Citizens! The Potentate of Plebians – YOUR TFD! – has always enjoyed the food of the common man and woman just as much as the rarefied comestibles served at the haughty tables of nobility! Few examples of this serve a more idealized purpose to illustrate My claim than the famous ‘toasted’ (actually deep-fried) ravioli of the great city of St. Louis! This is also the home city of my stepmother, and as such I dedicate this recipe to her good name and hope it proves worthy of recording in song and story alike! I have taken a few liberties with the filling of this particular raviolo recipe and have brought it much closer back to its original Sicilian roots, whilst maintaining its St. Louis pedigree for you!
Toasted ravioli is breaded deep-fried ravioli, usually served as an appetizer. It was created and popularized in St. Louis, Missouri at two restaurants, Mama Campisi’s and Charlie Gitto’s. Both are located in an Italian-American neighborhood, known as ‘The Hill’. Supposedly, a ravioli was accidentally dropped into the fryer at Mama Campisi’s by Chef Fritz. “Mickey Garagiola, older brother of Major League Baseball Hall-of-Famer Joe Garagiola, was actually at the bar during the mishap and was the first to taste the accidental treat.” Shortly thereafter, the item began appearing on menus across The Hill.
Many other restaurants in The Hill claim its creation, among them, Charlie Gitto’s “On The Hill” restaurant (then known as “Angelo’s”). That story claims that in 1947, Mario Battocletti, a chef at Angelo’s, accidentally dropped the pasta into oil instead of water. Another claim is from Louis Oldani – Oldani is said to have named the dish ‘toasted’ ravioli because he thought ‘toasted’ was more appealing than ‘fried’. All the original claim holders have now died.
Lombardo’s Restaurants, located around the St. Louis area, also claim to have been among the first to bring toasted ravioli to the States from Sicily; their current owner, Tony Lombardo, shows menus from the 1930s that include it. Lombardo’s toasted raviolis frequently top lists as the “best t-ravs in St. Louis”.
To make this hyper-local treat, some type of meat is wrapped in square ravioli, breaded and deep fried until the pasta shell becomes slightly crispy, dry and browned. Toasted ravioli is generally served with marinara sauce for dipping and parmesan cheese may also be sprinkled on top. Toasted ravioli can be stored pre-made and frozen which allows it to be easily prepared by fry cooks or bar staff without special skill or training.
Locals SWEAR by these treats, and I was delighted to find 3 Jewish brothers (the Waldman family) in St. Louis who are about as obsessed with these pockets of delight as it is possible to be – mad respect to them! Here is an example video they made about a favorite local joint where they review the ravioli in a truly awesome fashion:
As noted in this edited excerpt from a great article from stljewishlight.org:
Back in July, Jewish Light writer Bill Motchan introduced you to the Waldman brothers and their noble quest of finding the best-toasted ravioli in St. Louis, then sharing their findings with the world. The Waldmans belong to Congregation Temple Israel, where each celebrated his bar mitzvah and likely had toasted ravioli celebrating the events.
Jeff, Jon and Jacob Waldman have the dedication and skill for their task. It’s all part of their mission to create awareness for the St. Louis dish and help the local restaurant industry emerge from a bleak 2020, said Jeff Waldman, leader of the trio.
T-Rav Tasters on the web is hosted by the sports and entertainment blog Korked Bats, which has a national following of nearly 40,000. Waldman doubles as a sales rep for the company. The idea for a toasted ravioli rating blog had been frying in his mind for a long time.
The episodes are largely unscripted. Jeff Waldman said they just go with the flow, but they did make the decision after the first couple of episodes to use a structure and hire a professional videographer to improve production values.
During recording of the Pasta House episode at the restaurant’s new 8831 Ladue Road location, the Waldmans opened the shoot by offering some history of the business and how many meals they have eaten there, which is in triple digits. Then they got down to business with beer and toasted ravioli.
The tasting covers criteria such as sauce, taste, presentation and structural integrity. They perform a couple of strange tests, too, such as dunking a toasted ravioli in beer. Take after take, the brothers crack wise and chomp on toasted ravioli.
Jen Duerfahrd, marketing director for Pasta House, said the T-Rav Taster visit would help generate awareness of the restaurant’s new Ladue location and, of course, for their toasted ravioli.
“I think T-Rav Tasters is great for St. Louis,” she said. “And I have three boys, so I can relate to this.”
Her comment came right after Jacob Waldman stuffed seven toasted ravioli into his mouth.
Although much of the content is played for laughs, the Waldmans are serious about their love of toasted ravioli and spreading the word to people outside St. Louis who aren’t familiar with them.
“Toasted Ravioli Awareness (TRA) is very important to us,” Jeff Waldman said. “People need to know what St. Louis is known for foodwise, other than the way we awkwardly cut our bagels.”
“Also, we’re trying to help local businesses, because we come from that small local business background, it’s in our blood in the Waldman family,” Waldman said. “My grandfather started Laurie’s Shoes back in 1951. So small family businesses are important to us, and supporting local restaurants was an important piece of this for us, too.”
The Waldman brothers’ T-Rav Taster videos can be found on YouTube (@korkedbats).
An impassioned following indeed – but TFD still feels He has much to offer in bringing toasted ravioli closer back to their original Sicilian roots! Yes, St. Louis has a long history of Sicilian immigration, including not just its own home-grown Mafia family, but a large and proud community of Sicilians so numerous they have their own cultural organization! As such, I took it upon myself to restore the ravioli to its original Sicilian roots with a filling that incorporates all the classic flavors of this blessed island!
First off – I recommend using proper sheep milk ricotta cheese, if you can find it locally – it adds a tang that is completely absent from cow milk ricotta that the Sicilians adore, though you can substitute it in a pinch if that is all you have. You can easily buy sheep milk ricotta online from here. Smoked provolone cheese is a MUST-have ingredient for any St. Louis-style pizza or toasted ravioli, IMHO – you can thankfully buy it online from here. Adding classic Sicilian flavors like marjoram, raisins, a hint of anchovy (this is the only brand I endorse) and mint all bring the Sicilian flavors straight to your palate and I hope you see fit to use them, my Citizens!
Lastly, My dipping sauce is indeed using the classic marinara as a base (I personally prefer Rao’s brand), but I’ve upped the sweet and sour component for a Sicilian touch by using some roasted garlic and onion jam, which you can easily buy here on Amazon combined with an extra hit of balsamic vinegar! Adding a bit of demiglace adds much-needed richness to counter-balance the sweet, sour and spicy notes of the sauce – this is my preferred brand.
Citizens, I am very proud of this particular St. Louis recipe, as it is instantly recognizable to any local as toasted ravioli. However, as soon as you bite into it you are transported to Sicily, without losing the essence of what this dish is all about to local Midwesterners. I hope you see fit to try the textural joy and magnificent flavors My unique recipe brings to bear!
Battle on – the GeneralissimoPrint
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