Fill ‘Em Up

Published in FSD Update

Fresh or frozen, local flavors make stuffed pastas stand out.

By Lindsey Ramsey, Contributing Editor

UConn’s Autumn Ravioli with Butternut and Sage.

If you are lucky enough to have the manpower, making your own stuffed pasta can elevate your dishes to true restaurant quality. So it makes sense that a campus restaurant would be one of the few places where the culinary team is able to afford—and produce—fresh pasta. At Ibby’s Restaurant, on the campus of Washington University in St. Louis, Patrick McElroy, executive chef for Bon Appétit, says he’d prefer to make all pastas in-house, but the full operation simply requires too much volume to do so. However, he says, the fresh stuffed pastas the restaurant have been able to make are something special.

“[We] did a braised beef cheek ravioli,” McElroy says. “It was made with all-natural, grass-fed local beef. For the sauce, we used the beef’s braising liquid as a base. We’ve also worked with our local mushroom company and done a six-blend mushroom ravioli with a cherry cream sauce, which also featured pine nuts, sun-dried tomatoes and wild boar sausage. We try to incorporate as many local flavors as possible.”

Going local

Working with local vendors is also key for Rob Landolphi, culinary operations manager at the University of Connecticut, in Storrs, as a way for his department to feel comfortable with purchased stuffed pasta. 

“We buy from a local pasta company called Carla’s Pasta,” Landolphi says. “The company is known for putting a lot of really high-quality cheeses inside its pastas. They are definitely overstuffed, so when you bite into them the fillings explode in your mouth. The pastas are usually filled with Parmesan-Reggiano, mozzarella, ricotta or goat cheese. We’ll also use beef-filled pastas.”

Landolphi says his department does a lot with both ravioli and tortellinis. For one dish, a tortellini with a tomato pesto, the team made the pesto with chopped tomatoes, roasted red peppers, garlic, red wine vinegar, basil and olive oil. Landolphi says the vinegar gives the pesto a bite that’s really tasty. 

Carla’s also makes a vegan ravioli stuffed with Italian seasoned tofu. Another popular vegan stuffed pasta dish is a tortellini della pangrattato. For this dish, the team sautés garlic and tomatoes, deglazes the pan with white wine and adds the vegan tortellini along with asparagus, lemon zest, salt and pepper. The pasta is topped with breadcrumbs. For a different take on stuffed pasta, the department also has used manicotti. 

“We take the manicotti and serve it with a cacciatore sauce over the top,” Landolphi says. “We serve that in our local, sustainable dining hall when the vegetables are in season. We use peppers, broccoli, carrots, squash, celery, onions, mushrooms, garlic, fresh-crushed tomatoes, a touch of sugar, oregano and basil.”

In addition to these pasta specials, the university offers cheese and meat raviolis and tortellinis on a regular basis at pasta bars. Last year a full tortellini bar was set up, which gave students their choice of sauce and toppings.

“There are so many combinations you can do with [stuffed pasta], which makes it so attractive,” Landolphi says. “A lot of times we create a sauce and then think about what it would go well with. If we’re doing a sauce that is lighter with vegetables that doesn’t have cheese in it, then we might say, ‘this would go well with a stuffed pasta.’”

On the cold side

Stuffed pastas aren’t just for hot applications. At NYU Langone Medical Center, in New York, Chef de Cuisine Simon Apollonio says his department serves a tortellini pasta salad that is very popular. 

“At the moment we don’t have a cafeteria because we’re still trying to recover from Hurricane Sandy,” Apollonio says. “But before the storm, and for catering, we made this tortellini salad with a purchased three-color cheese tortellini made with sun-dried tomatoes and marinated with pesto and olive oil.”

The department has also offered a mushroom ravioli, which was served with either a vodka sauce, meat sauce or white sauce. The thing about purchasing stuffed pastas, in Apollonio’s opinion, is that the dough needs to be thin. 

“You don’t want them to clump together while you are cooking them, especially when cooking from frozen,” Apollonio says. “It has to be the perfect thickness so the stuffing doesn’t come out while you are cooking.”

Buying advice

Purchasing stuffed pasta is really the only option for many non-commercial operations, none more so than school foodservice. Catherine Donovan, director of food services for the Hamilton-Wenham Regional School District, in Massachusetts, says the first thing she looks for when buying stuffed pastas is affordability, followed by appeal to children and ease of preparation.

“We have done raviolis and stuffed shells,” Donovan says. “Since it’s school lunch we’re in a time crunch so the preparation needs to be as easy as possible. The pasta is frozen, but we do make our own sauce. I’ve pretty much stuck to tomato sauce. Sometimes at the high school I’ll experiment with an Alfredo sauce or different kinds of sauces because the older kids are a little savvier.”

 

From the chef

Patrick McElroy, executive chef for Bon Appétit at Washington University in St. Louis, offers these tips for making stuffed pastas in house:

  • Make sure you have the right consistency in your filling. Your water content should be between 25% and 30% when compared to the dry ingredients. Make sure the filling isn’t too dry or too wet. If it’s too wet, it will squish out when you open up the pasta.
  • Make sure the texture of the filling is correct. “If your filling is mushroom, you want it to feel like mushroom,” McElroy says. “You don’t want it to be a thin purée.”
  • Be creative. McElroy likens stuffed pastas to mashed potatoes in the sense that they are great foundations. McElroy says you need to build in flavors, so he suggests getting innovative with your fillings, for example, braised beets and balsamic dressing.
  • To ease production, McElroy freezes his stuffed pastas individually on sheet pans so that staff can easily grab what they need for service.