Ravioli for Comfort

We have re-entered a time for comfort foods.  With a slow economy and war on the nightly news, American’s are craving comfort and a return to foods that recall simpler times.  Pizzerias who want to capitalize on that trend need look no further than ravioli for authentic Italian menu expansions.

This traditional food of Italy has been prepared by generations or mother and grandmothers.  Today, with skilled labor and the rise of quality Italian food manufacturers, you can be “on trend” and kitchen efficient.

So what makes a high quality “rav”?  As with all authentic ethnic foods, you must simply start with high quality ingredients.  Great raviolis start with extra fancy durum flour and semolina.  Durum wheat is finely ground to a powder and fortified with vitamins.  It has a very high level of gluten which creates the bond that keeps laminated products like raviolis stuck together.  Durum flours create a light, clean taste.

Inferior raviolis are made with less expensive patent flour.  This type of flour produces a ravioli that will stick together, but taste gummy and starchy.  Serving gummy, chewy raviolis to your customers will guarantee they never order ravioli from your restaurant again.

Some commercial products substitute yellow corn oil for fresh eggs to stick or “laminate” their raviolis.  Check your water after cooking to see for yourself.

Fillings round out ravioli.  Most are stuffed with meat, cheese or specialties.  Cheap cuts of meat are easy to spot.  The high fat and grease will discolor your water and make it oily.  This taste transfers to your customers and will not be hidden by your famous tomato sauce.  Some manufacturers add textured vegetable protein or TVP to extend the meat and cover up the chewiness of the fat.  Read your labels.

Ricotta cheese is used in most ravs.  Ricotta means “re-cooked” from the whey of cheese production.  It is cooked with vinegar to curdle the milk and salted for flavor.  The part skim version has 100% butterfat and a high moisture content that makes it softer in consistency.  Some are fortified with gum stabilizers to smooth the texture.  These types of ingredients don’t always freeze well.  Riccatone whey cheese has 4-6% butterfat.  It is dry and gritty to the tongue.

Impastata is the filling of choice for the best raviolis.  The king of ricottas used whole milk with 14-16% butterfat.  The taste is rich, smooth and creamy.  All of these products are produced in USDA approved plants.  The labeling comes under intense regulation so a careful review of the label will reveal what you are really buying.  Authentic Italian uses simple ingredients artfully put together.  If your label looks complex, it probably won’t taste authentic.

Specialty filled raviolis are very popular.  Everything from spinach and feta to lobster and mushrooms are showing up on menus.  Offering raviolis as a weekend special will probably be a big hit and offer extra profitability. 

The original raviolis were square.  Even today, that is all you would find in Italy.  In the 1960’s, American manufactures began marketing round ravs because they are easier to make.

Using a pot that is too small is the single biggest mistake that operators make when preparing raviolis.  As ravs cook, they expand.  Small pots cause overcrowding and sticking.

Adding raviolis to your menu will draw additional business.  Parents and older customers in particular will find them a great choice.  Kids choose the location in many families.  High quality ravs will make the adults really glad they came.

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