A letter written by an Italian merchant recounts a pasta dish garnished with chopped green herbs, egg and fresh cheese served in a simmered broth sprinkled with spices. Records from the 14th century describe what we know today as ravioli.
Ravioli can be square or circular, filled with spinach or meat, served in a rich cheesy sauce or simmered in a light broth – and that’s just scratching the surface. While shapes such as mafaldine and cavatelli are commonplace on menus, there’s something to be said for a classic.
Hospitality talks to Francesco Rota of Trattoria Emilia and Elena Kavallarisa of Pasta Poetry about the process of making the dough, goto toppings and sauce options plus tips and tricks to make sure every ravioli goes from pan to pan plate.
Ravioli has somewhat tarnished its reputation over the years, with subs seeing thick, chewy pieces of pasta filled with too many ingredients. It’s a huge stretch of how ravioli are enjoyed in Italy.
Francesco Rota hails from Modena in the Emilia-Romagna region, known for its balsamic vinegar and pasta, with the chef championing both elements at his Melbourne restaurant Trattoria Emilia. “In northern Italy, fresh pasta is in our blood; we eat it all the time,” he says. “You see people making lasagna, tagliatelle or ravioli almost every day. You learn from your mother or nonna and that is something we are passionate about.
Trattoria Emilia’s current ravioli dish includes a ricotta and goat cheese option served with a tomato reduction, arugula pesto and chilli. But first, the dough. Rota starts the process with semolina and flour imported from Italy. “When you open the bag of flour, you immediately smell the smell of the grains and it gives a three-dimensional image.
flavour”, explains the chef. “We use Molino Pasini and Petra flours, which contain less water. We try to avoid changing the brand because then the recipe has to be fine-tuned.
The kitchen team mixes 600 g of 00 flour and 400 g of fine semolina with 10 free-range egg yolks and five whole eggs in a planetary mixer. “The eggs are mixed beforehand, then we add them slowly to bring the flour together,” Rota explains.
“Once it’s just combined and crumbly, we put the dough in a cryovac machine. If you overwork it, the dough takes on a pale yellow color and shrinks when you roll it. These pastes are nice and bright and will last two to three days.
Rota and his team rely on experience rather than a specific number on the pasta maker when it comes to rolling out the dough. One of the hallmarks of pasta from the Emilia-Romagna region is its finesse. “My guys always ask for the number, and I say, ‘It doesn’t matter what number, every machine is different,'” Rota explains.
“Tradition says you should be able to see your hand behind it, that’s how thin you want it to be. It also needs to be thin because when you fold it, you have two pieces of pasta together and it’s harder to cook it completely if it’s too thick. It carries the filling just enough to get it from the fork to your mouth.
Melbourne’s Pasta Poetry has become a hub for all things pasta, with head chef Elena Kavallarisa learning the art of pasta-making during a three-month stay in Bologna. The ravioli is one of the best sellers in the place and has quickly become a crowd favorite. “You can make tiny ravioli or big ravioli and get a nice generous filling,” says Kavallarisa. “They are very versatile.”
Pasta Poetry’s ravioli offering covers spinach and ricotta with a more non-traditional filling inspired by eggplant parmigiana. “Eggplant is crumbled in panko and dipped in sugo,” Kavallarisa explains. “There is also burrata and fresh mint. It flew off the shelves.
The chef sticks to a uniform dough recipe for the Pasta Poetry range, using Ben Furney’s Flour Mills product which is made from grains sourced within 200km of the mill in the Macquarie Valley of Dubbo. “We did a lot of tests with different flours and flours from Italy, and we found that there was not too much difference,” says Kavallarisa. “We want to support local businesses and most of our products are Australian.”
Flour and eggs are the only ingredients in Pasta Poetry’s dough, with the team using a bespoke Italian machine that mimics a person using a fork, just like you would at home. “We have a 120-litre fork mixer that uses the same method,” explains the chef. “It has two phases and it does not heat the dough.”
Once the dough is kneaded, cut it into balls and let it rest for 30 minutes. “Meanwhile, the bright color pops out,” Kavallarisa says. “For the ravioli, we roll them at 0.3 on our robot-roller; it ends up being a sheet of pasta 1.2 meters long. The ravioli are much thinner because of the double layer. It takes a while to deploy; you must have a little patience.
How a sheet of dough is cut depends on the desired final shape. Trattoria Emilia’s current ravioli dish sees the pasta cut into circles, with agnolotti – another stuffed pasta – cut into squares. Pasta Poetry has bespoke cookie cutters that allow the team to eliminate the laborious task of individually cutting out each shape. “We have standard round knives, but we also have custom rolling pin knives with blades underneath,” Kavallarisa says. “As you roll, you cut three to four strips at a time and have squares in seconds. It also leads to less waste.
Once the ravioli have been cut, it’s time to move on to the essentials of the interior. Everything from the dough to the pasta filling is weighed by the chefs at Trattoria Emilia, who make sure to seal the pieces tightly. “You push out all the air bubbles with the bottom of your hand and close the dough with the tip of a knife,” Rota explains.
“Then we put them on a tray with semolina to dry out a bit. The most important thing is to have enough filler; the second most important thing is to have no air pockets when you fold them as they will explode in boiling water.
Kavallarisa recommends chefs leave two fingers between the filling and the edge of the pasta to get the ratio right. “You want to balance the pasta with the filling,” she says. “If it’s an intense filler, you don’t want to put too much on it, and if you overfill it, it will open up and explode.”
The chef keeps a spray bottle filled with water nearby to help the dough stick together. “You need to make sure that all the edges are as compact as possible and that you squeeze all the air out,” says Kavallarisa. “If there is air in it, it will immediately float upwards. It should sink when you put it in and float when cooked.
While ravioli fillings vary widely, cooking time is determined by the dough rather than what’s inside. “Since it’s fresh pasta, it takes between five and seven minutes,” explains Rota. “It’s more about cooking the pasta well; you want it sweet
with a fondant filling.
Kavallarisa cooks the Pasta Poetry ravioli for about four minutes. “It depends on how much filling there is inside,” explains the chef. “We have a crab and scallop agnolotti, which is pretty much a square ravioli, which takes longer. You want to make sure the center isn’t cold. When you finish with the sauce, it completes the cooking process.
The inside of the ravioli is arguably the star of the dining experience, but the sauce always plays a central role. In Italy, it’s a matter of less is more. “Modena’s most classic option is nutmeg, parmesan, ricotta and spinach ravioli served with melted butter and sage,” says Rota. “We usually pass the pasta in melted butter, then add parmesan cheese. Or, you can boil some cream and add Parmigiano-Reggiano and Grana Padano.
“In southern Italy they use tomatoes; in Sardinia, a lot of mint and saffron are used; in Tuscany they make butter, rosemary and poppy seeds and if you go to Liguria they use a lot of pesto.
Kavallarisa also advises butter and sage “with a ton of cheese” as one of the most popular sauce options. “We also have a parmesan and egg-based sauce, but you want to keep it subtle because the hero is the topping,” the chef explains. “The way we eat ravioli here is very intense with lots of ingredients. In Italy, it’s simple with a butter sauce and maybe some truffle shavings on top.
The final part of the ravioli process is plating and, of course, eating. “As for the veneer, we love that it looks rustic and casual, almost like your grandma did,” Rota says. “It sounds simple, but there’s a lot of research and technique behind it.”