While ravioli have indeed garnered international adoration, they are also a shape particularly popular at Pasta Evangelists HQ, for their versatility and humble elegance. From luxurious lobster and crab ravioli with lemon pangrattato to traditional lemon and ricotta ravioli with sage butter, these sweet parcels of pasta goodness are a prominent feature on our weekly menu, and with good reason. Here, we aim to arm you with a complex and comprehensive guide to ravioli, from their uncertain origins, to how best to cook and serve this globally-cherished staple of Italian cuisine.
What are ravioli?
Ravioli, pronounced ‘ra-vee-OH-lee’, are truly an icon of Italian cuisine. Ravioli are part of the pasta ripiena (stuffed pasta) family, typically consisting of a meat, vegetable or cheese filling, sandwiched between two thin layers of pasta, and sealed to form a pillow-like dumpling. Ravioli are traditionally served al brodo (with broth) or with a light sauce. Though ravioli may take a number of shapes, including circular or even triangular forms, traditionally ravioli are prepared in a square shape.
Despite their aforementioned iconicity, unlike many classic pasta dishes, the humble ravioli are somewhat of a nomad in the gastronomic landscape - there is no one specific centre of origin for the dish. Instead, variants of ravioli occur across Italy, with a number of regions and towns boasting their own take on the filling. Sardinia, for instance, is famed for its delectable lemon and ricotta ravioli, with meat ravioli particularly popular in Liguria. Just like their geographic origins, the etymology of ravioli is uncertain. One theory suggests the term ravioli is the descendant of the Italian ‘riavvolgere’, meaning ‘to wrap’, though we prefer to think of the cute pasta parcels as ‘little turnips’, the proposed definition of ravioli, as diminutive of Latin root-word rāpa (turnip).
Ravioli - a brief history
The earliest known mention of ravioli appears in the 14th century, via the writing of Francesco di Marco Datini, a merchant of Venice. A dish reminiscent of the modern ravioli appears in the Libro per cuoco, which documents a ravioli of green herbs blanched and minced, mixed with beaten egg and fresh cheese - a recipe certainly akin to modern means of preparing the dish. Some accounts, however, suggest that ravioli were first enjoyed by Genovesi sailors, as a means to transform leftovers via a blanket of dough, thereby adding much-needed variety to their typical diet. Interestingly, echoes of the dish occurred simultaneously in 14th century England, in the form of ‘rauioles’, a speculated favourite of King Richard II. By the 16th century, ravioli were already a popular fixture of Roman cuisine, cementing their fame when Bartolomeo Scappi served the dish to a papal conclave.
While you’d be hard-pressed to enter a supermarket in the UK that doesn’t stock some form of canned ravioli smothered in tomato sauce, this pasta-and-sauce pairing was not introduced until the 16th century, when tomatoes made their way to Italy from the New World. Prior to this, ravioli were traditionally served al brodo, meaning 'in broth'.
What is the difference between ravioli and a raviolo?
The answer here is simple: they both describe the delicious pasta parcels, though ravioli represents the plural of the singular raviolo.
You would be forgiven, however, in assuming these were different styles of pasta ripiena - if this were the family name, ravioli would boast a number of cousins. Similar styles include pansotti, agnolotti and mezzelune - extending to the ever-popular tortelloni, tortellini and cappelletti.
How to cook ravioli
We at Pasta Evangelists HQ truly believe there is nothing more satisfying than a deliciously fresh, well-balanced bite of handmade pasta. This notion, of course, encompasses ravioli, which we have lovingly studied and (we feel) perfected. For a comprehensive, yet easy to follow guide to preparing the pasta at home, be sure to check out our fresh ravioli recipe. Unsure of how to fill your delicious pasta parcels? Source inspiration from our ravioli fillings article here.
While preparing fresh ravioli from scratch may be a tad complex of an endeavour, cooking ravioli is incredibly simple. Having devoted a lengthy amount of time to your ravioli prep, the last thing you would want is to risk a mushy final product, by overcooking the delicate parcels. Unsure of how long to boil fresh ravioli? Be sure to stick to around a 3-4 minute spell in a pan of generously salted water, for deliciously al dente ravioli.
How to serve ravioli
Not certain what to eat with your ravioli? As the pasta parcels are the real star of a ravioli dish, we like to serve ours with a traditional compound butter, rather than a heavier sauce. Infused butters lend a mouth-watering gloss to your pasta, while enhancing the flavours within the ravioli filling. As a much-needed bonus, butter sauces are wickedly easy to prepare, and can be whipped up in advance and stored for when future ravioli cravings beckon. After all, nobody wants to labour over a complex and heavy ragù, having just undertaken the already intricate process that is preparing fresh ravioli from scratch, right? For a selection of delicious butter sauce options, be sure to check out our 5 Incredible Butter Sauces.
In terms of garnish, likewise, keep it simple. We love taking the opportunity here to add a fun textural element to our dishes - think crunchy breadcrumbs or toasted nuts. As you know, we are never averse to topping our pasta with a generous blanket of parmesan, which lends a deliciously punchy flavour to any dish.
Fun Fact: March 20th is National Ravioli Day. Treat every day like this special occasion with a portion of our delicious pasta ripiena, a regular fixture on our changing weekly menu. Order now, and we’ll even offer you 10% off your first order. Simply use the code BLOG10 at checkout.