Convenience products often mean sacrificing quality for timesavings. But that's not true with the refrigerated and frozen tortellini and ravioli available in supermarkets. These Italian pastas are a tasty development in the world of fast food.
You can buy them with a variety of fillings -- beef and garlic, chicken and rosemary, mushroom, cheese and basil -- to name a few. They cost about $3.40 for a 9-ounce package (that's quite a bit more than you pay for dried pasta -- you can get a pound for about 50 cents -- but they are filled, fresh and quite a bit better). And they cook quickly: the refrigerated ones take just 7 minutes.
You can keep them on hand to use in simple weekday meals or dress them up for entertaining. And we discovered they can be used in every course from soup to dessert and in ethnic dishes from Italian (of course) to Asian -- they are reminiscent of dumplings.
Here, we offer some quick serving ideas as well as recipes for using these products during October, which is National Pasta Month. Once you experiment with these pastas, you'll be able to come up with your own dishes and add them to your favorite recipes to use year-round.
* Deep-fry the ravioli or tortellini in 350-degree oil until golden for a takeoff on that St. Louis favorite: toasted ravioli. You can fry them straight from the refrigerator or boil them first, pat them dry and then fry them. Serve with marinara sauce for dipping.
* Deep-fry the ravioli or tortellini like wontons and serve with Chinese mustard, duck sauce or sweet sour sauce.
* Serve boiled tortellini or ravioli with a dipping sauce (let them cool a few minutes before serving). A mixture of soy sauce and scallions with a touch of Oriental sesame oil will make you think you are eating steamed dumplings. A touch of curry powder in mayonnaise will give a little different flavor -- try this with the mushroom-filled tortellini in particular. Salsa mixes well with the light vegetarian or chicken-and-vegetable filled ones. Supply toothpicks for eating and dipping.
* Use them to make canned soups even more hearty. Bring your favorite brand of quality canned soup to a boil, add tortellini or ravioli of your choice and boil until the pasta is al dente. If the soup seems a little thick, add some canned broth. Serve as a hearty main course with crusty bread. We particularly like minestrone and Italian vegetable soups with the added tortellini or ravioli. A sprinkling of Parmesan cheese is a good last-minute addition.
* Or, make your own soup fast. Choose a selection of diced and shredded fresh vegetables (onions, green peppers, carrots, cabbage, celery, tomatoes). Saute these in a little olive oil until tender. Add canned broth (chicken, beef, vegetable) and gently boil about 15 minutes. Then add the tortellini or ravioli of choice. Cook about 7 minutes or until pasta is al dente. If soup seems too thick or too dry to cook pasta, add a little more canned broth.
* Make your own "wonton soup" by cooking chopped scallions in a little olive oil with some minced ginger root and garlic. Add canned chicken broth, bring to a gentle boil and cook about 15 minutes, and add your choice of pasta -- the chicken and vegetable, or mushroom tortellini, or beef and garlic ravioli work well. Boil about 5 minutes. Then add some chopped fresh spinach and a -- of Oriental sesame oil; cook about 3 minutes or until pasta is tender.
To give this soup a Thai accent, add a little crushed fresh lemongrass while boiling the broth.
* Toss your favorite creamy or vinaigrette salad dressing with a selection of chopped vegetables, and cooked and cooled ravioli or tortellini. For example: dice red, green and yellow bell peppers, add some chopped cucumber and tomato. Toss in cooked and cooled chicken and vegetable cheese ravioli or cheese and basil tortellini; add a creamy dressing such as ranch, creamy Parmesan or peppercorn ranch. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
* Combine canned beans that you've rinsed and drained with cooked and cooled ravioli or tortellini of choice. Add a sprightly vinaigrette.
* Another favorite salad is black beans mixed with diced red bell peppers, chopped cilantro, sliced scallions and a light vinaigrette. A sprinkling of salt and pepper will bring out the taste of the pasta.
* Add cooked and cooled ravioli or tortellini to Caesar, chef or spinach salads. Here, the four cheese-, mushroom-, and garden vegetable-filled pastas work best.
* Use the Cheese and Walnut Ravioli with crumbled Gorgonzola and walnuts atop mixed baby greens. Add a few slices of fresh pear and dress with a balsamic vinaigrette. This is perfect for a party luncheon when served with fancy rolls or croissants.
* Use the ravioli or tortellini instead of penne or shells with your favorite pasta sauce.
* Use the tortellini or ravioli instead of the meat and noodles in your lasagna recipe. No need to cook them before you bake the casserole.