Illustration: Allison Corr

My urban kitchen is a small one, so prime counter real estate is only for near-daily necessities like a toaster and a small food processor. Any appliances that seem large and somewhat superfluous—waffle-maker, standing mixer—have no place in my home.

With limited room for something like a pasta maker, I figured that homemade pasta was out of my league. Then I met Matt Troost, chef at Chicago restaurant Good Measure, who graciously walked me through a pasta-making lesson. “It’s not as difficult as people think,” he told me, as we embarked on a ravioli-making adventure. His kitchen at Good Measure is hardly expansive, which gave me hope for my own small space.

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All you have to know, he said, is 1) how to make pasta and 2) how to roll it out flat. Then “If you can make one sheet of pasta, you can make two sheets of pasta, and you can make ravioli.” Granted, he gets that it’s not something most people do in their houses every day; he called it “more of a special occasion thing.” But he was confident that if you want homemade pasta, it was just a matter of figuring out how to do it. Sold! I was ready to try to turn even my tiny kitchen into a pasta factory.

We started, naturally, with the dough, which Troost said relies on a ratio of flour-to-hydrator similar to 1 cup flour and two eggs, with a little salt. Put the flour in a bowl, and make a well for the eggs. Then start stirring with a fork, “and as you’re stirring, the eggs themselves are pulling in the flour.”

Granted, if you have a larger kitchen than he and I do, you could also do this in a Kitchenaid. But he reassured me about the handmade method, the way Italian grandmas do: “There’s more love in it when you make it by hand.” But it is more work, because once your ingredients are combined, you just keep “kneading it, kneading it, kneading it,” said Troost, adding flour and/or water as you go to get it to a pliable dough. Then you let it rest or freeze it until you’re ready to use.

Photo: Gwen Ihnat

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To the basic pasta dough, you can add some lemon zest, nutmeg, cracked black pepper, any kind of herb—your options are limitless. Troost said: “It’s one of those things where, once you’ve got the basics, you can take a few more steps forward to the other stuff that seems a little more interesting.”

Even in his smaller kitchen, Troost still has a pasta machine, though he acknowledges that’s not everyone’s idea of standard kitchen equipment. He began rolling the dough out using a labelless wine bottle, then kept running it through his beloved machine until he had two thin sheets of pasta.

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He noted that the top piece should be a little bigger than the bottom piece to account for filling the ravioli. His filling consisted of a cheese mixture of ricotta, parmesan, and mozzarella—“some people even throw an egg yolk in here to make it a little richer.” He cautioned that if your filling is too firm, it will tend to tear the pasta, so you don’t want to put anything too sharp in there. Stick with soft fillings like cheese or root vegetables like pureed butternut squash.

Photo: Gwen Ihnat

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Troost piped the filling onto the bottom sheet, adding an egg wash to make the two layers stick together. Then he layered the top sheet over the bottom, taking care to watch out for air bubbles, which could cause the pasta to float unevenly. He used a variety of methods to cut out the ravioli—pasta cutter, various cookie cutters—and noted that while you could crimp the edges of the ravioli with a fork, if the egg wash is doing its job, you don’t really need to.

Also new to my pasta way of thinking: Troost added so much salt to the pasta water, it tasted like sea water. I always thought that the salt was there to prevent the pasta from sticking, but he told me that the salt had “nothing to do with sticking—everything to do with flavor.” The ravioli only took a few minutes to boil, and Troost served it up in a rich marinara sauce, for the most delicious lunch I’ve had in a while.

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Photo: Matt Troost

Troost’s pasta was unsurprisingly delicious—and his demonstration inspiring—so I was determined to try to recreate this methodology at home, my Goofus to his Gallant. Although I didn’t have a roll-through device that makes pasta as thin as paper, I had a rolling pin made out of granite that my kids got me for Mother’s Day when I was making all of those pie crusts. Most of the pasta dough recipes I found online were pretty similar: basically 2 cups flour, 2 eggs, 2 more egg yolks, a little salt. Luckily, the egg-pasta dough was as pliable as Play-doh, with the help with some flour, but not enough to make the pasta too tough.

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I rolled out the pasta as thin as possible. Then I called in my husband, who has more upper body strength than I do and was able to smoosh it even thinner. In the meantime, I made the ravioli filling: a cheese combo (with white cheddar for a more pronounced flavor) topped with a duxelles mixture my husband usually uses to stuff mushrooms. I concocted a piping applicator out of a plastic baggie, and carefully dotted dough layer number one with the fillings. We added some egg wash for glue before unfurling pasta sheet layer number two over it, carefully smoothing out any air bubbles.

Then I perused our collection of cookie cutters to cut out the ravioli with, which were primarily holiday-themed. I found a box of flower shaped ones, which I thought could be cute. “What about these?” I asked.

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Photo: Gwen Ihnat

My husband rolled his eyes. “What about a water glass,” he countered.

Um, much better. We now had about a dozen little pasta discs ready for boiling. But only for a few minutes: Fresh pasta takes a lot less time to boil than premade kinds. We quickly served it up with some leftover tomato sauce, topped with shredded cheese and thyme for a meatless Monday dinner I was inclined to pitch as gourmet.

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“You guys, we made this pasta,” I proudly announced to the children as I served plates. They were less than impressed, but they’re kind of ingrates in general. I was downright thrilled, and due to the relative ease of pulling the pasta together, I look forward to a variety of future fillings and ravioli dinners using only my rolling pin, baggie, and water glass. No pasta machine necessary.


Mushroom-cheese ravioli

Filling

  • 1 8 oz. pack of cremini mushrooms, finely minced
  • 1 1/2 tsp. minced shallot
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 Tbsp. butter
  • 1 clove garlic minced
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup sharp white cheddar
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan
  • 1 Tbsp. oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. nutmeg

Melt butter in pan on medium-high flame. Sauté shallots, garlic, and thyme until fragrant. Add mushrooms and pinch of salt.

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Sauté, stirring occasionally, until mixture is cooked through and free of excess moisture.

Add smoked paprika, salt, and pepper to taste. Set aside and allow to cool.

In separate bowl, combine three cheeses with oregano and nutmeg.

Roll out pasta dough into two sheets, one slightly larger than the other. Pipe in dots of cheese filling on the smaller of the two pasta sheets, being sure to leave enough room between raviolis. Top cheese with mushroom mixture and press down. Smear egg wash around all piles of filling on the bottom layer.

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Then unfurl top sheet of pasta dough over the bottom sheet, carefully smoothing out air bubbles. Use pasta cutter, cookie cutter, or water glass to carefully cut out ravioli. Crimp edges with fork if desired. Boil for a few minutes in salted boiling water and serve with sauce.