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Read this article, and you will perfect filling homemade pasta, just like the Italians do. Even though it’s a difficult process to master, with a little expertise and practice, it will impress your guests at your next dinner party.
In northern Italy, homemade filled pasta makes you turn back in time with a floured pasta board, the smell of fresh eggs, and the sound of the rolling pin. This is a memory of old times when food and cooking meant love and care.
You will encounter numerous kinds and shapes of fresh pasta. Although plenty of recipes have been registered, think patented in the US, every family has its own versions: tagliatelle, pasta sheets to make lasagna or cannelloni, or filled pasta with meat and vegetable fillings that vary according to the seasons. In this post, I will show you a great variety of filled pasta along with a few regional specialties. At the top of the regional rankings, Emilia Romagna offers the widest choice of filled pastas closely followed by Piedmont, where I live and where our culinary journey begins.
Today, I would like to prepare ravioli which are easy and don’t need many folds. Here, you will find recipes for traditional fillings and some delicious variations—one shape for countless combinations of ingredients. Shaping filled pasta may require a little expertise as you have to fold pasta sheets with careful, fast, and precise movements, but I can guarantee that you will never get bored!
Make a paper-thin pasta sheet
Have you ever made pasta with your own hands? Believe me, you will be really proud of yourself.
Of course, a pasta machine is much faster, yet the movement and the heat of your hands make the dough more elastic and easier to roll and shape.
This is the easiest recipe in the world: you will yield about 1 lb. (450g) of fresh egg pasta, about 6-8 servings for the traditional Italian primi or first course. Or it is 4 servings of a main course paired with a nice crisp salad.
How to make stuffed pasta: stuff fresh egg pasta as a genuine Italian cook does
- 2 ½ cups of all-purpose flour (300g)
- 3 medium eggs at room temperature
- 1 tsp of salt (5g)
- 1 tsp of olive oil
- Sift the flour to avoid any lumps;
- Place the flour on the pasta board and make a well in the center. If you don’t feel very confident, you may also use a big mixing bowl so the mixture doesn’t run everywhere;
- Lightly beat the eggs with 1 teaspoon of oil and salt; pour the egg mixture into the center of the well;
- Using a fork or the tip of your hands gently incorporate the flour a little at a time from the sides of the well;
- When you have incorporated all the flour, blend the mixture using a bench scraper;
- Mix until all the ingredients have been well combined. If the dough is sticky, add some more flour but be careful with the quantity. If you add too much flour, it will get too compact and you won’t be able to knead it properly;
- If you want to use a stand mixer (KitchenAid), put the flour in the mixing bowl and then add one egg at a time. After the first egg has been incorporated add the oil, the salt, and the other eggs. Once you have made your dough, place it onto the board and knead it with your hands;
- Tightly hold the dough with one hand and stretch it with the palm of the other hand;
- Knead it until it is smooth and silky. It will take about 10 minutes (it’s good exercise for your arms). If it gets too dry, add a little oil; if it gets too wet, sprinkle in a little flour;
- Make a ball, cover it with a tea towel, and let it rest under a bowl, turned upside down, at room temperature for about 1 hour before rolling and cutting it;
- Cut your dough into two halves; roll out a half at a time and keep the other one under the tea towel;
- Using a rolling pin, roll out a thin circle;
- Take the farthest edge of the sheet, hook it onto the rolling pin and roll it towards you;
- Unroll it, turn the disc a quarter, and repeat the process a few times;
- When the sheet is thin enough, hang it on a clean horizontal broomstick to let dry for about 10-15 minutes;
- Repeat this with the remaining dough;
- If you use a pasta machine, divide the dough into 4 parts, press them out flat and make 4 lumps as wide as your pasta machine; roll the first lump of pasta in the penultimate widest setting. Repeat with the remaining lumps. Then fold the pasta sheets into three and roll them through again. Repeat 3 or 4 times without folding the pasta sheets; each time click the machine down a setting. Let the pasta sheets dry for 10-15 minutes.
- Do not dry the pasta sheets too much; otherwise, you won’t be able to seal the ravioli properly;
- Make a 10” x 8-inch (25x20cm) rectangle with a thick square-bladed knife;
- Place rounded teaspoonfuls of filling about 1 inch (2,5cm) apart over half of the pasta sheet. You should have about 16 small mounds of filling;
- Brush around the filling with water to moisten the dough;
- Fold the sheet over and press down to seal the edges;
- Lightly sprinkle a little flour over a pasta cutter;
- Cut the edges of the sheet to even them out;
- Then cut into squares around the filling to give the traditional shape of ravioli;
- Place the ravioli onto a floured tea towel and cover them with another towel;
- In the meantime, prepare the other ravioli with the remaining sheets and filling;
- Let them rest for one hour; after 30 minutes, turn them upside down;
- If you have a ravioli stamp cutter, repeat the same operations until you have used up all the ingredients.
A few tips to make perfect pasta:
- Choose all-purpose flour which is made of the central part of the grain. Soft wheat semolina is tastier but more difficult to knead, so start with all-purpose flour. After you practice more, you can mix the two types of flour or use only semolina;
- The quantities of the ingredients may vary according to their quality, the percentage of humidity in the air, and the temperature. Measure the flour and the oil according to the cooking instructions;
- Flour both your hands and the board before kneading the dough to prevent it from getting sticky;
- Allow yourself plenty of time. The more you knead the dough, the more easily you will roll out the pasta sheets;
- Check for the right elasticity of the dough. Stick your finger into the dough; if it is stil sticky, add some flour and keep on kneading;
- Let the dough rest by wrapping it in plastic wrap or place it under a bowl turned upside down. It will dry a little, and you will be able to roll it better.
Filling the ravioli
There are a plenty of delicious ingredients that are combined to make an endless list of fillings. In Italy, our imagination has no limits. Here are just a few examples of different fillings.
Piedmontese Agnolotti filling
- 1 pound + 3 tablespoons (500g) of beef
- 1 pound + 3 tablespoons (500g) of capocollo (pork)
- 9 cups (300g) of spinach
- 1 onion
- 1 carrot
- 1 stalk of celery
- 3 eggs
- Dry white wine
- Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- Put the two types of meat in two separate baking pans with an equal quantity of coarsely-diced onion, carrot, and celery. Season with salt and roast them in the oven for about an hour;
- Occasionally stir the mixture to prevent the meat from sticking to the bottom;
- After about 30 minutes, add a little white wine;
- When evenly cooked, let the meat cool down completely:
- Put the spinach into very hot salted water, drain it, and squeeze well;
- Pass the meat and the spinach through a meat grinder,
- Season with salt and pepper;
- Add the Parmigiano cheese and the eggs. Mix thoroughly. The filling is now ready to enrich your fresh pasta sheets.
This filling is perfectly paired with butter and sage sauce. Agnolotti may also be seasoned with the gravy leftover from the cooked meat.
Any filling left over? Why don’t you prepare some delicious meatballs?
Genoese Pansotti filling
- 3 cups (300g) of fresh Pecorino cheese
- 1 cup + 3 tablespoons (300g) of ricotta cheese
- 1½ cups (150g) of Parmigiano Reggiano
- 2 egg yolks
- Salt and pepper
- Grate the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese;
- Mix all the ingredients in a big mixing bowl until evenly combined;
- Season with salt and pepper;
- Place teaspoons of filling on the pasta sheets. You may seal them into squares, but they are traditionally round and folded in half;
Hazelnut sauce goes well with Pansotti. To make it, sauté 1½ cups (200g) of coarsely chopped hazelnuts and 3 tablespoons (20g) of pine nuts in a skillet with a clove of garlic and a little butter. When the sauce thickens, add a glass of whole milk or half and half to make it creamy; season it with salt.
- 1 cup + 3 tablespoons (300g) of ricotta cheese
- 3 cups (100g) of fresh spinach
- 2 eggs
- 2 cups (200g) of grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
- Salt and nutmeg
This filling combines perfectly with a butter and sage sauce; top generously with grated Pamigiano cheese
- 1½ cups (300g) of beef what cut?
- 3/4 cup (150g) of mortadella
- 3/4 cup (150g) of pork loin or (100g) of Parma ham
- 3/4 cup (150g) of sirloin beef
- 1 cup (100g) of Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
- Salt, pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon to taste
- Grind the meat and mix well with salt and other spices;
- Let sit for a few hours;
- In a saucepan sauté the meat with a little oil;
- When the meat has released its juices, remove it from the heat;
- Let it cool down completely and add the Parmigiano cheese;
- Mix well until evenly combined;
- Place teaspoons of filling over the pasta sheets, spaced about an inch apart, seal them, and cut the ravioli.
A traditional meat ragù or my own tasty variation pair perfectly with this filled pasta. For a simpler taste, choose a butter and sage or a cream sauce.
Chestnut and Grana Padano cheese filling
- 4 cups (500g) of chestnuts
- 1½ cups + 2 tablespoons (200g) of ricotta cheese
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons (12g) of grated Grana Padano cheese
- Boil, peel, and smash the chestnuts;
- In a big bowl, mix chestnuts, ricotta and Grana Padano cheese;
- Season with nutmeg, and salt;
- Let sit at least one hour before filling your ravioli;
- Follow the instructions above for assembling the ravioli.
This version combines perfectly with a butter and sage sauce.
How to cook ravioli
Cook them into a big stock pot with plenty of salted boiling water for 4-5 minutes. They must not open up, so drain them with a mesh skimmer to keep from breaking apart. Season with butter and sage sauce, ragù, or roasted meat gravy.