My eight-year old son had been asking for a long time to learn how to make pasta from scratch. When I saw Paige Russel's Instructable class on pasta-making, I asked him if he wanted to do it together. He dragged me out to buy a pasta maker that very afternoon. He bought it himself, with every last penny he owned.
We've had a great time making fresh pasta together. The Pasta Challenge appeared shortly after we finished the class. My son saw it, and with great enthusiasm, declared "Let's do it!"
I spent a while thinking about what we could make. I wanted to come up with a kid-friendly, fun pasta project, since the pasta making has not been a solo endeavor in our house. Eventually, I came up with cookie cutter ravioli. What kid doesn't like punching shapes out with cookies cutters?
I'll go over the basic recipe and methods we used for making and rolling out the actual pasta, but I'm going to assume some familiarity with pasta-making. If you've never done it before, I highly recommend Paige's Pasta Making Class for the finer details and a great beginner's introduction.
These ravioli could be made with all heart-shaped cutters for an elegant Valentine's dinner or some such occasion, but I'm also going to include tips in here specifically for making pasta with kids. Let's do it!
Step 1: Making the Pasta Dough
350 g (about 2 1/2 cups) flour
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon water
Knead all of these ingredients together well. It will take some arm muscle. If the dough is at all sticky, sprinkle on a bit more flour and keep kneading. Sticky dough is really difficult to handle! When you have a smooth ball of dough, wrap it in plastic wrap and let it rest for at least thirty minutes. Alternatively, you can also wrap it and refrigerate it for tomorrow. If you choose to do that, set it on the counter to warm up for at least half an hour before trying to roll it out.
*Give yourself twice as much time as you think you need to make the dough. Cooking is no fun when people are rushed, and kids often need more time than adults would to complete the same task. If you get done in record time, it's fine to let the dough rest longer.
*Consider the ages of the kids you're cooking with. I knew our resident three-year-old would want to get in on the cookie cutters, and would undoubtedly ruin some of the dough. So we made a double batch, with the hopes that half of it would become ravioli. That way, there's no stress if he tears the dough or stamps shapes over each other.
*My son doesn't have the hand strength to knead by hand and often get frustrated trying. We have a bread machine (picked up at a thrift store for $7; it seems there are always bread machines in thrift stores). So he measures the ingredients, pours them in, and sets the bread machine on its "dough" setting. This kneads for him. He keeps a watch on the dough, testing it and adding more flour as needed to make a smooth ball. This allows him to do more of the pasta-making on his own. But barring a bread machine, be ready to jump in and take over when kids are frustrated/tired -- or if you have multiple kids who want to knead, help them take turns.
Step 2: Make the Filling
2 cups ricotta cheese
a pinch of salt
Other flavorings, as desired
Put all the ingredients into a bowl and mix them. Traditional seasoning would include black pepper and a bit of nutmeg. I asked my kids what they wanted, so we added one tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder instead. This gave our ravioli an earthy, smokey flavor. Once the filling is mixed, scoop it into a piping bag. Or, in our case, a ziploc bag that we later snipped a corner off of.
*Mixing the filling is a great job for the littlest helpers in your kitchen. This is a great job to hand to a preschooler, and then watch them beam with pride.
*Just like kids take pride in doing the work, they also take pride in making decisions and making something their own. It wasn't my plan to use cocoa powder, but I'm glad I asked my son what he wanted. It makes it more "his" project instead of just a "Mom" project.
*If you made a double batch of pasta, you probably still need just a single batch of filling. I planned on some dough getting ruined, and kids not making the most of the space they had to cut out shapes. We had plenty of filling.
Step 3: Roll Out the Dough
First, cut the dough into two or more pieces. Flatten these pieces slightly with your hands, then roll each through the pasta machine on its widest setting. Fold each sheet into thirds lengthwise, and run through the widest setting again. After that, fold them in half from top to bottom and run through the widest setting one last time. This helps strengthen the pasta dough.
Next, lower the width setting on the pasta dough by one and run each sheet through. Continue through each level on your machine until you get to the third-to-last setting (which is #3 on my machine, but some machines run numbers the other direction -- which would be #6).
*At least at my house, everyone loves turning the crank for the pasta machine. Sometimes little kids will need gentle help with this, but cooks with jobs are happy cooks. It's probably a good moment to repeat that thing about giving yourself plenty of time when making pasta with kids.
*There are a lot of possible jobs here! One kid can crank while someone else feeds in the pasta sheet, and another person gently gathers it from below. If the sheets get too long and unwieldy, feel free to cut them into shorter sizes. We keep these very long because we had lots of helping hands.
Step 4: Cut Out Your Shapes!
Our metal cookie cutters worked best, but plastic also did fine. Sliding a cutting board under the pasta dough for a nice hard surface underneath also helped. If the shapes aren't cutting cleanly, gently lift the dough up around the outside of the cookie cutter. This will help it cut. Broad shapes with large centers, like these hearts and stars, will be the easiest to fill later.
You'll need two of any shape that you want to make a ravioli out of.
*I knew the kids would have difficulty filling and sealing the more complicated shapes. Rather than crimp their style, I just warned the kids ahead of time that I might have to help with the harder shapes later on, then let them choose what they wanted to make. Alternatively, hide the cookie cutters with intricate shapes before you even get started.
Step 5: Fill and Seal the Ravioli
Pipe a small amount of the ricotta mixture into the middle of the shape. Lay the matching piece of dough on top, then press down all around the edges to seal the shape. If any filling leaks out, it's okay. Just make sure the dough is well-pinched, and it won't fall apart later. Set your beauties on a tray for later, making sure they're not touching (or they'll stick together!).
If you have really intricate shapes, just pipe into the larger areas, and pinch the detailed parts together (see the first picture; I only piped the head and torso of the gingerbread boy and pinched his hands and feet together as just pasta. I didn't pipe the fringe of the tree, either).
If you're making these WAY ahead of time (more than an hour before you want to eat), pop your tray into the freezer. We made these the night before we planned to eat them, and they turned out lovely after their brief frozen sojourn.
*Avoid multitasking. If, say, you're planning on making an Instructable, get someone else to come take the pictures. I didn't do this, and thus the mis-matched pictures. Sorry!
*We planned on making these early, specifically because I didn't want to rush the kids to finish a great big cooking project in time for dinner. They really did taste excellent the next day after being frozen. With everything ready to go and the pasta-making mess cleaned up, it was relaxing to make dinner the next day and enjoy it together.
Step 6: Cook, Eat, and Clean Up the Ravioli
Get a nice big pot of water boiling. Salt the water. Then slide in some ravioli. We cooked ours in batches of four, and even frozen, they all cooked up in a few minutes. They're done when they float to the top of the pot.
We served ours very simply, with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese.Yum.
But what to do with the left-over pasta scraps? I cut them into rough strips, tossed them in a bag in the freezer, and later we'll eat them and pretend they're very oddly-shaped tagliatelle.
*Okay. Remember how I made a double batch of pasta, because I wanted to give the littlest a bit of free reign? We did end up with a lot of pasta that had been lightly stamped all over with criss-crossing shapes. It wasn't good for making ravioli, or for cutting into noodles. So I used those sheets to toss together a lasagna with our leftover ricotta filling, some tomato sauce, and some cheese on top. It took all of five minutes to build, and it was also delicious. Everybody wins!