Tuesday, January 4, 2011


Most folks think of pasta as an Italian food.  And it is, but pasta has its place in American history. 

In the late 1700’s when Thomas Jefferson served as minister to France he was introduced to pasta during a trip to Naples. He fell in love with it and returned to the U.S. with crates of “maccheroni” and a pasta-making machine (which he proceeded to redesign).

Soon thereafter the first pasta factory was established in Philadelphia.  Pasta was hard to come by and was an exclusive food item of the American elite.  However, as other pasta factories sprouted up, the cost of pasta became more affordable. By the time of the Civil War (1861 to 1865), even the working classes could afford a pasta dinner.

In the 1920's farmers used pasta as a marketing campaign for wheat touting that American wheat had higher levels of protein . . . which, although true, is only by a very small amount. 

Ironically, prohibition gave a major boost to the popularity of pasta. At the time, the only place where one could consume a glass of wine more or less legally was the “speak-easy,” often an Italian restaurant serving spaghetti as a main dish.

The Great Depression of the 1930s made low-cost food like spaghetti a necessity.  The filling and practical meal of spaghetti and meatballs began to appear regularly on millions of American tables.

America is the largest wheat producer on Earth and American grown wheat has high levels of gluten, thus it is ideal for pasta production.

Pasta is the perfect food.  It has a very long shelf life.  It’s inexpensive, diverse, and satisfying.  It’s low in fat and high in complex carbohydrates making a good source of energy.

I could eat pasta every day . . . I love love LOVE it.  It takes some effort and time, but making your own pasta isn’t all that complicated.  Making ravioli adds a little more work but the in the end it is so worth it.

To make Ravioli Dough you will need:

4 eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for dusting
1/2 cup water

In an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook, add eggs, 1 at a time, and mix. Continue mixing and add all the flour and water; continue mixing until it forms a ball. Sprinkle some flour on work surface, and knead the dough until elastic and smooth. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest for about 30 minutes to allow the gluten to relax.

Cut the ball of dough in half, cover and reserve the dough you are not immediately using to prevent it from drying out. Dust the counter and dough with flour. Form the dough into a rectangle and roll it through the pasta machine, 2 or 3 times, at its widest setting. Guide the sheet of dough with the palm of your hand as it emerges from the rollers. Reduce the setting and crank the dough through again, 2 or 3 times. Continue until the machine is at its narrowest setting. The dough should be paper-thin, about 1/8-inch thick.

Prepare whatever filling you like – go wild and experiment.  I made three types . . . seasoned browned ground beef/cheese, ricotta/egg/cream cheese, and crab/cheese.

You can make the ravioli by hand by dropping 1 tablespoon of cooled filling about 2 inches apart on half the sheet of pasta. Fold the unfilled half over the filling. With an espresso cup or finger, gently press out air pockets around each mound of filling and form a seal. Use a crimper to cut each pillow into squares. Check to make sure the crimped edges are well sealed before cooking.

I used a metal form that I got from my grandmother, which makes the process a little easier. 

Put a sheet of dough on the metal form.  Use the shaping form to make the depressions, and then remove shaper.  

Place filling in the dough.  Put the other sheet on top.  

Use a rolling pin to seal and cut.  Turn form over to remove and do it again.

If making ravioli in advance, dust with cornmeal to prevent them from sticking.  I wrapped them in wax paper and froze them to make handling them easier.

Cook the ravioli in plenty of salted, boiling water for about 5 minutes. Be careful not to overcrowd the pot. Ravioli will float to the top when they are cooked. 

Lift them from water with a large strainer or slotted spoon.

Plate the pasta, top with your favorite pasta sauce and cheese before serving.

Delicious and satisfying . . . well worth the work.  

All of the eggs I used in this recipe were courtesy of my good friends Stephanie and Phil.  

If you live in or near Connecticut and want farm fresh eggs, contact Stephanie for pricing and availability.

No comments:

Post a Comment