That delicious filled dumpling from Italy, the ravioli, sees its celebration on the calendar on March 20 — today. Usually just a bite or two, the tender outside pasta encases any number of sweet or savory treats, from the traditional ricotta cheese to sweetened fruit, vegetables or even flavorful crab or lobster.
The word “ravioli” is definitely Italian, but as with so many other foods, similar dishes are seen from other cultures. A quick Internet search turns up all kinds of culinary cousins — potstickers and dim sum from the Chinese; and kreplach, a ground-meat-filled dumpling, from Jewish cuisine. No matter their origin, the filled pillows are often served either in broth or with a pasta sauce. Toasted ravioli, the popular pub snack that is breaded and deep fried, is credited to St. Louis, Mo., quite a trek from the ritzy shores of the Italian Riviera.
Even with its simple ingredients, ravioli is a time-intensive task. Making and handling the delicate dough, and then filling, rolling, cutting and storing dozens of pasta pockets would send even the most ambitious cook running to the nearest freezer aisle. But shhh, there is a shortcut to ravioli success — wonton wrappers.
Wonton wrappers are thin pre-cut pieces of dough, usually made from rice flour, that are used to make the deep-fried treats from the Chinese buffet. The wrappers come in various shapes and sizes. The most common are square and approximately 4 by 4 inches. Round is another popular shape, and they are similarly sized. The directions below are for making traditional square ravioli; the wrappers can also be folded into triangles or, if using round wontons, into half moons. Be sure to adjust the amount of filling if using only one wrapper — you must be able to properly seal the edges to keep the filling in the ravioli when cooking.
EASY WONTON RAVIOLI
Fill a large stock pot with water, salt generously, and bring to a boil while preparing the ravioli.
In a small dish, beat together one egg and 3 tablespoons water. Set aside.
Lay 1 wonton wrapper on the work surface. Using a small spoon or melon baller, put a small amount of filling (1/2 to 1 teaspoon) in the center of the wrapper. Using a pastry brush or your fingertips, wet a 1/2-inch strip along all four sides of the wrapper. Position a second wrapper on top. Working from the middle to the outer edges, begin pressing out the air bubbles around the base of the filling, working out to the edges, lining up the corners and pressing lightly to seal. Set aside on a cookie sheet lined with parchment or wax paper, and cover with a damp paper towel. Repeat with remaining filling and wonton wrappers.
Once all the ravioli are assembled, drop them three or four at a time into boiling water. Be careful not to crowd the pot. Cook for 3 minutes; then remove with a slotted spoon.
SPINACH RICOTTA RAVIOLI
12 ounces whole-milk ricotta
1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
2 eggs, divided use
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
4 cups spinach, cooked and drained of excess water
1/2 cup finely chopped green onions, white and green parts
1 tablespoon olive oil
24 whole wonton wrappers
3 tablespoons water
Mix together ricotta, grated Parmesan cheese, an egg, a dash of salt, red pepper flakes and nutmeg.
In a large skillet over medium heat, heat olive oil. Add fresh spinach; stir once and cover. Allow spinach leaves to wilt for 2 minutes; stir in green onion parts, and return to heat for 1 minute. Remove cooked vegetables from skillet; set aside to cool. When cooled, squeeze out all excess water, and chop fine. Stir into ricotta mixture. (If using frozen spinach, follow the same techniques — even frozen chopped spinach will need a little additional chopping/draining.)
Use as filling for wonton ravioli. Can be served with a red sauce, white sauce or a drizzle of olive oil and extra kosher salt and ground black pepper.
ROASTED BUTTERNUT SQUASH RAVIOLI WITH GARLIC AND SAGE
1 cup mashed, cooked butternut squash
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pinch cayenne pepper
1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
1 egg yolk
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 package wonton wrappers
4 tablespoons butter
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed with the side of a chef’s knife
8 fresh sage leaves, chopped
1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
Place cooked squash into a mixing bowl. (Fresh squash is peeled, seeds removed and roasted in a 350-degree oven for 30 to 40 minutes. The canned variety is fine, too.) Add salt, black pepper and cayenne pepper. Stir in mascarpone cheese, egg yolk and 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, mixing until the filling is smoothly combined.
Drop ravioli in boiling, salted water until they float to the top, about 2 minutes.
Remove with a slotted spoon, and allow to drain.
Place a deep skillet over medium-low heat. Stir in butter and crushed clove of garlic.
Transfer the drained ravioli. Turn the heat under the skillet up to medium-high, and cook just until the ravioli are infused with garlic flavor, about 2 or 3 more minutes. Remove the crushed garlic clove; sprinkle the mixture with chopped sage, more black pepper and extra Parmesan cheese to taste.
CREAMY CRAB RAVIOLI
8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
8 ounces fresh crabmeat or canned crabmeat, drained and flaked (see cook’s note above)
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon light soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper, to taste
2 green onions, finely sliced
1 large clove garlic, finely minced
1 teaspoon red onion, chopped fine
Canola or other oil suitable for frying
Combine the crab and the cream cheese. Carefully mix in the remaining filling ingredients one at a time, taking care not to break up the crab too much.
Add oil to a wok or skillet for deep-frying. When oil is ready (between 360 and 375 degrees), carefully slide in the crab ravioli. Fry in batches, taking care not to overcrowd the pan. Deep-fry until they are golden brown, about 3 minutes, turning once. Remove with a slotted spoon, and drain on paper towels. Cool and serve.
This ravioli is similar to the extremely popular crab rangoon at Asian restaurants. Most restaurant recipes have a slightly higher ratio of cream cheese to crabmeat for cost reasons. This recipe is a one-to-one ratio, but if your preference is creamier, just adjust the proportions.
Cook’s note: Fresh cooked crabmeat is always best and can be found in the seafood section of the meat department. If using canned crabmeat, try draining the crab and soaking it in milk for a half hour. This tip helps remove the “tin can” flavor. Drain again, and flake crab before using.