Four weeks ago tomorrow, I was at the funeral of a very dear aunt in Jackson, Tennessee. (That’s where much of my mother’s side of the family lives.) Following the service, her son — that would be my first cousin — suggested we all get together around Thanksgiving to make this year’s ravioli. Yesterday was that day.
As I mentioned in a blog post on Sunday, my great-great-grandparents emigrated from Italy during the late 1800’s. They were Giuseppe “Joe” Megaletti Reverdito (1858-1940), born in Cortemilia, and Angelina “Lena” Caroloni Savoria (1863-1919), born in Piana Crixia. Both towns are located in northwest Italy, between Genoa and Turin. They would have sailed from the port of Genoa. They settled in Memphis, Tennessee. It is probable that they did not marry until after immigrating to the United States. Once here, they shortened their surname to “Ditto.”
At any rate, the ravioli recipe belonged to Joe Ditto. (That is also his rolling pin you see in the upper left photograph.) It has been altered somewhat from generation to generation, although we try to stay as close to the original as possible. For many years, my grandmother — their granddaughter — made the ravioli. She would make so many that we would enjoy them for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. We don’t know how she did this by herself, because it is a laborious task. She passed away in 1999. Since then, various members of the family have make the ravioli. Yesterday, it was the “grandkids” who gathered to make the ravioli for the very first time. (There are six of us first cousins of my generation, and we still refer to ourselves as “the grandkids.” Four of us six were together yesterday. At one point, there were 4 generations of one family present.)
The filling consists of ground pork, spinach, onion, garlic, and a few other odds-and-ends. The cousin I mentioned before had already prepared the filling. So our task yesterday was to make the pasta, roll it out, then fill and cut each ravioli. I have made pasta before by hand. It’s just flour and egg. The dough is tough and quite challenging to kneed and then roll out. (Imagine trying to roll out a sheet of leather.) After moving around and experimenting with various components of the “assembly line” we had established, we finally settled into a groove and pressed more than 300 ravioli in about 5 hours (including an hour break for lunch).
For the first time ever, we used a ravioli press (pictured below). Heretofore, they had always been cut by hand. (The elders were mortified.) But my cousin found a press on Amazon and we used it without the slightest feelings of guilt or betrayal.
The ravioli were laid out carefully in storage containers for freezing. We’ll enjoy them when we get together again a few days after Christmas. The ravioli will be served with a meat-and-tomato based gravy that will probably be made the day of. It has been years since I last enjoyed the old family recipe, and never had I helped make them until yesterday.
Overheard at the ravioli making:
“We should start our own YouTube channel.”
“We have just improved upon a perfect recipe.”
“All that’s missing is [our grandmother] to tell us everything we’re doing wrong.”
“What is the word she used for the leftover bits of pasta?” (Googles “Italian word for scraps of pasta”) “It says ‘scarti di pasta.’ We’ll go with that.”
“Of course [our grandmother’s] version [of the ravioli history] was probably embellished, but it sounds good so we’ll stick to it.”
“How did she do this all by herself?”
“They made and sold these to rich folks in Memphis during the Depression.”
Reading from my grandmother’s autobiographical tome 803 Carson Street, “they used to set these out on the back porch because it was colder than the icebox.”