(Seem to be on a food roll these past few weeks. It’s just that time of year.)
I spent this past Christmas Eve with my son and his family. He said he had a surprise for me and brought out a new pasta machine, flour, eggs and cheese. He then proceeded to make ravioli from scratch, just like his Nonie used to do for Christmas. I enjoy cooking, but never mastered the art of ravioli. Talk about making memories…
It reminded me of another time with my brother and niece who came to my house to collaborate on the making of the traditional Thanksgiving ravioli, something not attempted since Mom died. We brought out flour and eggs, ricotta and parmesan cheese from the old Italian market, Mom’s ancient rolling pin and pizza cutter, the newer macaroni machine. In the end, we made 20 of the homeliest ravioli I’ve ever seen. Mom always said the trick was in the dough, “You’ll know the dough is ready, when it is.”
I am ten, sitting on the counter in the kitchen of the old house kicking red PF Flyers, keeping beat to a song my mother hums while she cooks. She pauses to use the back of a floured hand to wipe hair from her eyes before rolling out sheets of pasta dough made from scratch.
With a practiced move, she dips her hand into a sack of flour and anoints the table. From a cracked pink bowl, she separates a handful of dough, drops it onto the floured surface and rolls a wooden pin back and forth. She shifts the thinning mound clockwise and continues to roll over its growing spread. This is fascinating to a ten-year-old child who cannot imagine how she does it, except through magic.
What happens next is something I could sell tickets to. In a manner so smooth and precise I have never been able to match it, my mother smartly scoops just the right amount of ricotta into a perfect row across the bottom edge of the dough, flips this edge up and over, then swiftly applies karate chops in between each bundle and across the top to create a seal.
Next, with a pizza cutter (I now own), she drives the wheel up and over, down and around each perfect pocket like a race car driver on a slalom track, screeching to a halt with a huff and sigh.
I stay far back as arms and elbows fly, but as soon as the flour settles, I hop off the counter like a loyal pit crew to gently pick up each ravioli and place it at the other end of the table, counting as I go. 136, 137, 138…
My brother, niece and I laughed a lot, reminisced even more and spoke to Mom/Nonie out-loud-at-the-ceiling, as much as to each other. Once when my brother was doing something particularly discourteous to the dough I said, “I’m going to kick your little ass!” and at the same time, we both said, “I/You sound just like Mom.”
The evening left me with thoughts of how certain foods, particularly their smell, become rooted in our lives and are able to conjure people and moments. Many of us have a relationship with food like that.
Ravioli does it for me. Growing up, for every holiday and birthday celebration, Mom would make those saucy pockets of cheese that we could barely wait to eat. Thanksgiving turkey? What’s that? Easter ham? What planet are you from?
It took us 3 ½ hours for three of us to make 20 ravioli, while Mom would make at least 150 all by herself in way less time. Heck, we needed one person to crank the macaroni machine, one person to feed the dough through and one to catch it coming out the other end. Some came out looking like lumpy faces and butts, but one ravioli looked just like hers. And it called for a toast!
That Thanksgiving, when we sat down at dinner to eat our 2 ravioli each, there was a lot of smiling and nodding and yes, a few deep sighs. Many thanks were also spoken, since I’d thought ahead and made a back-up lasagna as well.
This past Christmas Eve, there was also much talking and laughter and love. And we didn’t even wait for the next day’s dinner. We ate all 10 ravioli while standing at the counter. Mom though was probably groaning loudly since the sauce came from a jar. The ravvies though, were from Heaven!