I dislike big food. It’s a turnoff to me. I have no desire to be supersized or doubled-down, and I refuse to let my kids partake of food that’s defined more by volume than flavor. You won’t find any of us chowing down on a bucket of popcorn at the movie theater or slurping a Big Gulp or a venti or trenta or quaranta or however many ounces we’ve worked our way up to these days.
Yet, somehow, I managed to fall in love with a giant raviolo.
In my defense, I was in Italy, where it’s possible to fall in love with anything from a lone umbrella pine perched on a hillside to the 95-year-old toothless contadina who sells perfect baby zucchini with the blossoms still attached. At the time, I happened to be in a place of rugged, unspoiled beauty: an organic caseficio (cheese farm) in Abruzzo.
The cheese maker, a large man named Gregorio Rotolo, who’s as renowned for his distinctive sheep’s milk cheeses as he is for the black woolen beanie he perpetually sports, gave my husband, my kids, and me a tour of the place and a taste of his warm ricotta, made just that morning and still draining in baskets. For a minute I thought maybe the Rapture really had come and I’d been called up. But then I opened my eyes and spied tables in the room adjacent to the cheese shop. Turns out the farm also runs a family-style restaurant. My husband and I looked at each other. We weren’t going anywhere for at least a couple of hours. The kids rolled their eyes in resignation.
Listed casually on the menu was Raviolone. Big raviolo. Big deal. More like big gimmick, I thought. We almost didn’t order it, but my curiosity kicked in. I was, after all, writing a book on the pastas of Italy. I was expecting a plate of oversized half-moons, each maybe the size of an espresso saucer. But what arrived on a platter put my imagination to shame. It was, indeed, one raviolo, as written on the menu. A single raviolo that was nearly a foot long. As big as a bistecca or a pounded veal cutlet. It was shaped like a perfect half-moon, with a fluted border, and dressed simply, with just a little tomato sauce and a shower of cheese. It was filled with the farm’s same fresh ricotta we’d just swooned over.
The four of us marveled at it; then we divided and devoured it. The pasta was silky and tender and the ricotta filling fresh and sweet. It was outrageous and yet, at the same time, understated. It seemed, suddenly, the most natural thing to find on the menu at this restaurant tucked in these hills. Of course there existed such a wonderful form of ravioli. This was Italy.
I knew right then at the table that I’d try to re-create this marvel at home. But it wasn’t until I got back to my kitchen in Virginia that I actually considered the logistics. How in the world would I assemble such a large raviolo? How much filling would I need? How would I boil it? And once it was cooked, how would I get it out of the water in one piece?
I wish, for dramatic effect, that I could tell you it took a heroic effort on my part to master this pasta project, that I went through batch after batch of dough and tubs of ricotta, that there was failure and frustration before there was success.
But the truth is, instead of being ridiculously difficult, it was almost easy. Okay, maybe it was a little unwieldy the first one or two times, but definitely not the daunting task that I’d anticipated. Getting the thing out of the pot proved to be the biggest challenge, and even that can be accomplished with relative ease thanks to a very large skimmer.
When I cook ravioloni for my family, as I often do, I make one for each of us. It sounds downright…piggish. But when you consider that a pound of pasta dough yields just enough to make four ravioloni, it’s really no different than if I made lots of small ravioli or just cooked a pound of dried pasta.
Plus, no matter how crazy or cruddy the day has been, somehow sitting down to a dinner of giant ravioli has a way of transporting us from our everyday lives in suburban northern Virginia right back to Abruzzo—and my realization that, yes, sometimes bigger is better.–Domenica Marchetti
LC Not-So-Giant Ravioli Note
Domenica tells us you can make eight smaller ravioloni for serving as a first course to eight people by dividing the filling and dough into eight equal portions rather than four. You could. But why would you?
Giant Ravioli ~ Ravioloni Valle Scannese
- Fluted pastry wheel (although a knife will do in a pinch)
For the filling
- 1 pound sheep’s milk ricotta cheese or drained cow’s milk ricotta cheese
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- 1/2 cup shredded ricotta salata cheese
- Kosher or fine sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 large eggs lightly beaten
- Place the ricotta in a large bowl and work it with a spatula until fluffy and sort of smoothish. Fold in the Parmigiano, ricotta salata, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and a little pepper. Taste and add additional salt, if you like. Fold in the eggs just until combined. Cover and refrigerate while you prepare the pasta dough. (You can refrigerate it for for up to 2 days.)
- Cover a large workspace with a clean tablecloth or several flour sack towels and sprinkle the cloth with the semolina. Have on hand a fluted pastry wheel for cutting the ravioloni, a wide spatula for moving them, and a small bowl or glass of water for sealing them.
- Cut the pasta dough into 4 equal pieces. Wrap 3 pieces in plastic wrap and set aside. Roll out the remaining piece of pasta dough on a lightly floured work surface until it’s about 1/16 inch thick and 28 or so inches long. Cut the dough in half crosswise to make two strips, each about 14 inches long. Spoon 1/4 of the ricotta filling onto the center of one strip and use the back off the spoon to spread it into a half-moon shape, leaving a generous border. Using your fingertips, spread a little water on the border around the filling. Place the second strip of dough over the first and gently press around the filling and along the edges to force out any air bubbles and to seal. If you have a fluted pastry wheel, use it to trim around the edges to create a ravioli in the shape of a half-moon about 9 inches long. Otherwise use a knife. Use the wide spatula to transfer the raviolone onto the flour-dusted cloth. Repeat with the remaining dough and ricotta filling, discarding any pasta scraps. (If you’re serving the ravioloni the same day, you can leave them out on the tablecloth for up to 2 hours before cooking. The uncooked ravioloni may also be frozen. Just divide them between 2 semolina-dusted rimmed baking sheets, taking care they do not touch. Freeze until firm, about 1 hour. Transfer each to a large resealable plastic bag and return to the freezer for up to 1 month. Cook them directly from the freezer.)
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Salt the water generously. Carefully lower 2 ravioloni into the pot. Cover the pot until the water returns to a boil, then uncover and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, until al dente. Using a wide skimmer, very carefully lift the ravioloni out of the pot one at a time, letting the excess water drip off. Place the ravioloni on individual plates and cover lightly with aluminum foil to keep warm while you cook the remaining two ravioloni in the same way. (Or you can transfer the plates of cooked ravioloni to a low-temperature oven to keep them warm.)
- Spoon a thin layer of smooth tomato sauce over each raviolone, then dribble a few drops of oil over each one. Sprinkle lightly with Parmigiano and serve immediately.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
The filling is very subtle and good. If any of you are able to find fresh whole–milk ricotta cheese, made by Calabro, a company in East Haven, CT., do yourself a favor and buy it. This particulare ricotta comes in a tin that resembles a small planter pot. The tin holds 1 1/2 pounds and comes domed over the top (like you would get with an ice cream cone) and covered with plastic.
The ravioloni are filling, but also rather light fare, considering their size. The cheeses inside and the simple tomato sauce over it all really need only a few shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano to complete the meal. Well, perhaps a nice Chianti to sip alongside. Large spatula(s) and careful attention will be required when removing the ravioloni from the pot or they may break. I merely paused for a few seconds, hovering each piece over the pot while the few drips fell back into the simmering water, before placing it on a warmed plate. I let the cow’s milk ricotta sit overnight to drain. Good thing, because the filling was soft enough when I finished mixing it. I got about 1/2 cup of liquid out of the ricotta. I think some types may have more liquid than others. I couldn’t get the ravioloni any larger than about 9-inches, nor would I want to. And you need to start early in the day to make this, or pace it over a few days. I made the sauce, the dough, and the filling one day. Then rolled out the pasta dough, made the ravioloni, and reheated the sauce the second day.
Originally published July 05, 2011