Make the most of culinary herbs and spices.
Basic Italian Flavors
part of "The Basics at Home" Series
With "The Basics at Home" series we offer pages of simple recipes within a theme. Also included is food for thought about how to use the basics as a jumping off point to create your own versions and links to other applicable recipes within the aPinchOf website.
On this page: Basic Tomato Sauce; Tomato Tortellini Soup; Toasted Ravioli
I have long suspected that fried ravioli did not come to us from Italy. A quick surfing session confirmed this. The Food Timeline website reports that John Mariani's Encyclopedia of American Food and Drink reveals toasted ravioli was supposedly first made in the 1930's at Angelo Oldani's restaurant in St. Louis, Missouri.
Nevertheless, I love the stuff. My recent at-home experiments have shown that it is not difficult to make and can be accomplished with a small amount of oil for frying. This is particularly true if you use a smallish pan. The frying goes so quickly that even doing them three at a time, you'll finish in no time. It is best to coat the ravioli in breadcrumbs ahead of time so that you can devote your full attention to the pan of hot oil.
I suggest serving them with a tomato sauce for dipping. Or you could take a cue from restaurants and offer toasted ravioli with Ranch dressing. Pesto thinned to a dipping consistency by adding sour cream, mayonnaise or extra oil is another option. Served atop a dressed salad, these ravioli would make a clever crouton.
2 cups fine dry breadcrumbs
One package (approximately 10 ounces) fresh ravioli
Pasta sauce, heated, for dipping
Beat the eggs in a wide, shallow bowl. Place the breadcrumbs on a large sheet of waxed paper. To bread the ravioli, dip them first into the beaten egg; allow extra to drip off before transferring the pasta to the breadcrumbs. Press the crumbs onto the ravioli, shaking lightly to remove the excess. Hold the breaded ravioli on a wire rack until you have finished coating all of them.
Pour enough oil into an 8-inch sauté pan to be a depth of about 1/4 inch; heat over medium high until the surface shimmers but the oil isn't smoking. Test to see if it is ready for frying by dropping in a large breadcrumb. If it sizzles and rises to the surface you are set to go. Fry three of the breaded ravioli at a time by gently nudging them into the oil to avoid splashing. Once browned, after a minute or so, use a slotted spoon to carefully turn them over to brown the other side, another minute to 90 seconds. Transfer to double layers of paper toweling to drain. Continue frying the remaining breaded ravioli. You may need to adjust the temperature of your burner down as the oil continues to heat.
Arrange the fried ravioli on a serving plate with a shallow dish of the warm pasta sauce for dipping.
Serves 2 or 3
Forget about condensed soup. You can whip up a more satisfying version on your own in the time it takes to open a can and add water. In fact, for this Tomato-Tortellini Soup you do have to open a can or two but most chefs will tell you there is nothing wrong with canned tomatoes. The "petite cut" diced tomatoes are especially welcome here, if you have access to that new product.
This fast and simple soup works with any type of tortellini, meat or cheese, fresh or frozen, but I have enjoyed it the most using a fresh pasta that I find in the supermarket dairy case.
Fresh-snipped herbs like basil, oregano, rosemary and/or thyme from the garden could certainly replace the commercial Italian blend. If you have this option, use about 3 Tablespoons fresh herbs and add them halfway through the cooking of the tortellini. My Italian herbs include red pepper flakes so if I'm using fresh herbs I still like to add a sprinkling of those too.
If you are planning to prepare this recipe for just yourself with the idea of leftovers for tomorrow, you might want to cook only half the tortellini in the broth each time. This will prevent the pasta from getting soggy as it sits overnight.
1 can (15 ounces) diced tomatoes in juice
1 can (15 ounces) chicken stock (or 2 cups homemade broth)
1 Tablespoon Italian Herbs blend
1 1/2 to 2 cups fresh or frozen tortellini
Combine the tomatoes, stock, 1/2 cup water and the herbs in a 3-quart saucepan over medium-high heat; bring to a boil. Add the tortellini and adjust the heat to maintain a strong simmer. Cook until the all the pasta floats to the top or according to the package directions. Cooking time will vary depending on the brand.
Ladle into warmed bowls and serve immediately.
Serves 4 as a first course or 2 as a main dish.
Read more about serving an Italian meal complete with an Elegant Eggplant Appetizer recipe.
Basic Tomato Sauce
Basic tomato sauce can be a cook's best defense in beating the clock. The original recipe does not take long to prepare and the applications are endless once you have a batch in the refrigerator. This low-fat sauce is versatile because the flavors are not overpowering, adapting to a spicy meatball just as easily as it becomes a colorful garnish to a piece of fresh fish. If you choose to make the deluxe version, the sauce can be a tasty way to sneak some extra vegetables into a meal.
Tomato sauce is a natural for a quick pasta meal. Boil up some pasta, toss with the sauce and a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese for a vegetarian meal or add some cooked ground beef or chicken, even shrimp for a more robust entree. Stir in a tablespoon or so of heavy cream for an elegant twist. But you are not limited to the usual. Consider your favorite pizza toppings and try adding them to your sauce. A little sliced pepperoni and roasted green chiles make a great pizza and are just as delectable tossed over pasta. Mozzarella is optional.
No real need to stay only with Italian ideas. Think Southwestern as you prepare your sauce. Stir a few Mexican-type spices like cumin, cilantro or chili powder into your basic tomato sauce to add extra zip if you wish to go this route. This might lead you to thinking about jalapenos, cheddar cheese and other nacho toppings for a great pasta dish.
Stored in a covered plastic or glass container, this tomato sauce will keep a good five days in the refrigerator but you will probably need more before the five days are up.
Basic Tomato Sauce
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped (about 1 cup)
1/4 of a large green bell pepper, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
1 medium clove garlic, minced (about 1 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper, optional
1 can (8 ounces) tomato sauce
1 can (15 ounces) diced tomatoes in juice
pinch of sugar
Heat the oil in a 2-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and bell pepper and saute for about 5 minutes, until softened but not brown. Stir in the garlic, oregano, basil, thyme and crushed red pepper, if using. Cook, stirring constantly, for one minute more. Add the tomato sauce, diced tomatoes with their juice and the sugar and stir well. Reduce the heat and simmer for about 15 minutes to let the flavors develop. Makes about 3 cups sauce.
Deluxe Version: Follow the recipe above but add 1 chopped celery rib, 1 grated carrot and 1/2 cup shredded zucchini to the saucepan along with the onion and bell pepper. After the final simmer, carefully puree the mixture in a food processor or with a hand held blender.
More pages in the Basics at Home series: