Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Great Ravioli Debacle

Now I've made ravioli many times in my life. I've even made them in front of a Washington Post photographer and reporter who were doing a story on holiday traditions. I mean, I feel so confident about my ravioli-making skills that I venture to compete with my little sister at Christmastime to see who makes the best ravioli. And she's no slouch in the Italian cooking competition. I'm still thinking about her braciole.

But I digress. I just want to say that I know my ravioli. I've made traditional ravioli -- meat filling, cheese filling -- and more creative ones like mushroom filling or artichoke and sun dried tomato filling. No problem.

So when I wanted to impress some Chinese friends who so lavishly entertained us last year in their Beijing home, I knew that I had to make them ravioli. Easy.

I set aside Thursday for my work, and soon the kitchen floor was covered  in flour and my ghostly footprints were tracking all over the dark hardwood floors of our beautiful apartment (sorry, ayi).

I used a flour called Dr. North. Sounded both interesting and appropriate. I mean, flour is flour, right?

Oh, hubris, thy name is ravioli queen.

I slaved all day over my mushroom ravioli. So what if I didn't have room in my freezer to store them the way I usually did? I figured they would stay fine in the frig.

Today (Friday) I checked on the seven dozen or so ravioli.

China: 1
Debbie: 0

The  mushroom ravioli were a soggy, stuck-together mess. My howls brought the ever-sensible Joanna to the kitchen where she convinced me that a second-day visit to the freezer might just salvage them. It certainly couldn't make them worse.

Stand by for the resolution to this debacle. In the meantime, I cooked up a mean tomato sauce and a killer cake: called the Procrastinator's Drunken Monkey Cake, ideal because it called for FIVE ripe bananas. You know, the now-you-have-to-show-the-apartment bananas. So what if that recipe called for flaming some dried fruits in rum? Piece of cake (so to speak) compared to soggy ravioli.

And tomorrow I'm going to whip up a quick batch of fettuccini as backup, and I'll pay extra for imported American flour so that I get the right stuff.

And here's the good news: the next dinner party I'm doing is a Passover Seder. No flour problems when you don't cook with flour.

The Grand Finale

Saturday afternoon I made fettuccini and meatballs, both relative successes, especially compared to the soggy-then-frozen ravioli.

As Saturday evening approached, I filled two big pots with water, one for the Plan B fettuccini, and one for the ravioli.

As the water reached a boil, I took the ravioli out of the freezer. Instead of a soggy mess, they were a rock-hard mass, attached to the wax paper that separated them. When I tried to gently separate the pasta from the paper, the ravioli cracked like splinters of glass, exposing their mushroom innards.  I called Joanna into the kitchen, but she quickly removed herself when she saw that I was not allowing her to crack the ravioli apart.

In desperation, I placed the entire mass of frozen ravioli and wax paper in the boiling water, and tried to gently tug the wax paper from the ravioli as they softened, succeeding only in ripping little shreds of paper from the mess.

In the end I managed to retrieve about six "deconstructed" ravioli from the mess, and abandoned the rest of the wax paper/ravioli/mushroom stew.

The dinner party was a success and I suddenly realized that filled pasta might not be worth the time and angst. After our guests left, I started the cleanup by dumping the wax paper/pasta/mushroom stew into a trash bag. Anyone who has lived in China knows where this story is heading. For some inexplicable reason, garbage bags in China are tissue-thin. I didn't know plastic could be that delicate.

The stew ended up spilled all over our kitchen floor, looking a lot like the contents of a stomach of a high school kid who -- I don't know, just making up something here -- had a big pasta dinner before drinking too much and then smoking a cigarello. Say, in 1974.

Anyway, there's a lesson in here somewhere but I'm too tired at the moment to figure it out. Maybe it's just the comeuppance of a pasta snob who thinks that 7,000 miles and a freezer the size of a loaf of bread won't throw off her ravioli game. You win this one China.


  1. Well, there's always Easter for another try ;)

  2. The same thing happened to me the other day. I had made pasta before and dried/refrigerated it with success, so I thought, the next logical thing is to make ravioli. I took the same pasta recipe I use which includes king Arthur flour, semolina, eggs, salt & olive oil. I ran it through my pasta machine until it was nice and thin and filled with cheese. I let them dry for about 30 min and then I threw them on a plate and placed them in the fridge until tomorrow when I'd make them. Well when I opened my fridge I got a sticky ravioli mess. I think the liquid in the cheese seeps out and makes the dough soggy/moist even if it's dried first. I think next time I make these it will have to be a lets make the ravioli and cook them immediately type thing, or I can maybe refrigerate the dough and filling separate and then when I'm about to cook, then put them together. I'm currently looking for a solution to this. I'm not sure how companies that sell raviolis that are in the refrigerated section of the grocery store stop the stickiness. There must be some solution or some kind of ravioli voodoo they know or something.