If all the people I’ve entertained over the years got together and discussed what they ate at the Giacoletto table, ninety per cent would probably say ravioli.
“If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” I tell myself, which doesn’t say much for my culinary imagination but speaks volumes about my practical perspective. At any given time several hundred ravioli can be found in one of my three freezers. When those numbers start to dwindle, panic sets in, forcing me to mix up another batch, in case family or friends happen to stop by around mealtime. Or, if I need appetizers for someone’s party or Trivia Night, in which case I resort to my version of toasted ravioli since those tasty morsels work just as well served piping hot as they do at room temperature.
While watching my favorite cooking shows on TV, I try to imagine myself as a confident participant determined to take home nothing less than the top prize. The challenge: prepare a three-course meal, inexpensive but mouth-watering delicious. Let’s see, I could start out with tortellini en brodo, as in, ravioli twisted into little hats and cooked in a well-seasoned chicken broth. For my main course, meat-filled ravioli combined with a marinara sauce topped with grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. For dessert, a delicate cinnamon-infused butter sauce over half-moon shaped ravioli filled with ricotta cheese and dried plums, California’s glorified name for prunes that amuse and confuse our relatives in Italy.
For my challenge I conjure up the judge I fear above all others—restaurateur Joe Bastianich of Master Chef. Need I say more? Joe would taste my first course, tortellini in brodo; nod his approval, and say, “Not bad.” I return to my cooking station with a spring in my step. Joe likes me; he really likes me.
After a flurry of activity at my cooking station, I place my offering of meat-filled ravioli before Joe and all but genuflect. He lifts one eyebrow and says, “Again?” Followed by, “My mama prefers Grana Padano cheese over Parmigiano.”
I lower my eyelids, express sincere apologies, and retreat to my station with no spring in my step. Don’t hate me, Joe. I forgot about Lidia and the Grana Padano. I hope she lets me back into her Kansas City restaurant.
By the time we get to dessert, my hands are shaking as I present the delicate prune-filled half-moons. “More ravioli?” Joe asks with that sneer reserved for those who disappoint him. He takes one bite, his eyes never leaving mine. “Do you know what you are?” he asks. Before I can answer, he walks my dessert to the waste bin and deep-sixes my lovely half-moons along with the plate. He levels one forefinger in my direction. “You are a one-note wonder and not worthy of the title Master Chef. Take off your apron and leave, now!”
While walking the walk of shame back to my station, I untie the apron I no longer deserve. Say it isn’t so, Joe, even though I know it is. You have exposed me as a home cook who only does one thing really well.
I’ve been making ravioli for more years than I care to recall. It was my mother who first taught Hubby D and me the finer techniques, using a recipe passed down from her sister-in-law, my Aunt D. That first batch of ravioli took the three of us all afternoon, using a food grinder for the filling, mixing the dough by hand, and then rolling it out before creating those little pillows. After that, I flew solo for years and developed my own efficient techniques until decades later when Hubby D got into the act again, a blessing since he can roll out a perfect rectangle of dough. Mine, on the other hand, resembles a map of the good old U.S. of A.
What once started out as a recipe passed on to my mother has now evolved into one with my stamp on it. And now I’m going to share it with you.
Ravioli My Way, Loretta Giacoletto
Here’s the Ravioli My Way tools you’ll need, the ingredients, and step-by instructions for 50 ravioli, give or take, depending on their size.
• Food Processor (unless you prefer to hand-mix your dough and hand-grind your filling)
• Rolling pin (D prefers with handles; I prefer without)
• Large work surface for rolling out dough and assembling ravioli
• Pastry crimper or ravioli cutter to seal ravioli (no need to moisten the edges first)
• Cookie sheet or two (on which to set ravioli while they dry out and/or later while they freeze)
• Plastic freezer bag or two (unless you plan to cook right away)
• 2 C all-purpose unbleached flour
• 1 C fine semolina flour
• 1 t salt
• ½ C water
• ¼ C olive oil (I prefer extra virgin)
• 3 extra large eggs
From the above ingredients, add to your food processor:
• 1 C of the all purpose flour
• 1 t salt
• ½ C water
• Pulsate and then blend into a wet dough
Add the remaining ingredients to the wet dough:
• Flour, semolina flour, olive oil and eggs
• Pulsate again and blend until dough combines and moves away from the side of the processor, eventually forming a soft, pliable ball.
• Remove dough from processor, knead briefly into a disc about 1” thick, wrap loosely in plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and set aside.
Ingredients for meat filling
• 3 C cooked meat cut bite-size pieces (Beef, pork, sausage, lamb, venison, etc; for chicken or turkey, combine with sausage or richer meat for added flavor)
• ½ C sautéed spinach or bell peppers
• ½ C onions sautéed with 2 cloves chopped garlic
• ½ C Italian bread crumbs or stale bread crumbs
• ¼ C fresh herbs—oregano, basil, or parsley
• Salt, pepper to taste, also Italian seasoning if fresh herbs not available.
Add the above ingredients to food processor and pulsate until well-combined without turning into a pate.
Remove filling from processor and add:
• 3/4 C good-quality grated cheese
• 1 or 2 T olive oil, if needed to hold mixture together.
Put filling in a container and store in fridge while rolling out dough.
Note: I don’t use a pasta machine but if you have one, go for it.
Rolling out dough
• Lightly flour a large work surface. Your ergonomic preference may vary but mine is waist-high.
• Divide dough in two pieces, unless you are really good at rolling out a monstrous piece, which is why I use D for this task.
• Lightly flour rolling pin.
• Lightly flour the disc of dough, only if it’s sticky.
• Start rolling from the center toward you and from the center away from you.
• Use light pressure to keep the dough even as you roll.
• Roll to the edge of the dough, using the same amount of pressure with each stroke.
• Lightly flour top of rolled dough, gently lift the dough and again flour the work surface underneath to prevent the dough from sticking. Increase pressure on rolling pin to achieve a thin layer of dough.
• When dough is rolled to about 1/16 of an inch, it’s time to assemble the ravioli, one row at a time.
• Starting one inch from the bottom of the rolled out layer and ½ inch from the left edge, place one teaspoon of filling every two inches until you reach the right side. (Lefties, reverse.)
• Fold the one-inch border over the row of fillings and lightly press down with your fingers all the way across.
• Still using your fingers, press firmly between each filling, making sure to release any air pockets. Again with your fingers, press firmly along the entire row, again making sure to release any air pockets as you go.
• Using a pastry crimper, or ravioli cutter, cut across the row and then between each section. Bingo! You have made your first row of ravioli.
• Set those ravioli on a lightly floured cookie sheet and continue the process until all the filling has been used.
If you don’t plan on cooking the ravioli that same day:
• Set the cookie trays of ravioli in the freezer.
• Hours later, or the next day, place the frozen ravioli in plastic freezer bags and return to the freezer until ready to use.
Cooking the ravioli
(About 8 ravioli per serving)
• Drop ravioli in a large pot of gently boiling water containing 2T salt.
• When ravioli float to the top, they’re done (about 3 minutes)
• Remove ravioli from water, using a strainer or spider wire or large slotted spoon.
• Gently stir ravioli into your favorite pasta sauce while it’s heating in a skillet on the stove top.
• Transfer ravioli and sauce to a platter with raised sides or to individual pasta bowls.
• Sprinkle with a good quality grated cheese, and enjoy!
Too much trouble, you say? Come on, you won’t know for sure unless you try. Any question? Leave in the comment section and I’ll get back to you.