Stuffed Pasta Basics
Stuffed pasta is filling sealed between two pieces of fresh pasta. Because pasta is so neutral in flavor, it lends itself to a myriad of fillings. While ricotta cheese and meat are the most traditional, today, with the creativity and playfulness of chefs, pasta fillings range from winter squash to goat cheese to barely cooked egg yolks. Numerous shapes and sizes of stuffed pastas are available from large tubes, such as cannelloni, to the often tiny agnolotti. A number of cultures have their own versions of stuffed pasta such as the Chinese pot sticker, Jewish kreplach, and Russian pierogi to name a few.
The Rules for Making Stuffed Pasta
When making stuffed pasta, there are a few basic rules that should be followed to ensure success. The dough for these pastas should be soft and malleable, never stiff or dry. The filling must be tasted before it is put into the dough to ensure that it is well seasoned and flavored. It is nearly impossible to compensate for a bland or over-seasoned filling with sauces or other ingredients, and is therefore crucial that the sauce be perfect before you begin stuffing the pasta.
Pasta sheets should be rolled out and then worked with one at a time. Once the filling has been placed on a sheet of pasta, the pasta is then either folded over and cut into shapes and sealed, or another piece of pasta is placed on top and then the edges are sealed. Stuffed pasta is sometimes cut into shapes, such as small circles or squares or folded into different shapes such as tortellini. Sometimes a mold or a press is used to form the stuffed pasta. It is very important to make sure that filled pasta is sealed completely so that the filling does not seep out while the pasta cooks and that no water is allowed to get inside the pasta, which would make the filling watery and runny. All air pockets must be pressed out as the pasta is sealed or they can burst open as the pasta cooks. It is most common to use water, egg, or just egg yolk, to seal the edges and ensure that the seal remains tight.
Recipes for Success!
Stuffed pasta lends itself to a variety of sauces, but like most other pastas, is at its best when it is sauced lightly so that the flavor of the filling is not overpowered by the sauce. Richer fillings, such as meat or goat cheese do, however, lend themselves to a more intense and flavorful sauce.
For more detailed instructions for making or working with stuffed pasta, check out the recipes to the right!