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Coffee with Mimi: Part II of ravioli family wisdom 

By Mimi Becker

Contributing writer

There are a couple of basic food lessons to be learned from today’s ravioli installment. We are going to talk about the most intimidating component, which is the dough, and the most time consuming — the gravy. The lessons are not just in the cooking, however. It’s getting the sense of it.

I’ve been cooking for a long time. I grew up in a household with lots of children who had to be fed and parents who were good cooks. Fortunately, learning to cook was not seen as academic in nature, but as a part of keeping the house and family running. Mom did most of the cooking as we were growing up, but we all picked up the skills of how food is supposed to be through our assigned tasks at meal time. There are books written on “method” cooking. Once you get how it is done, you can do almost anything. We watched, listened and followed directions as dinner was being prepared, frequently without a recipe, and the sense of it stuck with us.

This is the way the dough is made. It makes total sense. I would venture to say that many people think working with dough is darn near impossible and would rather skip it if possible. But, if you get the process, you will be rewarded with a treat and a feeling of satisfaction. You made the dough yourself.

Break two eggs into your mixer bowl. Turn the mixer on and add 1 cup of warm water. Add a teaspoon, or so, of salt. Then, I cup at a time, add 4 cups of flour. Mix. Yes, it will be sticky.

Sprinkle the work surface with flour and scrape the dough out onto it. Cut the dough into three pieces. Put some flour on your hands. Kneading dough has some therapeutic characteristics. Some people think you can work out your frustrations. I just think it feels good.

To knead, push a mound of dough down and away with the heel of your hand, give it a one-quarter turn on the surface, fold it in half and repeat. Continue the process for 8 to 10 minutes. You may need to sprinkle some more flour on the surface. You will know you are doing it right because the dough will become firm, springy and smooth, not sticky. In scientific terms, you have gotten the gluten action going. Gluten is what makes the finished product yummy.

Repeat with the other two mounds.

Now, for the secret: Lay all three mounds on the surface, cover with plastic and leave them alone. While you are leaving the dough alone, nature will be taking over and the flour, salt, egg and water are busy resting so the gluten action will stop and you will have lovely, smooth textured dough.

While the dough is resting, you are making the gravy.

Finely chop the two large onions. Melt 8 tablespoons of butter in a large, heavy pot. We use unsalted butter. You can use half butter and half olive oil, if you want. We don’t because Grandmama didn’t. We think that is because her family came from a region of Italy closer to France, and you know how the French love their butter. Did you ever see Julia Child uncork a bottle of olive oil? I rest my case.

Sauté the onions until they are clear, not brown. Mince three cloves of fresh garlic and add to the pot.

Now we come to some procedures which are debatable. Over the years, the point at which the herbs are added has been a point of discussion. Uncle Buddy says add 12 tablespoons of chopped Italian parsley before the liquids, Mom recalls the parsley was added at the end with the other herbs. Do what you want, who knows which is right. I guarantee you will not be disappointed either way.

Do salt and pepper, though.

Add the 8 cups of chicken stock and the 46 ounces of tomato juice to the pot. Rough chop several celery stalks and leaves and add to the liquid. Looks odd, but they will be scooped out at the end.

Simmer, uncovered, until thickened. How long will this take? “A long time,” according to Aunt Lonette; you had to know her to truly appreciate her philosophy of life. I can see her shooing all the kids outside while she enjoyed the solitude of the process. Give the pot a stir every so often — it’s gratifying.

I’m going with the parsley added at the earlier stage. You need to prepare the thyme (and oregano if you wish). Dry them slightly in the oven and chop them up. When the gravy is thickened, you will add the last of the herbs.

How thick is thick enough? Well, use your food sense. Forgive me for the moment while I make a reference to that awful stuff they call ravioli which comes in a can. The sauce should be a silky smooth consistency, not that gelatinous mixture in the can. You want it to cling to the little ravioli, not smother them.

Normally, you will go right on to the filling component. The dough is still resting over there on the counter. The gravy is gently simmering on the stove. Herbs have been dried slightly and chopped.

You can rest easy. You are a hop, skip and jump from finished ravioli.

Next week we will make the filling, roll out the dough, make the ravioli pillows, cook them and assemble the casseroles. If you use your food sense, you can probably tell what is coming.

And see, I told you, you could do it. Save this newspaper. When it is all over, you can transcribe the recipe onto a single sheet of paper (front and back).