Making Ravioli and Lasagna at Home

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ravioli_cHere is a recipe for when you can't or don't want to leave home; or for those times when you have a leisurely afternoon to spend in the kitchen and you don't want to waste it shopping for ingredients. Making ravioli by hand is a time consuming process, but the results can be well worth it when you compare your own economical and wonderfully rich ravioli with the cardboard-like commercial product found in stores.

These can be made from simple ingredients commonly stored on the shelf. But if you're on your way to the store anyway, pick up fresh ingredients, such as full milk ricotta to use in the filling, as well as fresh herbs. The same recipe can be used, either way, by skipping the cottage cheese-making step below.

Home-made cottage (or Ricotta cheese for filling):

1 gallon reconstituted dry milk
1/2 cup vinegar
1 teaspoon salt

Prepare the filling for ravioli by creating a made-at-home ricotta cheese substitute.

Using a thermometer, heat the milk until it reaches a temperature of 190°F. If no thermometer is available, judge the temperature approximately by bringing the milk to a near boil, then removing from heat.

Stir in the vinegar, then allow the milk to sit until it has reached room temperature.

The milk will separate into curds and whey (coagulated cheese in water). Scoop the curds into a colander and drain off the whey. Sprinkle with salt. (Save the whey - it can be used as a substitute for buttermilk to make tender biscuits or other baked goods). Cream and butter may optionally be added to the curds for a richer texture. The curds have now become cottage cheese and are ready to be used in the filling.

Filling:

Measure out 4-5 cups of the cottage cheese. Season it with cracked black pepper, chopped fresh or dry parsley (about 1/4 cup) or use the same amount of thawed frozen or chopped fresh spinach to combine with the cheese.

A 1/4 teaspoon each of basil and oregano, and 1/4 cup grated Romano or Parmesan cheese along with 2 whole eggs (dry whole eggs or egg substitutes can be used in a pinch). Add a dash of nutmeg, if desired.

Mix well to distribute seasonings. Tiny bits of thinly sliced and shredded prosciutto can be added for variation. Any leftover filling may be combined with shredded Mozzarella cheese and used to fill calzone or pizzagaina.

Pasta Dough and Assembling the Ravioli:

Pasta Dough Recipe

2 cups 00 flour (about 350 grams)
2 large whole eggs

Note: 00 is a fine flour with a lower gluten content than all-purpose flour. If you don't have this on hand, use all purpose flour instead.

To prepare the mixture by hand, place the flour on a clean counter top or rolling board and make a well in the center.
Break the eggs into the well and using a fork, beat the eggs, gently drawing in flour from the sides. Continue dragging flour into the center well, stirring the ingredients together until the dough begins to form a homogeneous mass.
Begin kneading the pasta, first sprinkling the surface with flour. in which to put the eggs. Then beat the eggs with a fork and gently mix in the flour from the sides. Start mixing the ingredients together until the mixture becomes homogeneous.

IMPORTANT: If the pasta is too dry or crumbly, spray with a little lukewarm water. When the right texture has been reached, form a ball and leave to rest under an inverted bowl for 10-15 minutes.

If making noodles, roll out the dough using a roller pasta machine, dusting lightly with flour to prevent from sticking. Fold up and roll a second time, or continue to roll each sheet until it becomes smooth.
Once the pasta sheets begin to smooth out, decrease the roller setting by 2 numbers, and then again by 2 numbers, until the sheets are the thickness that you require for the product that you're making.
Use the pasta sheets to make ravioli, lasagna, or roll up the sheet jelly-roll fashion, and slice to desired width to make noodles (or use the cutter attachment of your machine).
For a variation to this dough, add one teaspoon good olive oil for each cup of flour, and one teaspoon salt for each 2 cups flour. For a chewier pasta, replace 1/2 cup of the flour with semolina flour. To make a higher protein pasta, replace 1/2 cup flour with soy flour or high gluten (or balancer) flour. Adding high gluten flour also has the added benefit or reducing carbohydrates. To make an oriental noodle, substitute 1/2 cup of the flour with 1/2 cup of rice flour or potato starch.
In any of these substitutions, adjust liquids accordingly in order to have a dough of the proper consistency for rolling out.
You can add color to the dough by adding drops of beet juice (for red), spinach juice (for green), carrot juice for orange/yellow or squid ink for purple/black!

Prepare the recipe above for the pasta dough, as directed. Thinly roll out dough in rectangles, then use a ravioli mold (if you want to make 12 ravioli at a time) or round ravioli can be cut using a sharp glass or biscuit cutter.

Another method is to cut multiple squares at a time using a pizza wheel or pasty cutter (or sharp knife!) A wavy pie cutter makes a nice decorative edge when used to make the cuts, otherwise, a pizza wheel makes a nice sharp and efficient cut.

Roll dough to 1/8" thickness or less, evenly. This is best done using a pasta machine, but can be accomplished with a rolling pin.

Make 2 rectangular dough sheets about 12 inches long by 6 inches wide. This is the ideal size for most ravioli tray, but if you don't have one, make them the old-fashioned way! Place scoops of filling on top of the first dough sheet at intervals about 2 inches apart. Top with the second sheet of dough, covering the filling gently, then cut the ravioli out by slicing between the filling "pillows" to yield individual pockets.

If you're making circular ravioli, you can sandwich the filling between two layers of pasta, then cut circles around the filling mounds using a cup or a special ravioli cutter, available at kitchen supply shops. Or simply cut a single circle, add filling to one side, then fold over and seal, to make half circles.

Be careful not to drop any filling onto the edges of the ravioli or you won't get a good seal. It's also important to make sure that the edges are well pressed together so that the filling doesn't fall out when the ravioli are boiled. If in doubt, the edges can be pressed together with the tines of a fork.

Cook the ravioli in a large quantity of rapidly boiling salted water. Drop them gently into the water and watch carefully, as fresh pasta cooks quickly. When the ravioli is cooked, it will rise to the surface. Remove using a slotted spoon or drain in a colander. Serve with a rich, simple, pasta sauce.

Variation - Lasagna:

As a variation, the same ingredients may be used to create a lasagna.

Just spread the first pasta sheet at the bottom of a rectangular ovenproof casserole dish. Add a layer of filling, then cover with pasta sauce. Sprinkle with a small amount of grated Parmesan and add a sprig of fresh basil in the center, if desired.

If you have some ground beef or spinach, this can constitute another layer, but is purely optional. Spinach can be combined with a thick white sauce or bechamel and poured into the center layer. Sliced, boiled eggs can be added to the white sauce and spinach layer.

Optionally, sprinkle in some Mozzarella or Parmesan cheese, then repeat again with more pasta, filling, and sauce, cheese, etc until all ingredients are used, or lasagna dish is filled to within 1/2 inch of top. Cover with aluminum foil. To avoid oven spills, consider placing the dish on a baking sheet.

Bake at 375°F for 50 minutes or so, depending on the quantity you've made. Larger lasagnas will require longer cooking times to set.

During the final 15 minutes of cooking time, remove foil and spread a new layer of sauce over all, so that edges won't crisp.

Remove from oven and let sit for 25-30 minutes before cutting into squares.

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