TRAVERSE CITY — When reader Margianne Alfonso invited me to a ravioli party she was hosting, it pained me to be otherwise occupied that Saturday.
Still, she met up with me a week or so later to give me a sampling of the day's bounty. When I got home and discovered baggie after baggie of delectable the little frozen pouches filled with chicken, cheese, beef and sausage soaked in wine, squash, sweet potato and more, I was thrilled.
It was the next best thing to being there.
Alfonso, one of her sisters, a sister-in-law, several nieces and friends of the family (or "Alfonsos for the day," as she called them) got together and churned out about 850 ravioli on that Saturday. Of Italian descent, Alfonso said the idea for the ravioli-making party grew out of a conversation at the holidays.
"At Thanksgiving time, we were talking and the girls mentioned they wanted to make honey cookies — something our grandfather used to make every year at Christmas," Alfonso said. "So we had a honey-cookie-making party.
"It was a great time. In Italian families, you laugh and you eat, and you talk and you eat some more."
Her nieces had also expressed an interest in learning to make ravioli and cannoli — the Italian dessert consisting of a pastry tube filled with cream. And so they took on ravioli next.
"We had a system going — one person mixing it, another rolling it, then it went on the pasta machine, and then the girls were filling it and you crimp the edges and we laid them out on sheet trays so they could freeze individually," said Alfonso.
To expedite the process, they came with fillings already made. Alfonso said it was fun for her nieces to research recipes and come up with their favorites.
"We made a beef and Italian sausage — that's the traditional one I do," Alfonso said. "Then you cook the meat in wine.
"We also did chicken sausage with spinach. Chicken marsala, which is delicious. Spinach. Mushroom. Butternut squash and goat cheese. Sweet potato. One of my nieces made shrimp.
"And when we were done, we cooked up a couple." Alfonso typically finishes ravioli with her homemade spaghetti sauce.
Alfonso's 15-year-old niece, Megan Alfonso, of Traverse City, said the beef was her favorite — that and being with family.
"It was kind of a way to get to see my family and then kind of get real good homemade food," she said of the gathering.
A partner in her family's business, Alfie Embroidery, Margianne Alfonso is no slouch in the kitchen.
These days, she said she gets her "feeding mass crowds fix" when she cooks a meal for the homeless at Peninsula Bible Church a couple of Saturdays a month.
"I love to cook — absolutely love it," she said.
As for the rest of the family, a cannoli-making party using Alfonso's own recipe is up next.
"The fact that the nieces said they want to learn how to make these things was so important to me because that's what family is all about," Alfonso said. "You have these traditions. You share these things.
"It was a time for all of us girls to be together and sharing and laughing — sharing life."
Margianne Alfonso's Spaghetti Sauce
Sweet Italian sausage
Wine (not burgundy)
More chopped garlic
Brown ground beef and sausage with onions and mushrooms in garlic. Drain grease, put mixture back into the pot and add wine. Let the alcohol evaporate and soak up, then start adding tomatoes. Let them cook for six seven hours so they get to the right consistency and a lot of the water evaporates off, then add tomato paste to thicken, along with a lot of chopped garlic, oregano and basil.
4 c. flour
3½ T. olive oil
½ c. water
Place flour in bowl. Make a well in the center and add eggs, oil and water. Slowly incorporate the flour until it gets thicker and thicker and gently knead dough on lightly floured surface.
Divide dough into sections and use rolling pin to smooth into rectangles that will then be sent through a pasta machine at desired thickness. It usually takes a couple of passes at smaller and smaller settings. You want to end up with a section of dough that is four to six inches wide.
Lay out a sheet of dough and put a tablespoon of filling towards the edge, repeating every two inches or so. Brush one long edge with egg white, then fold the long row of dough over to cover. Lightly press your fingers between the mounds. Use a ravioli cutter to cut the other 3 edges. Using tines of a fork, press and seal the edges
If freezing, place on wax paper on cookie sheet and freeze, then transfer to freezer bags before storing in freezer.
Beef and Sausage Filling
1 lb. ground beef
1 lb. sweet Italian sausage
¾ to 1 c. chopped onions
Couple cloves garlic, chopped
½ c. wine
1 c. grated Parmesan
Brown meat with onions and garlic. Drain off grease and return to skillet with a little wine. Let that cool down. Once it's cooled, add egg and cheese.
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