Photo Credit: Elizabeth Newman
Culinary guru, Lish Steiling, recounts one of the most memorable food moments of her career, starring these fluffy pillows of pasta.
Have you ever had a happy food memory that you have forgotten, only to remember it again years later when you re-taste that food for what seems like the very first time? It’s a bit like “Ratatouille,” when the restaurant critic tastes his special dish, and with that first bite, is transported back to the love and care of his dear mother. That exact thing happened to me a while back – while it did not take me back to my childhood, it did take me back to a fabulous memory of Ravioli Alla Caprese in Positano.
It was early 2018, and we were gearing up to start the season of Giada in Italy that took place in Capri. As we always did, Giada and I were discussing the ideas for the recipes to make on the series.
Aunt Raffy insisted that we make Ravioli alla Caprese, a classic dish of Capri. What makes this dish unique is the pasta: the dough consists of just flour and water, with no egg and no semolina. This makes for a pasta that’s tender and light, almost like a pillowy little dumpling as opposed to a chewier bite. It’s the way the region has made it for generations. The delicious filling is a blend of cheeses, including ricotta and cacciota: a creamy, semi-soft cheese that hails from central Italy. These light and airy ravioli are served on a bed of sweet pomodoro sauce, and usually decorated with fresh leaves of basil.
Giada and I loved the suggestion – this regional specialty would be just right for our season in Capri. However, to my immediate recollection, I had never actually tasted this pasta dish. So, I did as I do, and dove into the research, hoping I could do my best to emulate this specialty without having ever tried it.
After testing multiple versions of Torta Caprese, Fritto Misto and more, the time came to develop the Ravioli Alla Caprese with Giada. My apartment in Brooklyn turned into a miniature pasta factory, and when I tasted that first version of the ravioli, something inside of me was triggered. I immediately knew that I had tasted those little clouds of cheesy goodness before, but I could not put a finger on where or when.
Then it hit me. I ran to my phone to scroll through photos of past Italian travels, and dug through drawers to find my notebooks I often travel with to take food notes of what I eat. Lo and behold, there they were – Ravioli Alla Caprese. What my mind couldn’t originally remember, my tastebuds reminded me: I had definitely eaten this wonderful, tender, cheese-stuffed ravioli before.
See, years prior while preparing for the Positano show, a local friend had taken us to a simple, casual restaurant on a cliff – as most of them are on the Amalfi coast – while we were searching for locations to shoot the show. At this particular spot, my friend insisted that I had to get this dish – the place was known for it. When it arrived at the table, there were 10 puffy pillows in the shape of mezzaluna (half moons), blanketed in butter and piled in the center of a silky tomato sauce. They were mind blowing. Like, the kind of first bite that you take and can’t help but close your eyes, lean back and exhale. Yeah, that kind of good.
Now, given the different shape, I’m sure it was that family’s take on the dish – but the flavor and texture of those little guys were exactly what our recipe for Ravioli alla Caprese turned out to be: creamy bites of pillowy, cheesy delight, disguised as ravioli. They’re the star of this love story, and with good reason.
So, if you haven’t made the recipe yet, I highly suggest you give it a try. And if you do, don’t forget to take that moment to sit back, exhale and smile at that first bite. Then close your eyes and breath in the crisp ocean air.