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About Ravioli, Tortellini, And Other Kinds of Stuffed Pasta

Tremendous Variety!

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Stuffed pasta goes a long way back (Boccaccio mentions ravioli in the Decameron), and almost every region in Italy has its own varieties, with characteristic forms and stuffings. Ravioli, a pasta whose name derives from the verb "to wrap" (ravvolgere), are Ligurian, as are Pansôtti. Tortellini and Cappelletti are Emilian, whereas Agnelotti are from Piemonte.

A century ago stuffed pasta with vegetable-based fillings were eaten on Fridays and in Lent by the well off, and eaten year round by those too poor to buy meat. The meat-stuffed varieties, on the other hand, were a day-after treat made with the left over meats from Sunday dinners or festive meals. Times have changed, and now most Italians buy stuffed pasta ready made.

While you can buy commercially made fresh stuffed pastas in the gourmet sections of many supermarkets (we'll ignore the stuff sold in cans), there are two advantages to making your own. First, you can choose what to put into your stuffing. A friend of mine who owned a pasta factory told me that he had to leave out some ingredients, like nutmeg, from the tortellini he sold to restaurants because some clients objected to them. Second, pastas stuffed with some of the more exotic fillings are practically impossible to find.

Stuffings for pasta can be either meat, vegetable, or fish-based, and can include a creamy cheese such as ricotta. Specific names should in theory denote specific fillings. For example, as Artusi noted more than a century ago, ravioli should be filled with greens or greens and cheese -- this is because they are Ligurian, and the Ligurian diet was almost exclusively vegetarian, especially inland. However, the word raviolo denotes a shape, and there are a number of meat-based recipes for them.

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