When people say “Italian food”, they often conjure up an image in their mind that is actually something quite different from what Italians tend to eat. The main offender is pasta with the wrong ingredients. Spaghetti and meatballs is a great American (Italian) classic, as is chicken with pasta.
Italians like to scoff at these dishes, taking the rip out of all the ignorant philistines who would come up with these ridiculous recipes, and then have the nerve to claim they were Italian, too. Around here, there’s nothing more risible than the idea of combining chicken with pasta, as if chicken was somehow a condiment. Imagine therefore my astonishment when I learned about ravioli incaciati, a type of ravioli that are stuffed with, surprise surprise, chicken.
I heard about ravioli incaciati from a student of mine who had them when he was in Ascoli Piceno, a town in the South-East of Italy, and apparently the only place where they’re commonly made. These ravioli are eaten only in the Carnival period, and maybe it’s for that reason that they’re a little bit unusual: the stuffing includes chicken, pork, cheese, and then the really weird stuff starts: cinnamon, sugar, even sultanas according to some recipes. I know it sounds insane, but the ones I made actually turned out so nice that Blenderman described them as ‘divine’, so go figure. Carnival’s over now, so I’m a bit late with this recipe, but what do we care, if we can suddenly combine chicken with pasta, surely we can have these ravioli outwith their designated period.
Seeing that it’s such a specific dish – only made in one town during a certain period of the year – I found it kind of difficult to find a reliable recipe for them. A search on the internet gave me only a handful of recipes, mostly from privates, each with slightly different ingredients. Seems that this, like many other dishes, is one of those every-family-has-their-own-version type of dishes. I decided to go for a combination of all of the ones I found, picking and choosing the ingredients I liked best, and admittedly, those I found easiest to come by.
As for the name, my student told me ‘incaciato’ is a word that is related to caciocavallo, a type of cheese, and that essentially means ‘served with caciocavallo’. None of the recipes I found involved any caciocavallo, but at this point I was too committed to the cause to back out, having bought a piece at the market, so we’re gonna use it anyway. It’s really good, I promise.
As for the ravioli themselves, turned out that last time I posted ravioli made with my kick-ass pasta machine, people felt I was cheating a little bit. You know, dirty cheater and your pasta machine – which, just to clarify, is totally hand-powered, but never mind. I made these ones by hand so that you could see how it works. If you’re not making too many, I’d actually argue that this is a little bit easier, and you can choose whether you want to make ravioli, or something else like these half-moon-shaped things up here.
So, for a bunch of ravioli, you’ll need to make some fresh pasta:
- 500 gr flour
- 5 eggs
- a pinch of salt
- a little bit of lukewarm water, if you need it
And now the most important part! The filling:
- one small chicken
- 2 pork cutlets
- 4 stalks of celery
- 1 big onion
- enough water
- 1 tsp (more or less) of cinnamon
- half a tsp of nutmeg
- some plain, white bread – about two or three slices
- 2 egg yolks
- about 200gr of caciocavallo
This recipe comes with a shittonne of notes!
Note on the quantities: These quantities will make you enough pasta for the whole family, and to be quite honest with you, I only made half as much as this, then used the left-over ingredients (chicken, pork, and stock) for other projects.
Pasta technicalities: if you have a pasta machine, thickness 7 seemed about right for these. If you have a rolling pin: good luck, brave soldier.
Cheese detail: if you find it hard to find caciocavallo around where you stay, but you’re absolutely determined to make these ravioli, see if you can get another hard, seasoned, but not too wild cheese. Caciocavallo is pretty salty, but not very strong in flavour, by which I mean it’s not very sharp or cheesy or pungent. A mature cheddar might make a decent substitute.
So here’s the recipe!
Make the pasta as described here. When you’re ready to start the filling process, roll it out to a size where you can easily cut ravioli out of them without wasting too much pasta. Use a ruler if you have to. Until that time, leave it to rest.
When you’ve made your pasta dough, seeing that it needs to rest for about an hour or so, start preparing your filling.
The meat needs to be boiled. This means that you can use this fantastic opportunity to make chicken stock: you’ll only need a couple of espressocupfuls of stock for the ravioli, so you can make soup out of the rest, make risotto alla milanese, or freeze it until you need it. The pork stock you can use the next time you’re making stew or pea soup!
So: take two pots and fill them with water. To each pot, add a couple of carrots (peeled and quartered), two stalks of celery (washed and cut in large chunks) and half an onion (peeled). Then add the pork cutlets to one, and the chicken to the other. Add a bit of salt, bring to a boil, and leave to simmer for at least an hour. The chicken will need more time than the pork, but anyway, neither will be ruined by longer cooking times. Au contraire. Don’t be afraid to leave them to simmer for a couple of hours. The pork one might get a bit greasy – leave it to cool then scoop off some of the fat that will have congealed on the surface if it seems a bit much.
As I said above, the quantities are a bit exaggerated, but who buys half a chicken, right? You’ve probably got a whole one swimming around in your stock and that’s OK – you can use all of it now, or only half if you think it’s gonna be too much. Anyway, remember that if you’re only using half a chicken you’ll have to halve all the other ingredients, too. I’m gonna assume you’re using the whole thing.
So grab your chicken from the stock and start plucking it – remove all the meat you possibly can and chuck it in a food processor. Include the skin, what do you care, it’s going to get puréed anyway. Do the same thing with your cutlets – remove them from the liquid and harvest as much meat as possible and add it to the food processor. Add an espressocupful of stock, and start grinding. It has to be fine enough for you to be able to stuff pasta with it.
Meanwhile, grab a large bowl and put in a couple of slices of white bread that you’ve cut up into smaller bits. Add an espressocupful of stock, and soak the bread. Once the meat’s more or less homogenised, put it in with the bread, then add cinnamon, nutmeg, egg yolks and caciocavallo. Mix it all up with a fork, taste it, add anything you think is necessary (but be aware that the cinnamon flavour will get a lot stronger when you boil the pasta!).
Now you’re ready to start filling your pasta. Grab a sheet, decide how many ravioli you can get out of it, then put a corresponding number of balls of filling on the sheet. Now cover it with another sheet (or fold this one back on itself as I did, see picture). Now you’ll have to make sure that all the ravioli are closed properly, so that they don’t open while boiling. Press down hard on the pasta with your fingers or something like the back of a wooden spoon, trying not to trap air inside. Once you’ve got a sheet of tightly packed ravioli, use your pasta-cutting rolly-wheely (you know, the thingy) and cut out squares, or, if you prefer, half-moons!
Boil the pasta for about 5-6 minutes, then serve them with more caciocavallo and a little bit of mild olive oil.