20 April 2008

Grandma Denzio's Ravioli - or Piemontese Agnolotti

Piemontese Agnolotti or Grandma Denzio's ravioli
No, Victoria Argenta Denzio wasn't my grandmother, although I wouldn't have minded. She was my sister-in-law, Nancy's maternal grandmother and quite a quite a character as I remember her. You see, influences come in many different forms and sometimes it takes the lens of time to bring back all the different influences that make us who we are. To quote a present day American presidential candidate, "It takes a village to raise a child..." or something like that. I must say that I can draw on a variety of influences that have stimulated my interest and imagination when it comes to food as a child. All the different influences have also stimulated the desire to travel and experience food in authentic settings as well and of course, that means meeting the people that make the magic in the kitchen. But that is some other tales for another time. Back to southern Illinois where I grew up and where these ravioli came into my memory as the legendary family treasure that they are.
Ravioli or agnolotti as they are called in Piedmonte with tagliatelle pasta
Our normal family meals were American farm fare, simple and tasty as my mother took great pride in her cooking and it showed. My father was her most enthusiastic fan of her accomplished standards but he wasn't her only admirer. When we found ourselves in a new community with different foods on offer my Mom was game to try some of these new tastes. I still remember the first time we had spaghetti and red sauce and chop suey, which isn't Chinese at all but it was new and exciting. It was a big deal and just the beginning of Mom venturing out into the culinary world of other ethnic foods and venturing away from the familiar. 
Ravioli with fresh artichokes
When we came to to live in Herrin, Illinois I was pretty young and 2 of my older brothers were already in high school. Somewhere along the way my brother, Jim started dating Nancy, fell madly in love with her and eventually they married after college graduation. Nancy brought along a new set of family traditions that were exotic and intriguing. Nancy's mothers side of her family were Italians who had settled in southern Illinois along with a quite a few others from Chicago and the east coast as Italian immigrants found their way out of the original points of landing in America. Going to Nancy's family for a big extended family meal was a new adventure. There were super garlic salameats (which I have a sneaking suspicion is a new world pronunciation of salame) with crusty rolls that you could only get from Luigi's market and almonds covered in a hard white coating in little cups or bags tied up at their wedding reception. The even had wine with their meals, wow. My family was the straight and narrow tea totalers. Nothing wrong with that, but it was new unexplored territory in this new part of my family that my brother had married into. It was, however, Grandma Denzio's ravioli that I remember so clearly that Nancy spoke of with such reverence and affection. I was drawn in to this enticing unfamiliar world. Nancy's grandparents lived nearby and came on more than one occasion to a meal with all of us together. I was completely mesmerized by Nicolo and Victoria or Nic and Vic, as they were affectionately called. I remember Nic showing us his little garden plot that he had put in for Nancy's parents as well as his own that he lovingly tended. My favorite tale involved him returning from a visit to homeland Rome, Italy with seeds and vines of varieties of tomatoes and other veggies that he couldn't access in Southern Illinois, sewn into the lining of his trousers and jacket pockets. Sometimes in the telling of stories and general conversation Nic and Vic would get quite animated and drop into rapid fire Italian, that I could only guess at what they were discussing so passionately. I have a feeling some of it might be some of the things that you first learn when you arrive in a different country and aren't suppose to say, but don't know that yet. I don't know, but it was lively, a bit forbidden. They were colorful and interesting and I loved it. I just knew that making Victoria's ravioli was something magical that mere mortals like myself and non Italian to boot, could never master. I was in awe of this mysterious food, ravioli. It took me all these years to get around to ask for the recipe again. Actually, I think I have it somewhere, but I think it is packed away with a lot of other bits of other lifetimes back in the states. When my brother graduated with his masters degree, Nancy held a little dinner party in celebration of Jim's accomplishment for my parents, my youngest brother and I along with the student housing neighbors, Thor and Nancy, with whom they remain friends with to this day, some 30+? years later. It was quite a day, because Nancy was making her grandmother's legendary ravioli. Nancy had learned by making them along side her grandmother, Victoria. We all pitched in that day and helped. It was great fun, and I've never forgotten it, but for some odd reason most of my adult life I seemed to have thought that I couldn't' make ravioli. That you had to have a special family recipe and, you had to have an Italian gene to really be able to make them. Funny how we get things into our heads and it takes forever to sometimes even realize that it's even there. 
Ravioli close up
Funnily enough, I even use to make fresh pasta regularly at one of the restaurants that I worked at, but we didn't really take on filled pasta, though. Pity that. It wasn't until I came to Italy to live that some of these myths started to be dispelled. I don't have an Italian gene, but I do have a natural interest and I have learned a trick or two while I have been here and the mystery of making pasta and filled pasta isn't so mysterious as it once was and it isn't sooo time consuming either, once you get the hang of it. My mother in law even came over to have me help her with making ravioli dough a few years back and when I made Grandma Denzio's this past week, my in laws were full of praise. The first thing out Fabrizio's mouth was, these are just like my Grandmother use to make. My in laws said they same. High praise, high praise indeed. You see too these are special for another reason too, Grandma Denzio and her family were originally from Torino, so this is a truly authentic Piemontese family recipe. The local Piemontese family that I married into completely agreed. How interesting that all these years later I find myself in the heart of the Torino province and Piemonte. Who would have thought. If you've got some time and want to make a lot for a big family or crowd, then this special recipe is for you. You may want to enlist some help to make it go a bit quicker, or make a few family memories of your own. I've never forgotten that ravioli making day with Nancy, my mother and brother also. Nancy made it special. Her willingness to share of herself and her family makes it just one of many reasons that she is such a great sister in law. She has been my sister a lot longer than she hasn't. So this post is dedicated to my sister Nancy with all my love from all the years of friendship and generosity of spirit she has brought to my family. Thanks Nancy, I love you very much and thank you for sharing your grandmother and her legendary ravioli recipe with me.
I'm now sharing it with all of you.
Please make some memories too.

Nancy and Marla
New Years Eve 2005
~An Apples and Thyme  Event~
This my entry for April's 2008 Apples and Thyme event that Jeni of Passionate Palate and Inge of Vanielje Kitchen, started. If you want more information please click here.
A pan of our  hand made ravioli Thanks for the inspiration Grandma Denzio

This recipe makes a lot! It will easily feed 10 people or more. I forgot to buy the veal and made it only with the beef and pork and I think the veal would give that little added dimension to the flavor. So the full recipe would make quite a bit more and you might run out of past before you run out of filling. When making pasta dough, you sometimes need to adjust the recipe a bit for your conditions and needs.

Grandma Denzio's Ravioli

For the Filling
  • 1 lb of veal
  • 1 lb beef steak
  • 1 lb pork steak
  • 1/2 c uncooked plain rice
  • 1 large can of spinach
  • 3-4 eggs
  • 1/2 c hard grating cheese, like Romano, I used Grana Padano
  • S&P, butter , oil and garlic
Fry the meats all together in frying pan with the oil, butter and garlic.
Saute the rice with half of a small onion.
Cook with water normally and set aside.
Drain spinach and fry with a little butter and garlic
(I used fresh spinach and used enough to have a couple of big handfuls when squeezed dry.)
When the meats are done, cool enough to handle.
(I had more like roasts pieces, so I cooked mine all together with herbs and onion, carrot and celery in a pressure cooker, which worked very well with using the food processor. I chopped the meats up and and sauteed them in a small amount of oil before putting them through the meat grinder. I reserved the vegetables and juices for the sauce later)
The meats, spinach, and rice all go through the meat grinder.
(I don't have one, so mine went through the food processor)
Then I added 4 eggs and the grated cheese.
(As I know my family's taste, I added a generous amount of fresh ground noci moscate or nutmeg, which I knew would have been pointed out, if I had omitted it.)
I then adjusted the seasoning with some salt and pepper.
It needs to be a dry, moist and flavorful filling.
I filled a pastry bag with a plain round tip to fill the pasta.
Filling the ravioli
Grandma Denzio's recipe
For the pasta:

4 cups flour
1 tsp salt
2 eggs
2Tb oil
Mix all together and
add 1 c warm water
This will make a soft dough.
Roll out thin placing filling 1/2 apart on dough.
Cover, cut and cook.
Drain and add your favorite sauce.
Traditionally, served with a red meat sauce.
I, of course, tried a little local variation.
You take the meat juices and cooked vegetables and run it through the food mill for a passata. Often it is serve just like that and called Salsa dell' arrosto.
On Fabrizio's urging, I added a bit of the filling that I had left over
with the thickened passata (tomato sauce) from the vegetables and juices,
adjusted seasonings and voila.
It was tasty, simple and used everything up.
These were a big hit with my family.
I hope you enjoy them with yours.

Grandma Denzio's Ravioli in a meat sauce topped with Parmigiana


Anonymous said...

Marla, I loved this post. Ravioli is one of my favorite dishes. It's wonderful that you have these great memories.

Anonymous said...

Fabulous story and memories... and the ravioli looks, oh, so delicious!

Bella Baita Marla said...

Thanks Maryann and Ann. Nancy has had a tough year with her health, so it's a special story for me to share as well.

Rowena said...

What delicious and heartfelt acknowledgements towards Nancy and her grandmother. And how curious to learn of your preconceived thoughts on making ravioli. I think my earlier trials of making chinese-style ravioli/wontons served its purpose. Although it was a breeze to use store-bought wonton wrappers back then, I was thrilled to make italian ravioli completely from scratch upon moving here!

Beautiful post Marla!

Bella Baita Marla said...

Thanks Rowena.

I think I was so completely focused on learning as much as I could about pastry production and especially the tricky nuances of baking at high altitudes, that other challenges fell by the wayside, till I got here and took up a new challenge to my culinary repertoire.

Anonymous said...

mmm..those look delicious!
what great memories

Proud Italian Cook said...

Marla,I loved your post and reading about the cherished memories you had with Nancy and her Grandma, they both seem like very special people! Theres nothing like homemade rav's and the tradition of making them with the people you love!

Lori Lynn said...

What a sweet post. And the memories make the ravioli taste even better I bet.

african vanielje said...

Marla, your ravioli look so professional and I'm so pleased you finally took the plunge. I'm sure they were every bit as delicious as the originals and Grandma Denzio would be proud!

Christine Parola said...

Hi Marla,
My name is Christine Parola, my great grandmother is Victoria Denzio from Herrin, IL. I was wondering if you could give me some info because I never got to meet her and I have never met Nancy, my grandfather's name is
Armand Parola he was Victoria's son. My e-mail is ckp474@yahoo.com

Bella Baita Marla said...

Hello Christine,How wonderful to connect with you. I did try to contact you through your email but haven't heard back from you. Please try and contact us as we would love to get in contact. Marla

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