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Ravioli

If there’s a holiday or special occasion in my household, ravioli are bound to be on the menu. They’re my husband’s favorite pasta, conjuring childhood memories of helping his mother by pressing a fork into the edges of each pillow of dough to help secure the filling.

Ravioli also lend themselves to many different stuffings, and I have written posts about them several times —  about pumpkin-filled ravioli in a walnut sauce; about beet ravioli stuffed with goat cheese; and about ravioli stuffed with pears and pecorino cheese.

But when I thought about making them last week to help my dad usher in his 99th orbit around the sun, I realized I’d never really blogged about the basic ravioli in tomato sauce that is the hands-down favorite in my family. I’m here to correct that now, with this bountiful platter of ricotta and parmesan cheese-filled ravioli. I sometimes deviate slightly and add greens to the traditional cheese filling (spinach, swiss chard or even the wild greens I forage for in the spring and freeze) and I’ve included that in the recipe below. Whether I add the greens or just fill them with the cheese, they disappear from the platter before you can say abbondanza.

Let me show you how I make them and hopefully get you inspired. If you take it in steps and make the sauce ahead of time, it won’t seem so daunting. I usually make a big pot of sauce with meatballs and sausage every couple of months, and freeze enough for four or five meals. It’s easy to pull a container from the freezer and just concentrate on the pasta-making itself. For the basic meatballs and sauce recipe, click here.

The dough can be made a day or two ahead of time too, and stored in the refrigerator in plastic wrap. I used to make it the old-fashioned way, by forming a mound of flour, then making a well, adding the eggs, and kneading it until smooth. But years ago, I started using the food processor to do most of the work, and haven’t looked back since. You still have to knead it a little when you remove it from the food processor, but it’s very little labor compared to doing it all by hand. It does need to rest at least a half hour before you proceed to roll it out and shape it into ravioli.

You can roll it out by hand with a rolling pin if you’re a purist (or a masochist), or you can get one of these hand-cranked pasta machines. I’ve had mine for 50 years (yea, I’m old) and it still works great. I keep it at  the shore house for when I’m inspired during the summer.

The rest of the year, I roll out the pasta with the attachment to my KitchenAid mixer, which makes things go a lot quicker.

I have the filling all ready to go though, before starting to roll the pasta. Make sure to drain the ricotta a few hours or overnight. I have used cheesecloth, or even coffee filters to hold the ricotta, with weights on the top. You’d be surprised at how much water comes out. And I always buy the full-fat ricotta cheese. Don’t skimp on the calories here please. The filling in the photo contains wild greens, but as I said, you can omit the greens and just go with the cheeses.

Here’s another nifty tool that I started using a few years ago. It makes much more uniform ravioli, plus you won’t be likely to have ravioli with too much dough around the edges, as you might if you formed them by hand. But this too, is totally unnecessary, and in some ways, the hand-formed ones have a certain nostalgic charm, bringing back more vivid memories from my childhood, as I watched my mother shape them at the kitchen table.

 

 

Here you can see what to do when you make the ravioli using the form. I generally spray the form first with PAM, or brush lightly with oil. Then you place a sheet of the dough over the form, add a spoonful of the filling, wet the edges of the dough with water, and place a second sheet of pasta over the filling.

Press down carefully, starting from the center, to eliminate any air bubbles. Cut off the excess dough from the edges, then flip it out, and cut between each raviolo.

You’ll have perfect, uniform ravioli this way.

Alternately, if you don’t have the ravioli form, place a sheet of dough directly on your counter or board, add dollops of filling, and moisten between the filling with a brush of water, before adding a second sheet of pasta and helping it to adhere.

Then press down gently to eliminate air bubbles, and use a rolling cutter, or a knife, to cut between the individual ravioli.

You don’t really need to make the fork indentations if you’ve sealed between the layers of dough and pressed down properly, but my husband likes this job, and it’s a little more “insurance” to keep the ravioli from bursting open when you cook them in water. By the way, after they come to an initial boil in the water, lower them to a simmer,  since a vigorous boil could also cause them to rupture.

With the leftover scraps, I roll out the dough again, but the more you add the leftover scraps together and reroll them, the tougher they get. So I cut them into small “quadretti” to use in soups, where the texture is less important.

I made the ravioli last week to bring to my dad, who lives about an hour away, with his wife. (I also kept a bunch for my husband or there would have been mutiny). My dad was recovering from some dental work and could eat only soft foods, but it was also part of my gift to him to celebrate his birthday. It’s hard to fathom that he was born nearly 100 years ago — the year Warren Harding was inaugurated president of the U.S.; the year Babe Ruth achieved 139 home runs; the year of the first Miss America contest in Atlantic City; and the year that the police in Sunbury, Pennsylvania, issued an edict requiring women to wear skirts at least 4 inches below the knee!  Until the pandemic, he was still occasionally playing golf and beating guys much younger than he. I hope I’m as nimble and sharp-witted when (and if) I get to be his age!

I love making pasta, I love maintaining family food traditions, and I love my dad.

I hope you make ravioli for someone you love too.

It’s a win-win for everyone — including you, especially if you give yourself a big serving!

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Ravioli
 
Author:
Serves: Makes about 40-50 ravioli
Ingredients
  • FOR THE FILLING:
  • 1 whole egg
  • 1 pound whole milk ricotta cheese, drained overnight if possible
  • 1 cup parmesan cheese
  • a few sprigs of parsley, finely minced
  • optional - ¾ cup chopped spinach or wild greens, or broccoli rape, cooked and squeezed tight of liquid
  • salt, pepper
  • nutmeg
  • FOR THE PASTA:
  • 1½- 2 cups flour, adding more as needed
  • pinch of salt
  • 3 eggs
Instructions
  1. Mix the ingredients for the filling. If using frozen spinach, don't cook it. Let it thaw, then squeeze all the liquid, or as much as possible from the spinach. If using wild greens or broccoli rape, cook in water until tender, then drain, cool, and squeeze out all water possible. Mince and mix with other filling ingredients.
  2. For the pasta, blend everything in a food processor. It's best to start with less flour and add more as you need, since it's much more difficult if you have too much flour and not enough liquid. Blend everything until the dough comes together in a ball. If it's too wet, add more flour. Knead a little more on a floured surface until it's very smooth, like a baby's bottom. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rest at least a half hour.
  3. After it has rested, roll it through a pasta machine, starting with the thickest setting and ending up about two settings short of the thinnest setting. Try to roll it out so that you have an evenly long piece of dough that will fit across your ravioli form. If you're not using a ravioli form, just lay out the dough on the counter, drop about a tablespoon of filling, evenly spaced across the dough, then cover with another layer of dough. Spread a little water with your finger, along the edges, to help the sealing. Starting from the middle, press down on the spaces between the ravioli, working out to the edges. Using a pasta/pastry crimper (or a knife if you don't have one), crimp the dough between the filling, then separate the ravioli, and use a fork to crimp along the edges, ensuring the ravioli don't open when boiled.
  4. When cooking in the boiling water, lower the temperature so that the ravioli just come to a low simmer, or low boil. If they boil too vigorously, you risk bursting the ravioli.
  5. Serve with your favorite sugù, or sauce.
 

 

 

Eggplant Parmigiana

I’ve been making eggplant parmigiana for decades, and if you’re like me, you’re making it the way most people (and cookbooks) instruct you to do, that is, frying the eggplant after coating the slices separately in flour, beaten eggs and then bread crumbs. The eggplant tastes great when it comes out of the fryer, with its crunchy coating and makes a delicious side dish as is.  But why fry it crispy, only to coat it in layers of tomato sauce and cheese, that will in essence, render the crispy eggplant completely soggy?

It’s only in the last couple of years that I’ve said “arrivederci” to the three step process of coating eggplant slices for parmigiana in favor of grilling eggplant for this classic casserole instead. You don’t have to  use an outdoor grill – a stovetop grill pan works just fine.

This method of making eggplant parmigiana is easier, and much lighter, and closer to the way it’s served in Italy. I recently made a couple of casseroles of this for a party, and everyone went back for seconds. I don’t think I’ll go back to the triple coating and frying method again – unless it’s to serve them straight out of the fryer as a side dish.

Place some tomato sauce on the bottom of an ovenproof dish (I use a very basic marinara – no meat, and it’s better if it’s a little on the thin, or runny side since it thickens up when it bakes with the eggplant and cheeses). Layer with slices of eggplant, shredded mozzarella and parmigiana cheese. Continue for two or three more layers, depending on how much eggplant, sauce and cheese you have. When you’ve used the last of your eggplant slices, cover them with more tomato sauce and cheese and place in the oven.

Bake at 375 degrees until bubbly hot and browned on top. If needed, crank the oven temperature to 425 degrees for the last five minutes, but keep a close watch on it because it can easily burn,

Check out Ciao Chow Linda on Instagram here to find out what’s cooking in my kitchen each day (and more).

Eggplant Parmigiana
 
Grilling eggplant, instead of breading and frying, leads to a much lighter eggplant parmigiana.
Author:
Cuisine: Italian
Ingredients
  • Two large eggplant
  • about 1 - 2 cups tomato sauce (on the thin side because it will thicken in the oven)
  • olive oil to coat the eggplant slices
  • salt, pepper
  • seasoned salt
  • dried basil
  • 1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
  • 1 cup grated parmesan cheese
Instructions
  1. Peel the eggplant, but not entirely.
  2. Peel "stripes" in the eggplant, so some peel remains.
  3. Drizzle olive oil over the slices, and season with salt pepper, (herbed salt if you have it) and dried basil.
  4. Use an indoor grill pan to grill the eggplant slices (I don't like using an outdoor grill for this recipe since I don't want a "smoky" flavor).
  5. Remove the eggplant slices when cooked through, and set aside.
  6. Spread some tomato sauce in a casserole and place a layer of eggplant slices over the sauce.
  7. Spread with a layer of the mozzarella cheese, then a layer of the parmesan.
  8. Repeat with more sauce, another layer of the eggplant and cheeses
  9. If you have enough eggplant, make a third layer, even if it's only a partial layer, in order to use up the rest of the eggplant.
  10. Bake at 375 degrees for 25-30 minutes, or until the cheese is golden.
  11. If the top is still not golden, turn the heat up higher to 425 degrees, but keep a close watch so it doesn't burn.