It is important that the filling be as dry as possible.
~ Choose fresh, full fat ricotta of the best quality you can possibly find. if you can find it, use sheep’s milk ricotta. It is likely that your fresh ricotta will have a good deal of liquid: in this case, put it in a sieve lined with cheesecloth or a paper towel over a bowl in the fridge overnight, and let it drain.
~ Only use authentic Parmigiano Reggiano for these ravioli. Authentic parmigiano will bear the logo of the Consortium. If you can’t find it, it would be much better to use a nice and savory local aged cheese than go for the ‘fake’ stuff. I saw Parmigiano on sale at all Whole Foods.
~ Try not to skip the egg in the filling: it helps bind things together and will prevent your filling from falling apart after cooking.
~ If not cooking straight away, freeze the ravioli: unlike other kinds of fresh pasta, which can be left in the fridge for a couple of days, stuffed pasta will produce moisture from the filling, turn mushy and break. Therefore, if not cooking immediately, line in a tray and freeze them. You can dump them in the boiling water straight out of the freezer, and they will still cook in about 3 to 5 minutes depending on how thick your dough is.
Note that my filling is quite rich with greens compared to the traditional recipe that I am presenting you below. I love to load them with greens, but I agree that a prevalence of cheese is better in many ways. This recipe was a mix of trying to weigh the ingredients as my mom cooked, and research of very old cookbooks found around the Emilia region.
And now on to the recipe! (scroll down the photos)
- 4 eggs
- 200 g (7 oz) organic semolina flour
- 200 g (7 oz) organic whole wheat flour
- 300 g (10.5) Full fat, fresh ricotta (preferably sheep's milk)
- 450 g (1 lb) young chard and/or young spinach
- 1 egg
- 125 g (4.4 oz) freshly grated Parmigiano
- Pinch salt
- Dash grated nutmeg
- To make the dough, knead the flour with the eggs for a few minutes, until you have a smooth ball of dough. Let it rest in the fridge, covered in clingfilm, for at least an hour. You can also make it the night before. For a full guide on making pasta dough, check out the guide linked above.
- To make the filling, make sure your ricotta is dry enough first. Add it to a colander lined with cheesecloth and leave it to drip for a few hours or overnight. If your ricotta in not very creamy, you can pass it through a sieve for better results.
- Wash the greens and cook them. You can either steam them, or toss them damp in a pot and let them steam on a very low flame by adding just about ¼ cup water. Cook until soft, about 10-15 minutes, then drain. Once cool enough to handle, squeeze out as much water as possible, then chop finely.
- In a bowl, mix together well the ricotta, chopped greens, egg, Parmigiano, salt and nutmeg. Just like the pasta dough, you can prepare this the day before and leave it in the fridge covered with clingfilm.
- Roll out the pasta dough until you end up with thin strips. In a bowl, briefly whisk an egg with a fork.
- METHOD1 (classic squares): Mentally divide the strip in half lengthwise: you will be adding the filling on the lower half. Brush the whole strip with beaten egg, and distribute 1 teaspoonfuls of filling distancing them a little over ½ inch apart. Fold the strip over and press well to seal all around the filling. Using a ravioli wheel, cut squares around the filling to obtain ravioli. Line them without overlapping on a well floured tray.
- METHOD 2 (ravioli pockets): Proceed like above until you fold over the dough, but only seal the lower edge. Using the thumb and index, pinch the dough on the sides of the filling, as shown in the photos. Then, using a ravioli wheel, cut across the pinches towards you. Refer to the video to get a visual of how it is done.
- METHOD 2 (triangles): on the lower half of your strips, draw triangles using the back of a knife, but do not cut. Brush with egg wash, add a teaspoonful of filling in the center of each triangle, and proceed just like the 1st method, but cut triangles instead of squares.
- If not using straight away, lay them on a floured tray and freeze them. Once frozen, transfer to a bag.
Then, about a month ago I visited my favorite thrift store. It is a large warehouse run by father and son, who collect all sorts of unthinkable junk and pile it there in big heaps – which I love to no end.
Stuck in a corner there was a table [with the most interesting pattern on the top]. It was all beaten, scrapped, and scraggly, and it was missing half a leg. I could tell it was used for pasta making, as it still had its original drawer for the tools and a hole for sticking in the rolling pin.
‘Why does the surface look like this?’ I asked.
‘This was once tiled, or covered with a marble top, I assume. it’s yours if you want it. Let me just find the missing leg…’
Its sides had the most faint remainders of a pastel color.
‘What color do you reckon it could have been?’
‘Not sure, but probably something blueish? you know…you should paint it something like pale blue. Azure, I’d say.’