For many Italian-American families, homemade stuffed pastas like ravioli and lasagna are a cherished part of traditional holiday meals. Family members both young and old will gather in the kitchen on the days leading up to Christmas, rubbing elbows as they roll out pasta, mix filling and cut and crimp the edges of the little pasta pillows, ready to be boiled and dressed with savory sauce. It is a tradition that fosters community and connection, and it happens to be a wonderful way to get kids to put down their smartphones and engage. Young children will enjoy mixing the filling and "painting" the edges of the pasta squares, and older children can help folding and crimping the finished ravioli. Typically, the dough would be freshly made using just eggs, water, olive oil and a pinch of salt. This recipe calls for store-bought wonton wrappers, which simplify the process immensely. If you want to try your hand at making homemade pasta, there are many helpful recipes and tutorials available online.
Nana's Chicken and Spinach Ravioli
For the filling:
1 cup finely chopped cooked chicken
1 10 oz package frozen spinach, thawed, squeezed dry and finely chopped
½ cup breadcrumbs
½ cup grated Parmesan
¼ cup chopped parsley
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
Salt and pepper to taste.
Combine all the above ingredients and let sit 30 minutes
To assemble the ravioli:
Two packages wonton wrappers
1 egg, lightly beaten
Lightly dust a sheet pan with flour. Lay a wonton wrapper on clean surface. LIGHTLY paint the edges of the wrapper with beaten egg using a pastry brush or your finger. Place a scant tablespoon of filling slightly above the midline of the wrapper (avoid the urge to overfill them because then the ravioli won't seal properly), then bring the bottom point up to the top. Seal the ravioli, pressing gently outward over the filling to push out any air bubbles. Crimp the edges gently with a fork and place the finished ravioli on the floured tray. These ravioli can be assembled and frozen for several weeks, sealed in a zippered bag.
To cook the ravioli, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the ravioli to the boiling water and stir gently. The ravioli will float to the top as they cook. After all the ravioli have risen to the surface let them cook for another minute, for a total cooking time of about five minutes. Drain and toss with sauce.
Simplest tomato sauce, inspired by Marcella Hazan
4-5 tablespoons butter
1 onion, peeled and cut in half
1 whole clove garlic, peeled
Salt, to taste
1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes in juice
Chopped parsley or basil, to finish
In a heavy-bottomed, nonreactive sauce pan, heat the butter over medium heat. Add the onion halves and can of tomatoes. Season with a pinch of salt, then bring to a low simmer and cook, uncovered, for about 30 minutes. Stir occasionally and use the spoon to mash up larger pieces of tomato. Remove the onion half before serving. (Save it to eat with something else later. It's delicious.) Season the sauce to taste with salt and add chopped herbs as desired.
Latke (pronounced LOT-KEH) is Yiddish for pancake, and these crispy fried rounds are a much anticipated feature of the Jewish Chanukah celebration. Often potato-based, they can be made with a variety of root vegetables including beet, carrot and parsnip. These savory pancakes are fried in oil, signifying the Chanukah Miracle which involved the oil of the Temple Menorah burning for eight days even though there was only enough oil to last for one day. Served with applesauce and sour cream, latkes are a delicious treat no matter what holiday you celebrate.
Let little kids help squeeze out the excess water from the potatoes, crack eggs, mix filling and stir apple sauce. Older kids can help grate potatoes, peel and chop apples and flip the pancakes (under close supervision, of course).
One pound russet potatoes (starchier potatoes make for crispier latkes!)
½ cup finely chopped onion
1 large egg, beaten well
¼ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup olive or canola oil
Applesauce, sour cream and chopped parsley, to serve
Peel the potatoes. Grate them into a bowl of cold water, then drain them in a colander, pressing out as much water as possible. Transfer the drained potatoes and the chopped onion to a clean tea towel and spread them out before rolling up the towel and squeezing out the excess water. Wipe the bowl dry and return the squeezed-dry potatoes and onions to the bowl. Add the egg, flour and salt and mix well.
Heat the oil over medium-high heat in a large heavy-bottomed skillet until hot but not smoking. Working in batches, spoon two tablespoons of potato mixture into the skillet, spreading them out into three-inch rounds. Be sure not to crowd them in the pan so they brown efficiently and aren't too difficult to flip. Reduce heat slightly and cook about five minutes until golden brown on one side. Flip carefully and cook five minutes more. Drain on paper towels and season with salt. Keep finished latkes warm on a wire rack set over a baking pan in a warm oven until ready to serve. Latkes can be made up to eight hours ahead and reheated on a rack set over a baking sheet in a 350-degree oven for about five minutes.
Ashley Meyer of Springfield is a mom, a chef and a writer whose column appears regulary in Illinois Times.