Coffee with Mimi: Part I of family ravioli wisdom

By Mimi Becker

Contributing writer

I appreciate and respect several prominent women TV cooks —  Martha Stewart, Rachel Ray and, of course, Julia Child. Each of them brought excellent food and different methods of preparation into the prime time. Each shared their personal philosophy which encouraged the ordinary cook to step out of the familiar, tackle new skills and branch out on their own once they were comfortable with techniques and ingredients.

Each also respects tradition in their approach to food and eating. Good preparation cannot be overlooked if you want a satisfying meal. Well prepared and nourishing food does not have to be time consuming. All due respect to Ray, however, there is a time when speed is not possible, actually quite impossible. Ravioli is one of those food experiences.

There are three components of ravioli, not including the cheese layer. I will walk you through each of them in a logical process. You will need to understand and accept my method of presenting a recipe. When I write a recipe out, it is formulated like a conversation. The directions for each ingredient’s use are presented in the body of the recipe. You will see what I mean.

Be forewarned; save this newspaper. All you get this week is the grocery list and some prep talk. If you decide to actually make ravioli, you will need to set aside a day about one or two days ahead of the grand meal for the actual preparation of the ravioli. Invite a couple friends over. Better yet, invite a son or daughter or grandchild(ren) over. It is more fun when you share.

First, you will need to check the refrigerator and pantry for the necessary ingredients. They are amazingly simple. I have divided the ingredients up by component so you can see where you are headed with each of them.

The dough: 2 eggs, 4 cups of flour and a cup of warm water. You will need some extra flour for rolling out the dough.

The gravy (sauce to non-Italians): a stick of butter (please, not margarine), 2 large onions, fresh garlic, fresh parsley, fresh thyme or oregano, fresh celery stalks with leaves, 8 cups of chicken stock, 46 ounces of tomato juice, salt and pepper

The filling: 2 sleeves of regular saltines, 8 eggs, 1 ¼ cups shredded cheese, 2 ½ small onions, some fresh parsley, a can of spinach, a clove of garlic, more salt and pepper, some poultry seasoning

When layering the finished casseroles, you will need an additional amount of shredded cheddar or mozzarella —you pick. Also, Parmesan.

Now, make your grocery list. See, you don’t need anything unusual. Don’t get too worked up over the fresh herbs. Remember, this dish was made in many places and many climates. In this day and age, most groceries carry those small, plastic containers of fresh herbs. Do, however, get a good size bunch of the flat leaf Italian parsley and a full bulb of garlic.

In case you are wondering, this recipe will make approximately 135 of the prettiest little ravioli you ever saw. While that may seem like enough to feed an army, as they say, you will be surprised. I can assure you they are great as leftovers, as most Italian food is,when given the chance.

As for equipment, you will need a mixer for the dough. I am not a purist, use electricity when possible. When it comes time for the actual process, you will need the usual kitchen items; heavy duty cooking pots, bowls, measuring cups, a rolling pin, etc. A decent amount of counter space, or a table, is desirable for the rolling out. To cut the little pillows, a small biscuit cutter will do it. I think my grandmother used the bottom of a small can —maybe a tomato paste can with both ends cut out.

You can make the ravioli and freeze them, we just don’t. It’s just part of the ritual that the ravioli are made as we plan to eat them; a day or so in advance is our normal pattern. As I will tell you next week, there is some differing family opinion as to procedures when preparing ravioli. But the differences don’t seem to matter in the end.

A couple of years ago, my husband and I decided to go to the Gulf beach for a short summer vacation. Normally, we head to the Outer Banks with at least some of our children. But, thankfully, we varied the routine and made our way south instead. My Uncle Buddy and Aunt Lonette lived in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, which was pretty much on the way. They were quite elderly and not very well, so just a couple short visits with them would be appropriate. Why don’t we invite my mom to join us for a little family reunion? And let’s make ravioli for Fourth of July lunch with Uncle Buddy and Aunt Lonette.

Well, we did make ravioli at the beach and a huge fresh blueberry pie which was Uncle Buddy’s favorite. We had rented a condo which had a nicely equipped kitchen with a generous sized granite topped island, perfect for ravioli making.

We told Uncle Buddy we would come for lunch one day only if he let us bring the food. No fuss for him, Aunt Lonette or the caregiver. We decided on a color scheme of red, white and blue, of course, for the table settings.

We managed to keep the secret all the way to the table. I can’t tell you the pleasure it gave us to share that meal with them that day. There were ravioli left which we packed up and put in small meal portions for the freezer. The caregiver had instructions about proper reheating. I’m guessing that was the last family ravioli Uncle Buddy ever had.

He died that September. But, we were privileged to share those ravioli with him, Aunt Lonette and my mom that Fourth of July.