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How to make Ravioli, Dumplings, and Pierogi

Dumplings are pieces of unleavened dough, frequently filled, that are cooked in liquid such as water or soup. Dumplings may also be steamed, pan fried or deep fried in oil. Dumplings differ from baked pastries such as pies, turnovers, quiche, piroshki, or empanadas in that the dough for dumplings usually does not contain fat, such as butter, lard or shortening.

Learn how to make noodles

Plate with Italian Ravioli

Italian Ravioli
Ravioli is a typical Italian dumpling. Ravioli may contain a variety of fillings, including cheese, spinach, or meat. These are typical fillings.

Meat ravioli filling:
  • 1/2 pound ground beef
  • 1/3 cup minced onion
  • 1 or 2 cloves of minced garlic
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
 Cheese Filling:
  • 1 (8 ounce) container ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
  • 1 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Meat Filling: Cook the ground beef, the minced onion, and the minced garlic in a skillet over medium heat. When the meat is browned, remove from heat and cool; stir in the beaten eggs, the finely chopped parsley, and the grated Parmesan cheese. Drain any liquid before filling the pasta. Cheese Filling: Beat the egg and combine with all the ingredients stirring until well combined.

Rolling pasta for the dumplings
 Pasta machine with ravioli attachment
Dough for ravioli
Regular Pasta: Egg pasta:
· 2 cups flour
· 1/2 cup water
· 2 cups flour
· two eggs plus enough
   water to make 1/2 cup

Rolling the dough
Knead the dough thoroughly, cover with plastic, and allow it to rest for 20 minutes. The resting time allows the flour to absorb water uniformly and makes the dough more pliable. The dough can be rolled by hand, or by using a pasta machine, such as the one illustrated above. The picture on the right shows a ravioli attachment for the machine. The thickness of the sheets of pasta should be about 2 millimeters (slightly thicker than a U.S. penny). Two sheets of pasta are fed over the rollers of the ravioli attachment. The filling is placed in the indentations, and the crank is given a half turn to produce two raviolis. The process is repeated until the end of the pasta sheets is reached.

Ravioli cutter 
Ravioli cutter 
 Manually made raviolis
Manually made raviolis
 Ravioli Tray
 Ravioli Tray

Ravioli can also be made manually. Place a sheet of dough on a counter. Put teaspoons of filling on the dough spaced 5 centimeters (about 2 inches) apart. Moisten lightly with water the space between the mounds with a pastry brush. Place another sheet of dough over the mounds of filling. Press the sheets of dough together around the filling making sure that no air is trapped in the pockets, and cut into individual raviolis with a knife. If you make pasta frequently, a ravioli tray or ravioli cutter helps to produce raviolis of uniform size that will cook all at the same time.

A ravioli tray provides a convenient way for making uniformly sized ravioli. Spray the mold with a light coating of oil, dust it with flour, and flour generously the side of the dough sheet that is in contact with the ravioli tray so that the raviolis will release easily. The ravioli tray is used by covering it loosely with a sheet of dough. The filling is placed in each indentation of the tray. The dough between the indentations is moistened slightly to allow the second sheet to adhere well. Cover the filled tray with a second sheet of dough. Glide the palm of the hand along the top sheet to remove any air bubbles, and then press with a roller to cut the raviolis into their final shape. Empty the tray, and repeat the process. (See the illustrations below)

Boiling the ravioli
To cook ravioli, bring to boil a large saucepot of water. Add 1 tablespoon of oil to keep the pasta from sticking. Add the raviolis with a slotted spoon to the boiling water, and stir gently so they don't stick. Boil at medium heat for 10 minutes or until the pasta is tender but firm. Remove with a slotted spoon to a heated platter. Serve with heated homemade or canned pasta sauce. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and garnish with fresh basil.

Freeze for later
Raviolis may be frozen to be used later. Put the freshly made raviolis on a cookie sheet that has been lightly oiled to prevent sticking. Place the cookie sheet in the freezer with the raviolis uncovered. When the raviolis are frozen, transfer them to freezer bags or freezer containers. The frozen raviolis can be kept for several weeks, and they can be prepared very conveniently by dropping them into vigorously boiling water. Make sure that the volume of water is sufficient so that it will not cool too much when the frozen raviolis are added. The boiling time may be slightly longer for frozen than for fresh ravioli.

Striped ravioli and multi-colored pasta
Striped pasta requires extra work, but it can produce colorful culinary creations for special occasions. Green pasta can be made by adding 2 tablespoons of spinach puree to one cup of flour and 1/4 cup water. The spinach puree is made by microwaving finely chopped spinach leaves without stems for two minutes and chopping again. Additional flour may be required for the dough depending on the amount of moisture in the puree. Red pasta can be made using 2 tablespoons of finely grated beets instead of spinach.

Green dough, white dough, and red dough  Preparation of spinach pasta
Green (spinach), white (plain), and red (beet) pasta dough balls.
Image on the right shows initial stage of rolling spinach dough before the color is uniform.

Striped pasta: Adjacent Strip Method.
Roll and fold each dough repeatedly using a pasta machine until the color is uniformly distributed and all the doughs have similar texture and consistency. Work with the white dough first, then the green, and then the red to keep the colors from mixing. Roll each dough ball into a sheet with a thickness of about 1/8 inch (2.5 mm). Using a knife, cut several 1/2 inch (2.5 cm) strips, and place them adjacent to each other in the desired color sequence. Press the strips against each other so that they will adhere, flour the surface, trim the ends, and roll the sheet to the desired thickness using the pasta machine. The pressure of the rolling action fuses the strips together into a single sheet which is ready for use.

Adjacent colored pasta strips  Rolling adjacent colored pasta strips
Adjacent Strip Method

Striped pasta: Strip Overlay Method.
Following the above process, roll the white dough ball into a sheet with a thickness of about 1/8 inch (2.5 mm). Roll the green and the red pasta into sheets with a thickness of 1 millimeter (the thickness of a U.S. penny). Use the fettuccine noodle attachment to cut the green and red pasta into noodles. Place the colored noodles over the white dough sheet in the desired color sequence, leaving spaces where the white color should show. Press the colored noodles so that they will stick to the white dough sheet, and roll the sheet to the desired thickness using the pasta machine. The rolling action fuses the colored noodles to the white background pasta sheet. Pasta sheets produced by the overlay method have a white side and a striped side. Make sure that the colored strips are toward the outside surface of the raviolis.

Overlaid colored pasta strips  Rolling overlaid colored pasta strips
Strip Overlay Method

The strip overlay method is better for ravioli because the underlying white pasta sheet has a uniform consistency. Variations in the humidity of the colored doughs make it difficult to have sheets with uniform texture using the adjacent strip method. Typically, one color will have more water than the other causing the sheet to stretch unevenly when the sheets are being filled, and this can cause the sheets to tear.

Place a sheet of dough on a floured ravioli mold and add the filling

Cover with a second sheet of dough and press with a roller to seal the raviolis


Other Italian Dumplings
Besides ravioli, the Italians also make tortellini and gnocchi. Tortellini are dumplings made in a half-moon shape by filling a round piece of dough and folding it in half. The dumplings are then curled into a circular shape by bending the two ends of the half-moon together around a finger. The shape of the tortellini is often compared to a navel. Both ravioli and tortellini may have a variety of fillings such as cheese, mushrooms, spinach, seafood, or meat.

Gnocchi dumplings do not have any filling. The word gnocchi literally means "lumps". Gnocchi are made from a dough with eggs, semolina, flour, potato or ricotta cheese. The dough is molded into a rope, and cut into lumps that are boiled in water and served with melted butter, grated cheese, or various pasta sauces. This is a typical potato gnocchi recipe:

  • 2 pounds of russet potatoes
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup of unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt

 Gnocchi board
Gnocchi board

Boil and drain the potatoes. Mash the potatoes, and let them cool. Add the egg and the flour to make a dough. Gently knead the dough and roll it into a rope the thickness of a thumb. Slice the rope into 3/4-inch pieces. Dust with a bit more flour. Shape the gnocchi by pressing a piece of dough with your thumb down the length of the tines of a fork to get a ridged impression. Ridges can also be added by rolling the dough on a gnocchi board. The ridges give the gnocchi a rough surface that helps to retain sauce better than without ridges. Cook the gnocchi by dropping them into a pot of boiling water. They will tend to float when they are done. Remove them with a slotted spoon, and serve them topped with your favorite pesto sauce made from 2 cups of finely chopped fresh basil, 3 tablespoons ground pine nuts, 1 clove minced garlic, 1/4 cup freshly grated parmigiano cheese, and 10 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil.

Other uses for the ravioli tray and gnocchi board
Ravioli trays usually have zigzag edges that are decorative and increase the surface area of the pasta to help retain more sauce. The trays may be used to cut dough squares with fancy edges that can be shaped into other kinds of pasta. Farfalle or farfalloni (butterflies) are shaped like bow ties by folding the squares like the letter W and pinching them in the center to form the bows. Garganelli is made by shaping the squares into ridged tubes by wrapping the dough on a wooden dowel while rolling it on a gnocchi board. The handle of a wooden spoon can be used to wrap the squares.

garganelli and farfalle
Farfalle and garganelli
 cutting pasta squares
Cutting pasta squares
making farfalle
Making farfalle
 making garganelli
Making garganelli

Slavic Dumplings
The term pierogi is used to denote various kinds of dumplings stuffed with many types of ingredients such as mashed potatoes, cheese, cottage cheese, cabbage, meat, mushrooms, etc. In Poland and Ukraine a popular filling for pierogis is mashed potatoes mixed with farmer's cheese. The pierogies are boiled and topped with caramelized fried onions.

Mold for Russian Pelmeni 
Russian Pelmeni Mold
 Russian vareniki 
Cheese-filled vareniki
 Dumpling press
Dumpling press

Dessert dumplings
Dumplings filled with fresh fruits or preserves called vareniki are popular Eastern European and Slavic countries. The word vareniki or varenyky is derived from the word "boil" which has the same root in Russian and Ukrainian. It is not unusual for the dumplings that are called vareniki in Russian to be called pierogis in Poland. The fillings for vareniki may be sour cherry, strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, peach, apple, or pitted prunes. After boiling, these dumplings are usually served topped with a spoonful of sour cream.

Striped dumplings filled with pitted prunes and dark chocolate

Dumplings stuffed with pitted prunes and dark chocolate chips are a delicious fudgy treat. The chocolate stripes are made using strips of dough colored with cocoa powder.

Siberian Pelmeni
Pelmeni is a Russian national dish of Siberian origin. The recipes for pelmeni may have originated in China, but today they are an integral part of Russian cuisine. Pelmeni are often boiled in a clear soup, such as chicken bullion. When they are boiled in water, pelmeni are drained and served topped with a spoonful of sour cream and condiments such as vinegar and hot mustard. The typical recipe for Siberian Pelmeni contains a combination of beef and pork:

Pelmeni Dough
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
Pelmeni Filling
  • 1/2 lb. ground beef
  • 1/2 lb. ground pork
  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • garlic to taste
Soup with pelmeni
Soup with pelmeni

To make the pelmeni dough, combine the flour, eggs, water and salt in a large bowl. Mix with a large spoon until the mixture can be gathered into a ball. Transfer dough to a lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. Shape the dough into a ball and let it rest for 30 minutes.

For the filling, mix the ground beef, ground pork, onions, salt, pepper and garlic together. Some recipes call for passing all the ingredients together through a meat grinder to obtain a homogeneous filling. The pelmeni are formed in the same way as ravioli. The dough is rolled out to cover the pelmeni mold, the filling is placed in the indentations, a second sheet of dough is used to cover the mold, and a rolling pin is used to fuse the two layers of dough with their filling and cut the individual dumplings. Pelmeni are generally prepared in large quantities and frozen for later use.

Matzoh ball soup

Matzoh ball soup (Jewish dumplings)
Chicken soup with matzoh balls is a Passover tradition. A typical recipe for making 8 matzoh balls uses 3 large eggs, 2 tablespoons of oil, 3/4 cup of matzoh meal, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Additional ingredients, such as grated onion, pepper, chopped mushrooms, chives, or schmaltz (rendered chicken fat) can be added instead of oil. Balls of lighter texture can be made by separating the egg whites from the yolks, beating the egg whites at high speed to form stiff peaks, and then folding the beaten yolks before adding the matzoh meal. Another variation for more fluffy matzoh balls mixes 1 teaspoon of baking powder with the matzoh meal before the eggs are added. Most commercial matzoh ball mixes use baking powder

Matzoh or matzo is unleavened bread, and matzoh meal consists of fine bread crumbs made by grinding matzo bread. Since the gluten in the matzho meal has already been denatured by baking, the cohesion of the matzoh balls depends solely on the protein of the eggs. For this reason, it is necessary to allow the matzoh meal to absorb the eggs by refrigerating the mixture of egg and matzoh meal for up to one hour. Recipes with baking powder are only left to stand for 15 minutes to preserve the bubbly texture. Moisten hands with cold water and roll the matzoh mixture into 2 centimeter (3/4 inch) balls. Drop the balls in boiling water or broth, and simmer for 20 minutes. The balls may then be served with a well-seasoned chicken broth.

Shish Barak - Arabic meat dumplings
Shish Barak

Arabic Dumplings
Middle Eastern countries prepare meat dumplings in yogurt sauce served like a soup. The dish is called Shish Barak and it is popular in Lebanon and Palestine. The meat is seasoned with onions, allspice, cinnamon, pepper, and salt. The yogurt sauce is prepared by whisking the yogurt with some water, egg white and starch while cold. The mixture is heated slowly to the boiling point while continuing to stir to prevent curdling. The soup is topped with some finely chopped garlic sautéed in a little bit of oil. The soup has a tangy taste from the acidity of the yogurt.

Click here for a Shish Barak Recipe

Oriental Dumplings
The Chinese and Japanese have many names for dumplings of different types. The name wonton is derived from the Cantonese pronunciation for dumplings with a filling containing minced pork, shrimp, ginger, onion, carrots, sesame oil and soy sauce. Wontons are commonly boiled and served in soup or sometimes deep-fried.

Pan-fried potsticker dumplings (pot stickers) correspond to the Chinese jiaozi or Japanese gyoza. These dumplings contain ground meat and/or vegetable filling wrapped into a rolled piece of dough, which is sealed by pressing the edges together. Jiaozi generally have a thicker, chewier skin than wontons.

Wonton Wrappers 
Commercial wonton wrappers
 Boiled Wonton 
Boiled wonton
 Fried wonton
Fried wonton

Wonton wrappers can be made at home from fresh dough, but they are typically bought in packages of 50 individual round or square wrappers. Commercial wonton wrappers are dusted with cornstarch to keep them from sticking together.

Josephine's Wonton recipe for one package of 50 wonton wrappers:

Mix the ingredients together. Fill each wrapper with one teaspoon of filling, and fold the ends of the wrapper to form each wonton.

The wontons may be deep fried until they are crisp and golden brown. The fried wontons should be placed on a sieve lined with a paper towel to drain and absorb the excess oil. Fried wontons are served hot with a spicy sweet and sour sauce.

The wontons can also be boiled in a soup. The wontons cook in about ten minutes. They generally float when ready.

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