• deborahreinhardt

Easy Baked Ravioli

When you need dinner in a flash, this satisfying pasta bake is ready in just under an hour, from freezer to table.


Baked ravioli is prepped in 10 minutes and ready to place in the oven. (iStock photo)

Happy National Ravioli Day! Yes, it’s a thing. Every year on March 20, foodies celebrate this simple Italian dumpling. Made with thin pasta dough and stuffed with just about anything—although cheese and finely ground meat are most popular—ravioli is ridiculously versatile and completely delicious. It’s usually boiled, but St. Louisans love their “toasted” (deep-fried) ravioli, too. I love a pan of baked ravioli for an easy weeknight family dinner.


Did you know ravioli’s origins go as far back as the 14th century? I had no idea! It’s credited to a merchant from the Tuscan province of Prato, Francesco di Marco Datini, and these early ravioli were stuffed with chopped greens and cheese, simmered in broth. Of course, ravioli has many culinary sisters; savory little pillows are found in Jewish, Chinese, and Indian cuisines.


In America, ravioli was mass produced in the 1930s under the Chef Boyardee brand of canned pastas. And yes, there was a real chef Hector Boiardi, an Italian immigrant who left his position as head chef at the Plaza Hotel in New York City to open his own restaurant in Ohio. Customers frequently asked Chef Boiardi for his spaghetti sauce, which he initially sold in milk bottles. In 1928, he opened a factory in Pennsylvania, grew his own tomatoes and mushroom for his ready-to-heat spaghetti kits, and changed the name for his new brand to Boy-ar-dee because Americans couldn’t pronounce it without help.


As a kid, all I knew was Chef Boyardee ravioli was a treat for lunch, and I loved it. Honestly, when I have a bad cold, I want canned pasta instead of chicken soup.


Happily, St. Louis has its own little ravioli factory in the Italian neighborhood known as The Hill. Mama Toscano’s started as a local grocery, Toscano’s Market, and during this time, the family decided to sell the family’s ravioli in the store, so Nana Kate was upstairs in her kitchen churning out the handmade pasta. Customers’ demand for the product grew to the point where the ravioli operation was moved to a larger space downstairs and help was hired to assist Nana. Today, ravioli is the main event, although there is a deli counter inside the building.


My mom always purchased ravioli from Mama Toscano’s, so naturally, that’s where I go. These little meaty or cheesy pillows are so tender and quick to prepare. I never make a trip to The Hill without swinging by.


This recipe for Baked Ravioli is so easy because it uses frozen pasta. Maybe 10 minutes to prep and about an hour to bake, it’s the perfect intersection of frozen food month and National Ravioli Day.


Easy Baked Ravioli

(Remember, freshly grated cheese is always the best choice.)


Ingredients

4 cups of homemade pasta sauce or 1 jar (about 25 ounces) of your favorite brand

1 package (about 27 ounces) of frozen cheese or meat ravioli (St. Louis cooks, that’s two 1-pound packages from Mama Toscano’s for a very full casserole)

2 cups shredded mozzarella

2 tablespoons grated cheese


Directions

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a 9-inch-by-13-inch casserole with non-stick cooking spray.

2. Spread about 3/4 of the pasta sauce in the baking dish. Place half the ravioli over sauce. Top with half of the remaining sauce and 1 cup of mozzarella. Repeat the layer once, starting again with frozen ravioli. Sprinkle top of Parmesan cheese.

3. Cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes. Remove foil and bake another 15 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

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