Cheese-Filled Toasted Ravioli

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Overhead view of toasted ravioli on a plate
Serious Eats / Robby Lozano

Toasted ravioli—or t-ravs, as they’re affectionately called locally—are a St. Louis specialty. Breaded and fried until lightly crisp, they’re typically filled with meat or cheese and served with a bowl of marinara sauce for dipping. Like many of life’s greatest pleasures, the invention of toasted ravioli has often been attributed to a happy accident. Writing for the Chicago Tribune in 1999, the journalist Renee Enna reports that Terry Lane, a cook at the St. Louis restaurant Oldani’s Steak House, accidentally dropped a beef-and-pork–filled raviolo into the fryer sometime in the 1940s. Lane garnished the golden result with cheese and it was a hit among locals. 

As word spread, restaurants across the Hill (an Italian-American neighborhood in St. Louis) soon began serving toasted ravioli. Though this is the origin story most people are familiar with, the writer Robert Moss—who dug into the history of the St. Louis specialty for Epicurious—notes that people were making toasted ravioli much earlier than the 1940s. Moss attributes the dish’s popularity to the Oregonian’s food columnist Lilian Tingle, who recommended a reader fry their ravioli “like doughnuts” after possibly encountering fried ravioli during her travels in Italy. Italy, after all, has its own tradition of fried ravioli, including sweet fried ones often eaten during Carnevale and more sweet-savory squash-filled ones called barbagiuan (originally from Monaco but now also a specialty of Liguria).

Side view of dipping toasted ravioli into marinara sauce
Serious Eats / Robby Lozano

Today, toasted ravioli is an iconic St. Louis dish—one you can make at home if you don’t live in the Lou. But not living in St. Louis isn’t the only reason to make your own. It’s also worthwhile because it allows you to control the results, which isn’t a minor issue with a recipe like this. As with many starch-on-starch creations, good results depend on a very thoughtful handling of all the elements, lest you end up with a leaden and overly doughy sinker of a snack.

While one can debate what makes for “good” toasted ravioli, I’ve set my sights on ensuring two critical details. First, the ravioli should not be overwhelmingly doughy, which is an easy mistake to make when creating a stuffed pasta that’s then coated in breading and fried. This means that both the pasta and the breading should be thin and light. At the same time, the breading itself should come out truly crispy, otherwise why are we going to the trouble of breading and frying them in the first place?

Beyond that, there are more obvious goals, like a delicious filling and flavorful marinara dipping sauce.

Here are the techniques I used to achieve those results.

Getting the Pasta Dough Right

Most recipes for toasted ravioli call for store-bought pasta, but it’s worth making your own, as it gives you more control over the thickness of the dough and how much filling to use. You want a dough that’s sturdy enough to handle the breading procedure, but still thin enough to not overwhelm the snack with excess starchiness. 

Adding egg yolk to blender
Serious Eats / Robby Lozano

Here, I’ve chosen to use both whole eggs and yolks; as former Serious Eats editor Niki Achitoff-Gray once noted, the addition of yolks—which contain about 48% water, 17% protein, and 33% fat—delivers “more color, more egg flavor, and silkier noodles.” While that additional fat results in a more flavorful dough, it can make it more difficult to develop a strong gluten network, as fat has a tendency to coat glutenin and gliadin, the two proteins essential in forming gluten. Taking the time to properly knead the dough helps to encourage gluten development, giving pasta its signature spring. Resting the dough after it’s been kneaded allows it to further hydrate and for the gluten to relax, making it easier to roll out into thin sheets of pasta.

A Filling That’s Rich Yet Light

My first attempt at the filling—a mixture of ricotta, fontina, Parmigiano Reggiano, and pecorino romano—was reminiscent of a mozzarella stick. It was molten and cheesy, and while this is traditional for St. Louis’s cheese-filled toasted ravioli, I wanted something a little lighter. After some tweaking, I landed on a mixture of three parts ricotta to one part mozzarella, which makes a fluffy filling that’s still slightly melty without being too heavy.

Since most of the filling is made of ricotta, it’s worth using the good stuff. As Kenji has written previously, the quality of ricotta can vary widely. While the very best ricotta is creamy with a pleasant acidity, poorly made ricotta has the tendency to be both gritty and tasteless. 

Look for cheese without gums or stabilizers; higher quality ricotta, writes Kenji, should only have milk, salt, and an acid or natural culture in its ingredients list. As for the mozzarella, we here at Serious Eats love the full-fat kind—but if you can’t find any, low-moisture mozzarella can be substituted.

Breading and Frying

It’s not toasted ravioli without the breading, which gives the dumpling its signature crispiness when fried. You could buy pre-seasoned Italian breadcrumbs, but making homemade seasoned breadcrumbs with fresh parsley, rosemary, and thyme brings an additional dimension of freshness and herbaceousness.

Overhead view of frying raviolis
Serious Eats / Robby Lozano

Before dipping the pasta into the egg wash and breadcrumbs, I freeze the pasta until it’s firm. Not only does this make the ravioli easier to handle, but it also prevents the fragile dough from tearing during the breading process. After the ravioli is evenly coated, I return the pasta to the freezer for 15 minutes to give the coating time to set.

Shallow-fried until golden brown, each ravioli is satisfyingly crisp and cheesy. They’re even more delicious when sprinkled with Parmesan cheese and dipped into marinara sauce. And the best part? You didn’t have to travel all the way to St. Louis for it.

For the Pasta Dough: In a food processor, pulse flour with salt and semolina until combined, about 3 pulses. Add the eggs and yolks and pulse until incorporated, about 7 pulses. With the machine on, add olive oil in a thin stream and process until mixture forms a cohesive dough, about 4 pulses.

Two image collage of adding egg to flour in a food processor and forming a douhg
Serious Eats / Robby Lozano

Turn out dough onto a semolina-dusted work surface and knead until smooth, about 10 minutes. (The dough should have the consistency of modeling clay and bounce back when poked.) Wrap dough tightly in plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes or up to 4 hours.

Overhead view of rolling dough out
Serious Eats / Robby Lozano

For the Cheese Filling: In a medium bowl, stir together ricotta, mozzarella, and salt until combined. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Overhead view of mixing cheese filling together
Serious Eats / Robby Lozano

To Roll the Pasta: When dough is done resting, cut into 4 equal pieces and loosely cover with plastic wrap on a semolina-dusted surface. Working with 1 piece at a time (and keeping remaining pieces covered), flatten dough into a 5- by 4-inch oval, about 1/4 inch thick. Dust both sides lightly with semolina flour.

Two image collage of dough cut into pieces and rolled into a circle
Serious Eats / Robby Lozano

Using a pasta machine with rollers set to widest setting, feed dough through rollers twice. Bring tapered end of dough toward middle to press to seal, folding in thirds like a letter. Feed dough, seem side first, through rollers again at the same setting. Repeat folding and rolling once more, lightly dusting dough with semolina before each roll. Dough should be smooth and rectangular in shape. (Using a stiff pastry brush, clean the pasta machine of any excess dough or semolina between rolling.)

Four image collage of dough being flatten through a pasta machine
Serious Eats / Robby Lozano

Narrow rollers to next setting and feed dough through rollers twice more. Continue to progressively narrow rollers, feeding dough through each setting twice, until you reach the lowest setting and the dough is very thin and semi-transparent (you should be able to see the outline of your hand through it.)

Running pasta through roller machine
Serious Eats / Robby Lozano

Transfer dough sheet to liberally floured work surface. Halve the dough sheet crosswise. On one cut dough sheet, spoon 8 mounded tablespoonfuls of filling in 2 rows of 4, spaced 1 inch apart and leaving 1 inch from edges of dough. Top with the second dough sheet. Use your fingers to press dough layers together around the mounds of filling while pressing out any air.

Two image collage of filling and sealing raviolis
Serious Eats / Robby Lozano

Using a fluted pastry cutter or a sharp knife, cut between the mounds to form squares, about 2 1/2- by 2 1/4-inches each. (You should have about a 1/2-inch dough border around each mound of filling.)

Overhead view of cutting raviolis
Serious Eats / Robby Lozano

Transfer cut ravioli to a rimmed baking sheet liberally dusted with semolina. Repeat with the remaining pasta dough and filling. Freeze ravioli on the semolina-dusted baking sheet until hard, about 30 minutes.

Ravioli on baking sheet
Serious Eats / Robby Lozano

For the Ravioli: In a medium bowl, whisk eggs and milk. In a shallow dish or pie plate, combine breadcrumbs, parsley, rosemary, thyme, salt, and pepper.

Two bowls prepped for dredging
Serious Eats / Robby Lozano

Working one at a time, dip ravioli into egg mixture, letting excess drip off, then dredge in breadcrumb mixture, pressing to adhere. Return to baking sheet and freeze until hard, about 15 minutes. Set a wire rack inside a rimmed baking sheet and line rack with a double layer of paper towels.

Overhead view of coating raviolis with eggs and bread crumb mixture
Serious Eats / Robby Lozano

In a Dutch oven, heat about 1 inch of vegetable oil until a thermometer registers between 335°F and 350°F (168ºC and 177ºC). Fry the ravioli in batches of 4, turning as needed with a slotted spoon, until golden brown all over, about 2 minutes per batch. Transfer fried ravioli to the prepared cooling rack and immediately sprinkle with some of the Parmesan.

Overhead view of frying raviolis
Serious Eats / Robby Lozano

Serve hot with marinara sauce for dipping.

Side view of dipping toasted ravioli into marinara sauce
Serious Eats / Robby Lozano

Special Equipment

Food processor, pasta machine, pastry brush, rimmed baking sheet, cooling rack, instant-read thermometer

Notes

If you can’t find good quality mozzarella, you can substitute with low-moisture, part-skim mozzarella.

Make-Ahead and Storage

The breaded ravioli can be frozen for up to 1 month. Freeze on a large baking sheet in a single layer, then transfer the ravioli to resealable plastic bags. 


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