Making your own fresh pasta for ravioli or agnolotti is not all that difficult, and is well worth the effort. The recipe I’ve worked out is sort of a compromise between a standard one-egg per 3/4 cup flour mixture, and the very rich mixture Thomas Keller calls for in his French Laundry recipe. I’m adding as many eggs to the mixture as I possibly can, and still have it pliable enough to be easy to knead. Adding a tablespoon or so of olive oil helps keep the pasta moist and pliable, too.
Here I’m starting with about two cups of unbleached all-purpose flour, two whole eggs (one yolk broke…) with an additional three yokes, plus a fat tablespoon of good olive oil, just to keep things moist. Keep in mind that you probably won’t need to incorporate all the flour.
Start right on your cutting board or on a marble pastry stone, with the flour forming a bowl to hold the yokes and oil. Use a fork to stir from the center, gradually incorporating flour from the sides of the bowl. When the mass comes together and begins to stick to the fork, switch to a board scraper, and push away the unused flour, incorporating as you go until you have a soft, slightly sticky ball that you can knead without it sticking to your fingers. A great trick is to add tiny amounts of water from a spray bottle if things get too dry. I also find I sometimes have to add more olive oil to achieve the consistency I’m looking for. (Having the right amount of moisture in the dough becomes important when you are rolling it out. More on that later.)
Knead the dough until it is very smooth and supple. Then wrap it up in plastic and throw it into the refrigerator for at least an hour, and up to three hours. (After three or four hours the dough can start to turn gray.) This resting time gives the gluten a chance to relax, and also gives the moisture in the dough time to equalize, allowing all the flour to become hydrated. The resting time also gives you time to set up your pasta machine, mix up your filling, start your sauce, and get some salted pasta water boiling.
My filling here is a mixture of ricotta and parmesan cheeses, sautéed and chopped mushrooms, and blanched and chopped spinach.
Remove the pasta from the refrigerator, cut it in half, and wrap and set half aside for later. Dust everything liberally with flour, and using a pin, roll out half of the dough into a rough rectangle that is no more than 3 inches wide, and about 3/8th’s to 1/4 inch thick. It can be as long as it needs to be… but you don’t want it too wide, as it will gain width when rolling. And you don’t want it too thick, or the rollers will tear it if it is too thick, or too dry.
Dust the rollers with flour, and dust your working surface liberally with semolina flour or corn meal to prevent things from sticking. Set your pasta machine on the widest setting, and roll out your pasta, progressively turning down the screws until it is the thickness you want. For ravioli, I run mine down the the next-to-the-last setting on the KitchenAid, which is “6″. Thinner might be better for agnolotti or plain noodles, but I like the tooth I get from a slightly thicker ravioli.
Lay out those cute little balls of goodness, with just enough room in between each one for a brush loaded up with egg-wash, and room to seal the edges. Once sealed, cut ‘em and cook ‘em.
While they are cooking, I like to finesse my sauce, and bring it up to temperature. I started by cooking the bacon or pancetta bits, pour off 95% of the fat and deglaze with a very light and clear chicken stock (read: homemade…..), then throw in the chopped leeks and red pepper dice, and cook until soft.
I like to get the sauce really rockin hot’ in the pan, and then finish the not-quite-completely-cooked raviolis right there in the sauce. Introducing just a bit of your pasta water into the sauce brings a little starch to the party, and when it thickens, you’re ready to plate it.