Flipping around the channels years ago, I paused at Food Network and Alton Brown’s generally pompous Good Eats. The theme was pasta, specifically stuffed pastas such as ravioli, about which he proceeded to spread falsehoods and overall lousy advice. I imagined people all over the land following along, kneading, rolling, folding, and stuffing little parcels of inevitably sucky pasta.
I still recall the image of him reaching into the fridge and grabbing a Tupperware container of yesterday’s meatloaf, the premise being that any old filling would do. Now I’m neither Italian nor have an Italian (logically) grandma who used to stand for hours in the kitchen, coated with flour, flicking garganelli off a garganelli maker (if that exists).
However, I have enough experience eating, cooking, and reading about filled pasta to know that the inside is almost as important as the outside. It’s like a reverse oreo situation: the noodle being the cream filling, the chocolate cookie the less vibrant yet critical partner.
To label any random item that can be shaped into a ball, fit ravioli filling is like saying you can make a decent sandwich no matter what’s between the bread. Meatloaf, as we know, makes a good sandwich. However, even the most moist (moistest?) meatloaf doesn’t have that essential soft, toothsome, occasionally creamy quality that makes for that perfect stuffed pasta bite.
Creamy, dairy mixtures like ricotta and spinach or cream-enhanced butternut squash, are less tricky than meat fillings, which, naturally, don’t ooze and melt. However, a pot of meltingly tender braised meat can be delicious and even makes its own pasta sauce.
This recipe is from Paul Bertolli’s Cooking By Hand, and we chose it because, rather than being chopped up and added to the braise, the cured meats (salami, pancetta) are treated as an integral part of the stew: seared and simmered, resulting in a more complex sauce.
If this post has a message it would be to respect your stuffed pasta fillings. Remember the reverse oreo. And stop watching Alton Brown.
Agnolotti w/ Braised Meats (from Cooking By Hand, by Paul Bertolli)
1 recipe pasta (below)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound diced veal or pork shoulder
1 pound meat, skin on, cut from a chicken leg or two
¼ pound pancetta or slab bacon, diced
½ onion, sliced
4 sage leaves, chopped
¼ pound salami, diced
2 cups meat broth or veal stock
¼ cup grated Parmigian
few stalks asparagus, trimmed
salt and pepper
- Season the meat. Heat the oil on medium high in a pot, add the veal, chicken, and pancetta, and brown well. Add onion, salami, and sage, and brown 5 minutes or so. Add ¼ cup of the broth, scrape and reduce until almost dry and the residue reforms. Then add another ¼ cup. Do this one more time, then add the rest of the broth or stock until just about the level of the meat, cover tightly, reduce heat to very low, and cook until tender, a few hours. Season as necessary.
- When done, strain the meats and all solids to a bowl and chop finely or just into a food processor with the parm. Puree until smooth. Reduce the broth or stock to sauce consistency, thickening if necessary with a bit of cornstarch dissolved in a bit of water. Let everything cool/
- Cut the pasta into thirds. Cover two of the balls with a paper towel, roll out the first third to the second to last setting. Make sure to use plenty of flour so it doesn’t stick in the machine.
- Going down the length of the pasta, spoon out about a tablespoon of the filling at even intervals about 1 inch apart. Fold the bottom over the top, press out all the air, seal, and cut. Place on a floured tray and freeze or use immediately.
- To serve, cook in plenty of salted, boiling water, divide among plates, coat with the reduced braising liquid and some thinly sliced raw asparagus
3 ½ cups flour
4 eggs, beaten
- Add the flour to a large bowl. Make a sizable well in the center, pour in the eggs, and, using your fingers or a fork, gently incorporate the flour by mixing the two, keeping the walls of the well intact.
- When the dough comes together, turn onto a lightly floured surface and knead at least 10 minutes. Cover and rest ½ hour.