Thursday, November 1, 2012

Cheese Ravioli with Marinara

Ravioli di Tre Formaggi a Marinara!

     Recently, I started to posting fresh hand crafted pasta recipes.  Readers of this blog can now expect to see many more pasta creations and old favorite traditional styles of fresh pasta in upcoming articles.
     Cheese ravioli is by far, the most popular ravioli of them all!  Everybody seems to like cheese ravioli.  Vegetarians who allow dairy products in their diet, usually choose cheese ravioli when dining with guests at an Italian restaurant.  Kids really like cheese ravioli, because the gentle flavors are easy to identify with.  
     About 30 years ago, fried ravioli became popular.  Cheese ravioli was a natural choice for deep frying.  Fried ravioli is usually served as a bar appetizer or as a light meal.  I will post a nice fried cheese ravioli sometime in the near future.  
     Cheese ravioli is usually served with salsa di pomodoro.  Marinara also is a nice choice of sauce.  Marinara is quickly made and it usually simmers for about 40 minutes to one hour.  I usually only use imported Italian canned peeled seeded whole filets of San Marzano tomato that are crushed by hand, when making marinara sauce.  Many Italian chefs prefer a marinara sauce with smoother texture.  For this recipe imported Italian canned crushed San Marzano tomatoes were used.  The flavor is still rich, but the texture of this marinara is like a salsa di pomodoro sauce.  Because it is a marinara, sliced garlic was used and a slight amount of good olive oil weeps from the finished sauce. 

     Pasta Dough Making Tips:
     Pasta dough can be started in a metal gear driven electric cake mixer with a dough hook, but it still must be folded and pressed by hand to finish blending the ingredients.  The dough does not need to be extensively kneaded, because it will be run through the pasta rolling machine several times at the widest setting and folded each in half each time.  Using the pasta rolling machine to finish the kneading of the dough is one of the tricks of the trade.
     Before the dough is rolled out as pasta sheets, the dough must rest in a refrigerator for 3 to 4 hours, so the dough becomes smooth and elastic.
     Pasta dough is usually made in batches and the extra dough can be refrigerated.  It is best to drape a cloth that is lightly soaked with olive oil over the block of pasta dough inside of a sealed container, when refrigerating pasta dough.
     The outside of the pasta dough block nearly always turns a grayish color after a couple of days, because of oxidization.  This is nothing to worry about and the gray surface does not need to be trimmed off.  The gray color will disappear after the dough is worked and after the pasta is boiled.
     Like all fresh products, fresh pasta has a Servesafe 7 day refrigerated shelf life.  Pasta dough can be frozen, but it is better when it is fresh.
     Good pasta dough should not be too stiff and it should not be too soft.  The dough should dent when heavy pressure is applied by one finger and the dough should only slightly or partially spring back.  A pasta dough with this texture will produce some fine pasta.
     I usually use a mixture of semolina and all purpose flour to make pasta.  This is how we made pasta when I apprenticed.  Only a tiny fraction of salt is added to the dough recipe.  A tiny fraction of olive oil is also added to the dough.  The eggs are the key to the texture of the pasta and no water should be added during the initial mix.  When the dough tightens, becomes stiff and starts to crumble, that is the time to start sprinkling very small amounts of water on the pasta dough, while kneading, till the dough becomes smooth and workable again.  Too much water in a pasta dough will result in a sticky stretchy dough that is hard to manage when shaping fine pasta.

     Pasta Dough Recipe:
     1 cup of flour per egg is the approximate proportion for Italian pasta!
     Place 1 1/2 cups of semolina in a large mixing bowl.
     Add 1/2 cup of all purpose flour.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt.
     Mix the dry ingredients together.
     Pile the dry ingredients on the center of the mixing bowl.
     Form a shallow well on the center of the mound of the flour mixture.
     Place two whole eggs in the well.  
     Add 2 teaspoons of olive oil.
     Use a fork to gentle stir the eggs in the flour well, just like you are mixing eggs for scrambled eggs.
     As you stir the eggs in the well, allow the eggs to slowly and gradually gather the surrounding flour.
     Stir like this, till a dough starts to form.
     Scrape the ingredients from the fork back into the mixing bowl.
     Start using your fingers to gradually incorporate the remaining dry flour mixture into the dough mixture.
     At this stage, at some point, the dough will become dry and crumbly.  Now it the time to add a small sprinkle of water.  Do not add to much water!  Add a small amount, then work the dough.  Add small amounts of water till the dough becomes workable again.  The dough should be stiff in texture.
     Fold the dough and press with the heels of your palms after each fold.  Fold and knead the dough this way, till it becomes blended.
     Press the dough with 1 finger under pressure to make a dent in the dough.  The dough should only partially spring back when it has the correct texture.  The texture of the dough can be corrected by adding a sprinkle of water and more kneading if it is too dry.  If to wet, then work the dough on a flour dusted surface, till it becomes the correct texture.
     Form the dough into a thick rectangular block shape and place it in a sealed container.
     Refrigerate the dough for 3 to 4 hours, till the semolina in the dough becomes smooth. 

     Marinara Sauce Recipe: 
     This recipe makes a 2 to 4 portions of marinara, depending on the serving size!
     For this smooth marinara version, imported Italian canned crushed San Marzano tomatoes were used instead of whole peeled and seeded San Marzano tomato filets.  Some people like a smooth texture marinara. 
     The proportion of  olive oil in a marinara sauce is about 20%.  Olive oil is the key to cooking this classic tomato sauce.  Without enough olive oil, a marinara will turn out to be "flat" like stewed tomatoes.
     Only the best imported Italian tomatoes should be used to make marinara sauce!  Marinara sauce has evolved from being a quickly made tomato sauce that prevented scurvy on a seagoing Italian boat, to becoming a signature tomato sauce that features the very best tomatoes in the house.  The finest Italian restaurants that I worked in always featured San Marzano tomatoes from Italy in their marinara sauces.  
     Imported canned Italian San Marzano tomatoes are the very best and they do command a higher price.  San Marzano tomatoes are a special breed of plum tomatoes that originated in Peru.  
     Heat 5 ounces of olive oil in a sauce pot over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 8 thin sliced garlic cloves.
     Fry the garlic in the oil, till it cooks to a light golden brown color.
     Immediately add 28 ounces of imported Italian canned crushed San Marzano tomatoes to the garlic and oil.
     Add 3 tablespoons of minced fresh basil leaves.
     Add sea salt and black pepper.
     Bring the sauce to a very gentle boil, while stirring often.  (Do not over heat this sauce!) 
     Reduce the temperature to medium low heat.
     Gently simmer the sauce.
     Stir the oil into the sauce once every five minutes.  The oil must be stirred into the sauce regularly so the olive combines with the tomatoes.
     Cook the marinara for almost 45 minutes, till the tomato juices have reduced and till the sauce becomes a medium thin tomato sauce consistency.
     Add 2 tablespoons of very finely chopped Italian parsley.
     Remove the marinara sauce from the heat.  (Marinara is never kept warm on a stove top!  Marinara is made to order or reheated to order.)
    Place a 5 to 6 ounce portion of the marinara in a small sauce pot and reheat the sauce when the ravioli are boiled.

     Tre Formaggi:
     This recipe is enough for several ravioli portions!  Never add salt or pepper to tre formaggi or the delicate "sweet" flavor of the cheese will be lost! 
     Place 15 ounces of ricotta cheese in a mixing bowl.
     Add 3 ounces of finely grated parmesan cheese.
     Add 5 ounces of grated mozzarella cheese.
     Add 1 tablespoon of minced Italian parsley.
     Add 1 whisked egg.
     Mix the ingredients together.
     Chill the tre formaggi mixture in a refrigerator.  
     Pasta Rolling Machine Techniques:
     Follow these instructions and tips for rolling out sheets of pasta!
     A very light dusting of flour on the work surface is best, when rolling sheet pasta.  Sometimes I do not dust with any flour at all, if the room temperature is chilly.
     When running sheets of pasta through a pasta sheet rolling machine, the pasta will pile up like an accordion and stick together, so pause while running a pasta sheet through the roller and gently use the backs of your fingers to carry the pasta sheet from under the machine out over the work surface, so the pasta sheet does not accordion.
     For the widest setting on a pasta roller, the pasta is run through several times, till it becomes smooth and till it starts to become wide.  If the pasta sheet has rough edges, then fold the sheet in half and keep running it through till the pasta sheet has smooth edges.  This is only done at the widest setting on the pasta rolling machine.
     Cut a 1/2" thick, 10" long slab of pasta dough for making the first pasta sheet.  Gently feed the thick slab of dough through the rolling machine at the widest setting to start the process.  The first past through will usually result in a rough broken pasta sheet.  Fold and press the sheet and pieces together, before running the dough through a second time.  On the second pass through the pasta roller, the dough will hold together and start to look like a rough sheet.  
     After the pasta sheet is uniform looking after being rum through the pasta rolling machine at the widest setting several times, then it is ready for the next step.  
     The pasta dough sheet can be run one time through each successive smaller thickness setting on the rolling machine, till the pasta sheet becomes the desired thickness.  
    The pasta sheet can now be turned into desired shapes!

     Cheese Ravioli:
     Place a 25" long sheet of pasta on a lightly flour dusted countertop.
     Place a straight edge or yard stick down center of the length of the pasta sheet, so the pasta sheet is divided in two lengthwise.
     Center 7 or 8 small mounds of the tre formaggi filling once every 3" to 3 1/2" on one half of the pasta sheet.  The portion of the filling should be the size of 1/2 tablespoon to 3/4 tablespoon in size.  
     Remove the straight edge guide.
     Brush the area around the mounds of filling, with a wide streak of egg wash.
     Drape the bare half of the pasta sheet over the filling.
     Use 1 finger to gently press the pasta in place, starting with the folded edge, then the spaces between the mounds and finally the open seam edge.  This way any excess air will escape! 
     Use a fancy pasta wheel cutter, a pizza cutting wheel or a knife to cut square ravioli shapes.  The filling should be centered on each ravioli.
     Place the ravioli on a screen drying rack, if they are not going to be cooked immediately.  The pasta scraps can be reshaped to make more pasta. 

     Cheese Ravioli with Marinara:
     Wait to cook the ravioli, till after the sauce is finished and kept warm!
     Bring a large pot of water to a gentle boil over medium high/high heat.
     Add some sea salt.
     Place the fresh ravioli pasta in the hot water.
     As soon as the ravioli begin to float, then they are done cooking.  
     Note:  The pasta should be fairly firm and not overly soft, when it is ready.  There is no such thing as al dente fresh pasta, but there is such a thing as overcooked mushy fresh pasta!
     Use a fryer net to remove the hot cooked ravioli from the hot water.
     Hold the fryer net over the pot of hot water and allow any excess water to fall off of the ravioli.
     Spread a little bit of the marinara sauce on a plate.
     Place the the ravioli on the sauce.
     Spoon a generous amount of the marinara sauce over and around the ravioli.
     Sprinkle 1 or 2 pinches of finely grated romano cheese over the pasta.
     Garnish with an Italian parsley sprig.

     This is a standard Italian ravioli recipe that will keep everybody smiling at the dinner table.  Yum!  Ciao Baby!  ...  Shawna

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