Carnival Italian Sweet Ricotta Ravioli, a pocket full of goodness! A delightful pastry shell hosting a creamy lightly sweetened ricotta filling with wonderful morsels of dark chocolate, cinnamon, and Grand Marnier.
Memories from my childhood
When I was a child, in Italy, Carnival arrived to break the dullness of winter, my least favorite season. It brought color and joy, spring temperatures and bright skies, masquerades, confetti, and lots of powdered sugar, the trait-d'union of all Carnival sweets.
All the Carnival sweets
There were recurrent sweets my mother would make, like Frappe (in other Italian Regions called Chiacchiere, or Crostoli), Castagnole, and the beloved Ravioli dolci di Ricotta, Ricotta Sweet Ravioli. While, for the majority, all the Carnival sweets are deep fried and then covered in powdered sugar, the Ravioli that my mother makes are rigorously oven-baked. When she wasn't making homemade Carnival sweets, we would buy them from bakeries and pastry shops, to bring to school on Giovedì Grasso (Fat Thursday) and Martedì Grasso (Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday) or to parties at friends' houses. I loved all that rich deliciousness, the crunchiness of the Frappe, the crumbly or soft (according to the recipe) Castagnole, the ricotta and chocolate filled Ravioli. I always closed my eyes in deep pleasure, the powdered sugar spotting my clothes and leaving a white smear on my lips and nose. During Carneval, I also loved to dress up in costumes: I've been a little fairy, Little Red Riding Hood, a Spanish Flamenco dancer, a Native queen, a Renaissance Lady, and many others.
You might be familiar with the most popular Carnevale di Venezia (Venetian Carnival), with its beautiful masks and costumes, but everywhere in Italy, this time of the year, there are celebrations, festivals, masquerades, lavish eating and parades of Carnival floats. It all ends on Fat Tuesday, the last day of Carnival, then, on Ash Wednesday, Lent starts. It all makes sense that in the days before Lent, a season of sorrowful reflections, fast and abstinence from indulgent food, it is an indulgence, and explosion of partying and sumptuous eating.
Last year I was in Rome, and I got to eat my mother's Carnival sweets, this year I am in Canada, and I get to show my husband and some friends, how we celebrate Carnival in Italy. It started with the usual morning call to my mother to ask for her recipe and after a bit of nervousness, adaptation, and patience, it ended up with these amazing Sweet Ricotta Ravioli.
My mom's recipe for Carnival Italian Sweet Ricotta Ravioli
If you're not familiar with Italian mother's or grandmother's baking, it is never based on precise quantity, but it is mostly a "feeling" by touch, memory, routine. So, her recipe, hand written on a cute, old, exercise book, went something like that: "on a wood board (spianatoia, in Italian) put the flour in a circle, and make a bowl in the center, then in the middle crack 3 eggs, 2 tazzine (espresso cups) between butter and oil, 1 tazzina of milk, 2 spoons of sugar, the juice of half a lemon. For the filling: ricotta, sugar, rum liquor, zest of a lemon, cinnamon, chocolate, egg. Brush some milk on top of the ravioli before the oven, then, bake for about 20 minutes".
Translating old recipes
The stressful part was to "translate" my mother's recipe into exact (more or less) ingredient quantities, oven temperature and baking time.
There was no flour quantity, no quantities for the filling, no instructions on how to proceed and no oven temperature. When I asked about the flour, her answer was "quanta se ne prende", as much as it takes, that is, in typical Italian fashion, you keep adding flour to the mixture until you "feel" by hand, and touch, that it reaches the right consistency. The quantities of the filling were completely vague, and when I asked about the oven temperature, the answer was vague, as well: "you know, not too high, I'd say moderate, better lower than higher".
Making Carnival Italian Sweet Ricotta Ravioli
In the end, I think I did a pretty good job remaking her recipe, with the help of Loreto, my assistant for the day. You can choose the shape of the ravioli: square, rectangular, triangular, round, or if you're a traditionalist like me, half moon, mezza luna, like I've always done with my mother. This helps me keep the memories of Carnevale intact. And as they say,
remember where you came from because it tells you where you are and where you want to go.
Eating these Carnival Sweet Ricotta Ravioli, transported me right away to our kitchen in Rome, where I remember helping my mother mixing the ricotta filling, while secretly eating little spoonfuls of it. Here, with Loreto, we made sure that the filling was good for sweetness, and it was a lot of fun making the ravioli.
A family activity
This is a great recipe to do with a few people, or kids, as it is a multiple step process from the rolling of the dough, to the cutting of the circles, to placing the filling, making the half round, Loreto's favorite part, sealing the edges with a fork, and finally the brushing of milk on top.
A bite into these, and you cannot but smile. The tenderness of the pastry as it melts into the creamy, semi-sweet ricotta and hints of Grand Marnier, has your mouth singing the song Mmmmm. The kid in you comes out as those morsels of chocolate melt on your tongue, and you awaken to the sad fact that this Carnival treat is done. No worries there is more, lol. There is a bit of liqueur inside, but you can omit it.
Only one week is left before Carnival ends, and tomorrow is Giovedì Grasso (Fat Thursday). Bake some Carnival sweets for your dear ones, spread some confetti in the house, turn up the music, dance, and be merry.Print
- 3 eggs
- 2 Tbsp sugar
- 50 g vegetable oil (we used sunflower oil)
- 45 g butter, melted
- 50 g milk
- the zest of ½ lemon
- 340 g flour 00 or all-purpose, sifted, plus more for the board
- 300 g ricotta
- 3 Tbsp sugar
- 2 tsp liquor (Rum, Grappa, or Grand Marnier), optional
- ½ lemon, the zest
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- 3 Tbsp semi sweet chocolate chips
- milk for brushing the top
- In a large bowl, add the sugar and the eggs and mix well. Now add the oil, the melted butter, the milk, the lemon zest. Mix well.
- Start adding the sifted flour a little at a time, kneading with your hands until you feel that the dough is soft, smooth and looks homogeneous.
- Form a ball with the dough and wrap it in plastic. Refrigerate for about half an hour.
- Meanwhile, prepare the ricotta filling and preheat the oven to 340° F (170°C).
- In a medium bowl, add the ricotta, sugar, cinnamon, liqueur, lemon zest. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon or a spatula until you have a smooth and soft cream. Then fold in the chocolate chips, if using.
- Take the dough out of the refrigerator and remove the plastic.
- Dust the work surface with flour, place the center of the dough and roll it out with a rolling pin until obtaining a thinness of about 2 mm.
- Using a cookie cutter, or a glass, cut rounds of dough of about 10 cm.
- Place a teaspoon of ricotta filling in the middle, fold in half and seal the edges with a fork.
- Place the ravioli on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or silicone mat.
- Brush the top with milk.
- Bake in the preheated oven for about 20-30 minutes, or until light golden brown.
- Let them cool on a rack, then sprinkle with abundant powdered sugar.
- Prep Time: 40 minutes
- Cook Time: 30 minutes
- Category: Sweets
- Method: Baking
- Cuisine: Italian
I love baking and kneading dough because it takes me to a happy place in my soul.