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Cheese Ravioli

When I weeded out my cookbook collection last year, I was pretty vigilant. I took an especially critical look at my Italian collection, as I had quite a few volumes about this cuisine. In doing some research on the last of the series of Lent-friendly family recipes, I combed through several of them, but this one was where I found the recipe for which I was looking – classic Cheese Ravioli.

Again, this was not one of the favorites of the siblings with whom I did a straw poll. Bland, was one word that was used. Heavy, was another. Having eaten plenty of ravioli, tortelloni and other cheese-filled pastas in Italy proper, I can attest to the fact that they can be culinary wonders, luscious and comforting, if prepared properly. This is completely the opposite of any pasta that ever came out of a can when we were growing up, not that we ate that in my house, that was only available at other people’s houses. In re-reading this book, I was drawn into the poetry and passion of the author for his subject, and I completely share his conviction that handmade pasta can be simple and ethereal.

I don’t do reviews of cookbooks, but this one is fantastic, if you would like to know more about typical, traditional pasta recipes and some of the history of the regions that they represent. This book was a gift to me literally weeks before I found out I’d gotten into graduate school in Italy, where I’d never been in my life. It holds a special place in my heart because of that, but in re-reading it for the first time in many years, I realized how wonderful it was as well. I became so engrossed in the section about the pastas of Liguria – one of my absolute favorite places to vacation – that I missed my subway stop.

It takes a lot to distract me that much, but I guess memories of really great food is one of those things. It got me dreaming about past meals and lovely summer afternoons on the Italian coast. That was all the inspiration I needed to try to tackle this recipe. My first attempt at this wasn’t all that successful, frankly, which just means I need to try to make pasta from scratch more often.

The typical proportions for making pasta from scratch is one egg to 100 grams of double-zero flour, which is the kind used in Italy.
The beaten egg and a pinch of salt are poured into the well created by the flour – think sandcastles and moats at the beach.
Mix everything together to incorporate the egg and flour – working with your hands is best.
After a few minutes, it will start to come together more.
Knead the pasta for 10-15 minutes. Then, shape it into a ball.
Cover it and let it rest for 30 minutes.
Roll out the pasta very thinly. You can do this with a rolling pin or a machine, but a real pasta connoisseur will be able to tell the difference between the two.
I made a classic filling with ricotta, parmesan cheese, finely chopped parsley, black pepper, beaten egg, and a pinch of nutmeg.
After placing filling on the pasta sheet, I cut them using a fluted pastry wheel (actually bought in Bologna).
Cook in boiling salted water for about 3 minutes or until they puff up. Fish out of the water, don’t dump the pasta, to avoid it breaking and creating a large mess.
Serve immediately with marinara sauce and let melt in your mouth, or as the Italians say, “Si scioglie in bocca.

Another option, as I discovered when I had left over filling, is to make crespelle, which is an Italian dish that doesn’t usually spring to my mind, although I enjoy it and always think it looks elegant. These are basically, filled, baked crêpes. The April 2008 issue of Food & Wine (which I was reading during my subway rides into work this week and which didn’t make me miss my stop) features this recipe. It gave me another chance to use my crêpe pan, which I have to confess, I haven’t done since last year’s blog post in honor of Julia Child’s birthday.

I think that this was much better than my attempt at making cheese ravioli. If we’d had this meal growing up, I’m sure that it would not have been on my siblings’ list of Lenten dishes that they dislike. This recipe can be altered to include spinach combined with the cheese (another classic pasta filling combination). I was also dreaming (as I do on meat-less Fridays), about slivers of proscuitto cotto layered inside the crespelle, lying on top of the cheese. I am definitely keeping this recipe in my collezione di ricette italiani.
Buon appetito!