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 V.22 No.45 | November 7 - 13, 2013 

Food 101

Raviolated

The sad and triumphant history of our favorite stuffed pasta

Yarden Sachs via Compfight CC

I think we can all agree that one of the greatest indignities to befall ravioli was being counterfeited, mass-produced and plopped into tin cans by Chef Boyardee.

But I'm here to tell you there were other indignities. Like the Papal Conclave of 1549 when Bartolomeo Scappi, celebrity chef of the time, dished out the stuffed pasta with the ruffled hems to scarlet-clad cardinals, who undoubtedly slurped it down amidst political machinations, bejeweled fingers and general creepiness.

That, too, was a sucky day for ravioli, in a different sort of way.

And there were probably other, even more horrible, historic incidents involving ravioli that we don’t even know about filed under "Fascist Italy" and "Play-Doh Spaghetti Factory."

Why should this upset us, in a world of inevitable violence, pain and pathos? Because ravioli, one of the great classic dishes of western civilization, deserves nothing but our adulation and respect. It seems like a simple thing.

Why should this upset us, in a world of inevitable violence, pain and pathos? Because ravioli, one of the great classic dishes of western civilization, deserves nothing but our adulation and respect. It seems like a simple thing.

First of all, it's old—ravioli appears in writing as early as the 14th century. Second, it demands craft: Homemade ravioli is a massive project involving pasta rollers, crimpers and deft manipulation of dough. It is not something you dump out of a can in a slippery heap.

Per usual, different Italian towns all stake their claim as the birthplace of ravioli, and each insists on a different filling. In Rome it’s ricotta, spinach and nutmeg, in Sardinia, ricotta and lemon zest. In the Piedmont, they tamp it with succulent roasted beef and call it agnoletti. Genoa adores the stuff, cranking and crimping it out for birthdays and holidays.

So what’s the status of this spunky li’l delicacy in Burque Town? Here, far from the quality control of Italian grannies? Not as dismal as you might think.

There's Artichoke Cafe's handmade pumpkin-butternut squash ravioli for one—dripping in all the bewitching flavors of fall—sage, cranberry gastrique, sweet buttery pumpkin and pecorino romano soaked in a tomato cream sauce ($21).

This, in my experience, is the best in the city—thick, beautiful pasta that sticks in your teeth with just the right complexity of flavor.

For a wintrier, meatier dish, you can get some very good agnolotti at Torinos’ @ Home, filled with fresh ricotta and parmigiano under hunks of velvety beef brisket braised for five hours in red wine ($15).

Seasons Rotisserie & Grill also makes their ravioli in-house at $20 a plate. This is the rich and woodsy version with a stiffer noodle—also a pumpkin ravioli but decked with wilting spinach, cremini mushrooms, roasted hazelnuts, the alpine tang of gruyere and goat cheese, sweet caramelized pumpkin, infused with the cedar-flavor of sage. Save some bread to sop up the cream left on your plate.

As if ravioli weren’t extravagant enough on its own, many chefs gild the lily by stuffing it with lobster meat in seafood broth, butter or cream sauce. Look for lobster ravioli at Trombino’s Bistro Italiano, Indigo Crow Café or Joe’s Pasta House.

In other lands, they batter-fry the lily (which admittedly sucks all the refinement out of it). You can get St. Louis-style toasted ravioli (known as T-rav in The Hill neighborhood of St. Louis where it was hatched) at Nicky V’s Neighborhood Pizzeria on the Westside or Joe’s Pasta House in Rio Rancho.

Hardcore Italian grannies would no doubt blow a gasket over T-rav. How will the annals of history treat this latest affront? Only time will tell. Meanwhile the 600-year-old stuffed pasta is keeping its chubby little chin up through the slings and arrows of fate. Bravo to you, ravioli. Bravo.

 

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Dine Out for Popejoy at Multiple Locations

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