I wandered over to the old St. Leo’s School Hall to help make ravioli for Sunday’s semi-annual spaghetti, meatball and ravioli dinner, and my form was found wanting.
Never mind, I had a great time, and if at first you don’t succeed, try try again, is my motto. There will be more ravioli to make in March, and I will be there.
Why? Because it’s fun.
People come from all over the state to help make 12,000 cheese and herb ravioli for the dinner. That’s not a typo. The parish will serve more than 2,000 dinners on Sunday, sit-down and carryout.
The dinners are $11 adults, $5.50 kids. You get a salad and bread with dinner, and wine is extra. It’s a cheap and excellent Sunday dinner, and the company in the hall is very enjoyable indeed.
OK, so how do you make ravioli?
St. Leo’s uses an assembly line. The dough—made of flour, eggs and salt—is mixed 20 pounds at a time in a big floor mixer in the kitchen. Then the dough is allowed to rest. Dough, no matter what it is, always has to rest.
Then it is taken out to this very cool machine that zips the dough into long, thin sheets, maybe eight or nine inches wide and three or four feet long. You should see it.
Then the dough goes to various tables where volunteers shape it into cheese and herb ravioli.
This is the hard part, though it looks easy. First you lay the dough in front of you. As a beginner I tried a piece about eight by four inches. The experts can do a couple of feet of dough or more.
You can make two ravioli out of a four-by-eight inch piece of dough. Rule number one is you don’t waste the dough.
You place two dollops of ricotta cheese, about two teaspoons each, onto the dough. Then you roll the dough over the cheese and cup your fingers so it creates a little cheese pillow. Then you ruthlessly press all the air out from around the cheese and cut the resulting package into two ravioli. Crimp with a fork, being careful not to poke a hole in the ravioli, trim, and you’re done with .06 of a percent of the chore facing the St. Leo volunteers.
The ravioli must fit 60 to a sheet pan, six across and 10 down. They must each be the same size, and they cannot touch on the pan.
I did not do this at all well. Fortunately, about 40 others in the room did it very well, and we finished right around noon.
Mick Stachura, a Little Italy resident and parishioner at St. Leo, comes for every ravioli session, and she is one of those folks who can make six or eight ravioli at a time. “I love coming here,” she said. “I see people I haven’t seen in months.”
The volunteers ranged in age from eight-ish to 80-ish.
Jo Ann McDonald recalled her grandmother making pasta. Nonna used a “guitar,” a box with many wires like guitar strings. She would start with a mound of flour and make a well in the center, then crack eggs into the well. She mixed and kneaded with her hands. Jo remembers the ratio as five pounds of flour to a dozen eggs.
Then Nonna would roll the dough very thin and press it through the guitar—and ecco, fettucine! Jo’s job as a young girl was to lay out the noodles on floured tea towels.
Ravioli was something else. “Ravioli were the special dinner for the holidays,” said Jo. “They are a lot of work.”
There were six of us at the table, and we talked about the August earthquake, where to find good baklava, the myriad ways to make marinara sauce, the mayor, sausages, wine, similarities between pierogi and ravioli, sour beef and dumplings, George Clooney, and the perfection of the ravioli that the young couple across the room made. “A whole sheet of ravioli and they were identical,” raved Nancy Schapiro, Jo’s friend from Dundalk.
Jo and Nancy are Italian, whatever their surnames suggest. I’m beginning to think ravioli making may be genetic.