Wednesday, February 26, 2014

"We Called it Macaroni - An American Heritage of Southern Italian Cooking" - Meat-filled Ravioli (substituting wonton wrappers for pasta)

Date I made this recipe:  February 23, 2014

We Called It Macaroni – An American Heritage of Southern Italian Cooking by Nancy Verde Barr
Published by:  Alfred A. Knopf
ISBN:  0-394-55798-0
Recipe:  Meat-Filled Ravioli (substituting wontons for pasta) (contains ground pork, ground chicken, chopped prosciutto and escarole) – p. 126-127

Here's the culinary lesson for the day:  When life gives you leftover wonton wrappers (from the Chinese New Year meal), make ravioli!

I am my mother's daughter in that I hate to waste food and so when I realized that I had plenty of leftover wonton wrappers from my Chinese New Year meal, I wanted to put them to good use.  And about the same time as I realized that I had these wrappers, I got my annual mid-winter Italian food fix on and so why not make ravioli?  And so there I was, staring at my shelves of Italian cookbooks when I sensed that this cookbook, We Called It Macaroni, would yield the perfect recipe and it did!

Despite my obvious brilliance in selecting this book, I did face the task of substituting sheets of ravioli for wonton wrappers because, as you can imagine, no bona fide Italian cookbook would contemplate using anything but pasta for this dish.  But I have seen enough food TV shows to know that wontons wrappers are fine so the trick was to adapt the cooking times and to make sure I got all wrapped up (hahahaha) with the filling so it wouldn't come loose.

And so to the internet I went where I read mixed reviews of wonton ravioli but also learned some valuable pointers:  first, use two wrappers, one on top and one on the bottom to avoid breakage, and second, seal the wrappers with plenty of water around the edges so that they don't pull apart.  Then there's cooking time:  2.5 minutes is perfect and a gentle boil instead of a rapid boil is the way to go.  Finally, take a minute to reset expectations in your head:  wonton wrappers are not pasta.  They tasted great and we loved them and did a service to the environment with our reuse, recycle approach to the wonton skins, but they are not made of pasta.  If you want pasta, either make the pasta sheets yourself or purchase them from a local Italian grocery store.

The author also suggested that these could be cooked in broth rather than sauce but Andy voted for sauce so I made sauce.  But I can easily see these ravioli in a bowl of broth and am sure it would be delicious.

So let's talk about this cookbook and our author, Nancy Verde Barr.  And let's parse this woman's name:  Nancy is the name of my sister-in-law and her dad's family hails from southern Italy (my dad's family hails from Sicily).  Verde is Italian for "green" so we've got the Italian language thing going on, and Barr (a very non-Italian name) was my mother's family name.  It's like this book was meant to be on my shelf.

Nancy Verde Barr (got to be a shirttail relative of some sort) is an accomplished chef with big culinary hitters in her bullpen:  she studied with Marcella Hazan and Madelein Kamman and was executive chef to Julia Child.  This book, We Called it Macaroni, was her first but she has since authored three other books in addition to numerous magazine articles.  Her family stories are similar to mine except that I didn't grow up on the east coast with unlimited access to Italian ingredients.  Where we do agree is that "pasta" was not a word that we used in our house, either.  I don't recall us using the word "macaroni" although we might have but I do seem to recall that we referred to most "pasta" back then as spaghetti.  It would be interesting sometime to track the use of some of these words as in - when did we start referring to macaroni as pasta and why?  (This may just keep me up at night!).

Regardless of what you call macaroni/pasta, this ravioli dish (no other word for it but "ravioli") is really good.  Had I not been bent on making (wonton) ravioli, I easily could have selected several other pasta (or soup or meat) recipes in the book to make for dinner.  That said, allowances must be made for the use of our own family recipes, for example, my family sauce and my family meatballs; Nancy's recipe give you the option of using dark raisins – what?! (That said, southern Italian and Sicilian cuisine is heavily influenced by the Moors and ingredients like raisins are not unheard of, they are just unheard of in my family.)  Her "nonna's" lasagna contained sliced hard-boiled eggs; never did that ingredient grace our family table, especially in an Italian dish.  But hey—we're all "family," right, and so we do not scoff, we do not ridicule, we just accept that our family recipes are different (which is to say the "right" recipes) and get on with our cooking.

PS—Nancy gets high marks for mentioning one of my favorite desserts – Sfogliatelle, pronounced s-foil-la-tell-eh.  Sfogliatelle are filled shell-shaped pastries; the pastry's texture (appearance) resembles stacked leaves.  Damn...where's an Italian bakery when you need one?  (Hint:  not here in Minneapolis, that's where!). 

Meat-Filled Ravioli – serves 6 to 8

1 recipe homemade pasta (Ann's Note:  Nancy's pasta recipe is on p. 122.  You can also look online to get instructions – most of them will be similar to Nancy's.  Locally in the Twin Cities, you can buy fresh sheets of pasta from Broder's Cucina Italiana (50th and Penn Ave S), or you can do what I did and use wonton wrappers.)

½ pound escarole, washed and tough ends removed
2 tablespoons butter
1 garlic glove, minced
¼ pound ground pork
¼ pound ground chicken
2 ounces finely chopped prosciutto
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons fresh marjoram or 2 teaspoons dried
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Ann's Note: In addition, you'll need 2 cups of tomato sauce (Nancy's recipes are on pages 79-83 of her book) and freshly grated Parmesan cheese.  If you want to cook the ravioli in chicken broth instead of using sauce, you can either make Nancy's recipe (page 48) or use either homemade or store-bought broth.

To make the filling, blanch the escarole 2 minutes in a large amount of rapidly boiling salted water.  Drain, rinse with cold water, and squeeze dry.  Finely chopped.  Ann's Note:  yeah....right.  I squeezed the water out of the escarole until my hands hurt and ended up with a giant blob of escarole that was almost impossible to chop – finely, or otherwise.  I think I would go for a minute or less the next time around.

Melt the butter in a 10-inch skillet.  Add the garlic and cook until golden (Ann's Note:  do not confuse "golden" with "burned;" burned garlic is bitter, "golden" is not.)  Add the pork and chicken and cook until the meats are no longer pink.  Stir in the escarole and cook until completely dry.  Remove from heat and add the prosciutto, bean egg and seasonings.

Fill with the escarole filling and cut the ravioli according to the directions on pages 130-31 (of the cookbook).

If you use wonton wrappers like I did, place about a tablespoon of the filling on one sheet then cover with another.  Dip your fingertip in water and spread the water around the outside of the wonton wrapper, creating a seal.  Gently place these into boiling water.  Cook for 2.5 minutes and remove with a slotted spoon.  Sprinkle with parmesan cheese.

If you are using pasta, add the ravioli to 5 quarts rapidly boiling water and cook until tender.  (Likely about the same amount of time – 2.5 to 3 minutes).  Drain and sauce as desired.  Sprinkle with parmesan cheese.  (Ann's Note:  Nancy's instructions call for you to add 2 tablespoons oil to the boiling water.  I am not a fan of adding oil to pasta water (so the pasta doesn't stick) but it's up to you.)

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