The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken
This review was prepared by Elaine of The Italian Dish.
When I was asked to review Laura Schenone's The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken: A Search for Food and Family, I was excited because I had seen the book before and I have quite an interest in making ravioli. What I didn’t realize, however, was that this was not really a cookbook – it is a memoir with recipes. So not only did I have a lot more reading ahead of me, I was much more engrossed in it than if I had been reading an ordinary cookbook.
Laura is a food writer living in Hoboken, New Jersey who longs for an authentic family recipe and becomes a little obsessed in her search for the origins of the family ravioli recipe. The ravioli was originally made by her Italian great grandmother, who immigrated to New Jersey from Italy. Her quest for this recipe leads her to long lost cousins and aunts across the country who finally send her the original ravioli recipe.
When she receives the original recipe, however, it contains a surprising ingredient – Philadelphia Cream Cheese! Laura is stumped by this – why on earth would her Italian ancestor make her ravioli with this very American ingredient? The recipe also contains ground veal and ground pork, but they are left raw in the assembly of the ravioli. She had never heard of leaving the meat raw in ravioli. She even consults Marcella Hazan and Giuliano Bugialli for answers. They are just as mystified. Her curiosity consumes her and in her search for the answers, she travels to Liguria, from where her great grandparents immigrated and learns ravioli making from all sorts of people.
She realizes the absurdity of her quest to find the authentic recipe when she finds herself interviewing Sergio Rossi, director of the Genoa chapter of the organization devoted to conserving the culture and foods of the Mediterranean. He is a little confused about her search for such an authentic recipe and tells her, “There is no one taste,” he says. “Each village has its own way. Each family has its own way. Things vary even within a family. I can share with you my tradition, but not the tradition.” And there lies the great lesson of the book – there is no one way to make something.
I was totally absorbed in this book. Laura Schenone was surprisingly candid and very open about family squabbles, marital tensions and even her sister Andrea’s touching struggle with a lifelong, painful physical ailment. Throughout the book we meet interesting characters – Italian nonnas, artisans and her cooking friend and neighbor, Lou, who tries to convince Laura of the merits of the KitchenAid mixer in pasta making.
The back of the book contains all of the recipes, which makes it easier to reference them. Laura has included recipes for several ravioli, including her family’s traditional “cream cheese” ravioli, a “beginner’s cheese” ravioli and a wonderful mushroom ravioli. She also includes recipes and tips for general pasta making and some sauces, such as the walnut sauce I made and pesto. There are also the family’s spinach torta, a chard torta and focaccia recipes.
Besides making the easy but delicious walnut sauce, I made the family’s traditional cream cheese ravioli. I was anxious to know what the cream cheese would be like in the filling. This recipe calls for the raw meat, of course, but I couldn’t bring myself to do that so I did cook it and then put it through my meat grinder so it would be very fine, which is important when making a filling for ravioli. Otherwise, I made the recipe exactly from the book and it was delicious. I loved the tanginess of the cream cheese. I also liked using the checkered rolling pin because I believe you can make ravioli faster this way and my husband liked the fact that there were no “borders” around the individual raviolo and so the ravioli were mostly stuffing.
Anyone interesting in food and cooking will love to read this book because it is filled with great recipes, cooking techniques and historical cooking methods form the 18th and 19th centuries. She also shares a photo of the family ravioli press, an interesting tool and something I had never seen before.