If I had to pick my favorite pasta, it would have to be filled pasta, whether ravioli, tortellini or agnolotti. This is probably some kind of sacrilege to my Italian heritage, as I never remember eating any of these at my Nanny’s house for Spaghetti Sunday’s, but there you have it. Apparently I’m an Italian heretic. Filled pasta, whether stuffed with cheese, meat, lobster or (my favorite) pumpkin, is simple delicious, soul-warming, comfort food; it doesn’t need much accompaniment other than a simple sauce.
My husband Zeke and I went to Italy a couple years ago with a great deal I found on Travelzoo– a week in Tuscany, with a rent-a-car, breakfast every morning and round-trip airfare, for less than $1000 a person. We picked up our car in Milan, drove to Tuscany and stopped in Bologna to eat lunch at a restaurant that I’d read about in a Bon Appetit. The restaurant was in a house and you could see the mom (or nona) in the back kitchen, rolling the pasta dough with a rolling pin. I couldn’t make up my mind between the ricotta and pumpkin tortellini in cream sauce, so the waitress suggested I get both. It was the best meal of that trip and one I will never forget.
I’ve never attempted to make my own stuffed pasta from scratch, as I find the ones found in the freezer section are quite good. Trader Joe’s has an interesting variety of raviolis such as: Ricotta with lemon zest, Sweet Corn, Burrata and Basil, Roasted Cauliflower and Cheese, and Butternut Squash. Of course, the selection depends of when you visit and if they are stocked with the particular frozen items. It’s a bit of a crap shoot with Trader Joe’s.
I recently picked up a package of Rana Mushroom and Cheese Ravioli at Publix that were delicious. Honestly, I could have eaten them plain, but this recipe from the Serve It Up! cookbook, takes it to another level. The browned butter gives it a nuttiness, the balsamic vinegar a sweetness and the nuts, a crunch, that makes for one flavor-packed ravioli dish. Also, on the plus side, it’s ready in no time with a minimum of fuss.
This recipe was contributed by Ellen Hamlin, a friend of my sister Kelley’s from Our Lady of Lourdes high school. I don’t use all the butter (it’s a stick!) and didn’t have walnuts, so substituted pistachios. Almonds, pine nuts and hazelnuts, all favorites in Italy, would also work nicely. I skipped the Parmesan cheese and topped mine with chopped scallions, but chopped parsley or basil would also be good, depending on the type of ravioli.
Balsamic Brown Butter Ravioli
1 stick butter 1/3 cup roughly chopped walnuts, toasted 2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar salt and pepper, to taste 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese 18-20 ounces ravioli
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat, reduce to a simmer and cook according to the package directions, while tender but still firm. Drain and place in bowl.
In a medium saucepan, cook the butter over medium heat, stirring occasionally. When the foam subsides and the butter begins to turn golden brown (about 3 minutes), turn off the heat. Let it cool about one minute and then stir in the balsamic vinegar. Stand back, as it will bubble up. Taste and season as necessary.
Transfer the ravioli to the saucepan with the balsamic brown butter, sprinkle with walnuts and parmesan cheese and serve immediately. Great with a salad and crusty Italian bread.
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