Although delicate and tender, fresh pasta is sturdy enough to serve as edible wrapping for all sorts of tasty bundles. Some enclose the filling completely so that the first bite is a delicious surprise. These include square ravioli, half-moon-shaped agnolotti, and ring-shaped tortellini. Tubular cannelloni and manicotti -- discussed in our technique for Stuffing Manicotti and Cannelloni -- and their close kin the pasta roll (see our recipe for Stuffed Pasta Rolls) are left partially open to reveal some of the savory mixture encased within.
Classic fillings incorporate cheeses like creamy ricotta and pungent grated Parmesan, and chopped spinach or ham, all bound with a little egg. Others feature meaty mushrooms, spicy sausage seasoned with herbs, or intensely flavorful dried tomatoes. These pastas and fillings nicely mix and match, so you can experiment and interchange them for variety.
Regardless of their final form, all of these packages begin with a basic pasta dough rolled by hand or with a machine into thin sheets as for lasagne or ribbon pasta. To review this technique, see Steps for Making Pasta. Unlike ribbon pasta, however, pasta for stuffing must be pliable. Donít let the rolled sheet dry or you wonít be able to shape it. Use immediately and cover unused portions with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap until needed.
Shape and fill ravioli and tortellini assembly-line fashion. Always leave a sufficient margin of dough around the filling to ensure a good seal. For a different look, vary the size by using large, wide strips for ravioli or bigger circles for tortellini. A trio or quartet of 3-inch ravioli looks quite dramatic as a first course. Create an attractive edge on either ravioli or tortellini by cutting with a fluted pastry wheel or scalloped cutter.
Forming ravioli by hand is very easy, but a metal frame already molded with indentations and scoring notches will speed the process along. Most cookware stores or department-store houseware sections stock these. Both hand and frame methods for ravioli are shown in steps 1 through 4.
Stuffed pasta can be made early in the day and cooked close to serving time. Arrange on a flour-dusted tray, lightly dust with flour, and refrigerate, covered with a kitchen towel. Donít let the pieces touch or they might stick together and tear when you try to separate them.
On each 2x12-inch strip of dough, arrange 1 teaspoon of filling every 2 inches, beginning 1 inch from one end. Moisten the dough around the filling with a small paintbrush or your finger, top with another strip of dough, and press down on either side of the filling to seal.
With a fluted pastry cutter or sharp knife, cut halfway between the mounds of filling to separate the ravioli. Repeat with the remaining pasta and filling.
Making Ravioli with a Frame
Drape a sheet of fresh dough on the bottom of the frame. Press lightly into each hollow, or set the top of the frame (if there is one) on the dough and press gently. Place about 1 teaspoon of filling in each hollow.
Sealing Ravioli in a Frame
Brush the dough lightly with water. Set another rectangle of dough on top of the filling. Using firm, even pressure, push a wooden rolling pin across. Or, apply the top of the frame, if there is one. This action both seals the ravioli and scores them.