A ravioli by any other name
I love ravioli. I’ve always loved them. As a child, they were my inevitably requested birthday dinner. The recipe with a chicken spinach filling came from Italian friends of my grandparents they met when the men worked together in a WWII Joliet defense plant.
Nowadays, I don’t have one favorite dish, but ravioli are still at the top of my list, and every so often I make them. Not too often, though, because making ravioli is time-consuming: preparing the pasta dough, rolling and filling takes the better part of a day.
While I still make ravioli occasionally with homemade pasta dough, I’ve discovered something that lets me make them more often, something that usually takes little more than an hour: wonton wrappers. Refrigerated wonton wrappers are available in most groceries’ produce section. They’re fresh pasta dough made, like ravioli dough, with eggs. It’s not surprising. Tradition has it that pasta was first brought to Italy by Marco Polo, although that’s highly suspect. Regardless, pasta is believed to have originated in China. Even wontons’ traditional triangular shape has an Italian equivalent: they ‘re called cappelletti, or little hats, because they resemble popes’ hats.
Ravioli made with wonton wrappers are more delicate and cook more quickly than Italian ravioli. I use them for regular ravioli, but also that wonderful Italian-St. Louis specialty, toasted ravioli. Toasted ravioli are coated with flour, egg and breadcrumbs, then fried. But using wonton wrappers eliminates the heavier breading, creating a lighter but just as delicious result. The Cantonese name for fried wontons literally translates as “swallowing clouds;” that holds true no matter what the filling.
To make square or round wonton ravioli:
Dust a sheet pan lightly with flour. Place each ravioli/wonton as you finish it on the pan.
Brush one of the wonton squares VERY lightly with beaten egg. If it’s too wet, they won’t seal. Place a tablespoon of filling in the center of the wonton and lay another wonton on top of it. Gently press the top wonton over the filling to flatten it slightly. Seal the ravioli, pressing OUTWARD with your fingers from the filling to eliminate any air bubbles. With a round cookie cutter that will just fit inside the wonton, cut out the ravioli and finish sealing. Alternatively, cut triangular edges away on all sides, making a “diamond” within the square. Repeat with the remaining wonton skins and filling. When you are finished (or the pan is filled) dust the tops lightly with flour. Cover with a lint-free towel or parchment paper if using immediately. If making ahead for any length of time, cover tightly with plastic wrap or foil and refrigerate – or they can be frozen, as can any extras.
To make traditionally shaped wontons (a.k.a. Italian capeletti)
Prepare a sheet pan as above.
Place a square wonton wrapper so the points are at the top, bottom and sides (a diamond shape). Put a scant tablespoon of filling slightly above the midline. Brush the edges with egg as above; then bring up the bottom point up to the top, and sealing as above. You should now have a sealed triangle. Now bring the side points up and press the tips together. Use a little more egg if necessary to make the points stick.
Cooking wonton ravioli
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add a small handful of salt. When the water is boiling, add the ravioli. Stir gently so that none of the ravioli stick to the bottom. The ravioli will float to the top in a few minutes. After all the ravioli have risen to the top, let them boil for about a minute longer, then drain and toss with desired sauce. Total cooking time should be no more than 5 minutes.
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Chicken and spinach ravioli filling
- 1 c. finely chopped cooked chicken
- 1 c. finely chopped spinach (about 1 10 oz. package, squeezed dry)
- 1/2 c. bread crumbs
- 1/2 c. freshly grated parmegiano reggiano, or aged asiago
- 1/4 c. minced Italian flat-leafed parsley
- 4 cloves minced garlic, or to taste
- 2 eggs
- kosher or sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
Mix all ingredients together. Allow to stand for about 30 minutes to blend flavors.
Seafood wonton ravioli
- 1 – 1 1/2 c. cooked crabmeat, or cooked, coarsely chopped lobster (the meat from about 1 1/4 - 1 1/2 lb. lobster) or shrimp, or a combination.
- 8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
- 1/4 c. minced scallions
- 1 T. Asian fish sauce
- Approximately 48 wonton skins
- Light tomato sauce or vodka pasta sauce
- green scallion stems torn into long thin strips for garnish, optional
- diced red pepper for garnish, optional
Gently combine the seafood, cream cheese, scallions and fish sauce so that the seafood breaks up as little as possible. Toss gently with your sauce of choice, and garnish with scallion shreds and diced red pepper if desired. Makes approximately 24.
Chestnut or potato wonton ravioli
My neighbor, Gordon Longhta, generously gives us chestnuts from his trees each year; this is my favorite way to use them. If you can’t get chestnuts, baking potato makes a good substitute.
For the filling:
- 2 oz. pancetta or lightly smoked bacon, finely chopped
- 1/4 c. finely chopped onion
- 1 tsp. minced garlic
- 1 c. roasted, shelled, skinned and coarsely chopped chestnuts, or substitute lightly mashed baked russet potato
- 1/4 c. water
- 1 large Granny Smith or other tart apple, 1/2 peeled and the other left unpeeled for garnish
- 1 T. cider vinegar
- 1/4 c. freshly grated Parmagiano Reggiano cheese, plus additional for serving
- 1 T. minced flat leaf parsley
- Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
For the sauce
- 9 T. unsalted butter
- 1 1/2 T. thinly sliced fresh sage leaves
- 3 T. minced onions, NOT super-sweet
- 1/2 c. reserved pasta cooking water
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
In a medium skillet, cook the pancetta or bacon, stirring frequently, until it is crisp and browned. Add the onion and cook until it is softened, 3-5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook a minute or two longer. Add the chestnuts and water, cover the skillet and let simmer for 5 minutes. Uncover the pan and continue to cook until the liquid is reduced by half. Eliminate this step (and the water) if using potato.
Put the mixture in a bowl and mash the ingredients to a coarse purée. Stir in the potato if using.
Core the peeled apple half and finely dice enough to measure 1/4 c. When the chestnut mixture is completely cooled, add the apple and cheese to it. Core the unpeeled apple half, and cut into thin matchsticks. Place in a bowl and toss with the vinegar. Set aside for garnish.
To finish the dish:
While the ravioli are cooking, heat the butter in a large skillet over medium high heat until it starts to brown. Add the sage and onion or shallot and cook until the sage is crisp, the onion is softened, and the butter is golden brown.
Add about 1/2 c. of the cooking liquid to the skillet, stir to combine, and gently add the ravioli. Cook for about 2 minutes, or until the ravioli are thoroughly cooked through and have absorbed some of the sauce. Add a little more cooking liquid if necessary. Season to taste.
Serve immediately, garnished with the reserved apple matchsticks. Pass additional cheese. Makes approximately 24 ravioli.
To roast chestnuts: Soak chestnuts in hot tap water for 1 hr. Cut an X in their flat sides and roast on a baking sheet in a single layer for 30 minutes in a 350 degrees oven.