Ravioli appears to pre-date most of its close relatives – the dumplings, perogis and other stuffed pastas that are found all over Europe. This delicious morsel makes a somewhat surprising early appearance in the late 14th century English cookbook, Forme of Cury, written by “the chief Master Cooks of King Richard II”. Although channels were certainly open between England and Italy (after all, this was only just before Chaucer wrote his great Boccaccian spin-off The Canterbury Tales) you didn’t see too much of this interplay until the renaissance, at least not in cookbooks:
Form of cury: Take swete chese & grynde hit smal, & medle hit wyt eyren & saffron and a god quantitie of buttur. Make a thin foile of dowe & close hem therin as tureletes, & cast hem in boylyng watur, & sethe hem therin. Take hot buttur meltede & chese ygratede, & ley the rauioles in dissches; & ley the hote buttur wyt gratede chese binethe & apoue, & cast theron powdur douce.
We mostly followed Maestro Martino di Como’s mid 15th century recipe from Libro de Arte Coquinaria (though no one specifies the dough, which for ravioli can be either flour and water or flour and egg – we chose egg; about 4 eggs for a little under 4 cups of flour – beat them gently and then fold in from inside the flour volcano). Di Como makes the filling of parmesan, ricotta (“good fatty cheese” really), chard, mint, saffron cooked in butter (or pork fat). You then boil them slowly the length of four Lord’s Prayers. We used swiss chard, mint, parmesan and ricotta.
This is a standard time telling trick back in the day – Lord’s Prayers, the time it takes to walk a certain distance, anything that was more or less universal was used as a time telling device. In this case, I think maybe 5 or 6 Lord’s Prayer’s would have been better, or else 4 very leisurely Lord’s Prayers (as opposed to an “I just went to confession and have to whip through a few rosaries” Lord’s Prayers). Either way, they came out slightly tough (though I expect the frozen extras will be just right when re-heated).
The first French appearance, and by most counts the first post-medeival appearance is in Lancelot (chef to three princes of Liège) de Casteau’s 1604 Ouverture de Cuisine (Lancelot was made famous in these very pages by his association with the mayonnaise conspiracy):
Prennés une bonne poignee d’espinasse boullye, petite poignee mente hachee avec l’espinasse, & pressés bien
l’eau dehors, trois onces de parmesin raspè, quatre onces de beurre fresche, trois iaulnes d’oeufs, deux noix muscade,
demye once de canelle, & faictes petite rafioulle, & la faictes boullir comme les autres, & mettez en un plat tant
qu’en voulés mettre avec eau & beurre, parmesan & canelle par dessus comme les autres, & le serués ainsi quand
ils ont boully deux ou trois bouillons dedans le plat.
Take a good handful of boiled spinach, a small handful of mint chopped together with the spinach, & press out well the water, three ounces of grated parmesan, four ounces of fresh butter, three egg yolks, two nutmegs, half an ounce of cinnamon, & make little raviolis, boil like the others, & put on a plate as you like with water & butter, parmesan & cinnamon beneath, & serve them so when they are boiled, two or three per plate.
Interesting the agreement on mint and green leafy vegetables – not to mention the saffron and cinnamon. Overall, a bit of a work-out in the rolling department, but delicious!