If you have been following the process of my kitchen remodel, you know we went through quite an ordeal with the stove. After ordering it far in advance and waiting months, it mysteriously never materialized. We ended up canceling the original order and buying a floor model from another vendor. That said, it finally arrived on July 17th, my mother’s birthday. We took it as a sign she was looking down at us and I needed to welcome you all to “Annabelle’s Kitchen.” I have officially christened it in honor of my mother, Annabelle Clawson Raffetto. This room was the heartbeat of our daily lives growing up and she reigned as the queen. It was because of the generosity of my parents that I was able to take on this project so I thought it was only fitting that it bear her name. She spread the love daily with her delicious meals and became the holiday host for our immediate and large extended family. This involved a massive amount of cooking, eating, laughter and general good cheer. Wine was always involved, salad was a staple, the presence of crusty bread a must and of course, pasta (sometimes it was polenta, but mostly pasta), always dressed in a delicious sauce. Other dishes were presented as well as dessert but the nature of those depended on the season and whim of the cook.
I held a small dinner party in honor of the christening and served one of my mother’s best creations, lasagna. The story behind my mother’s signature dish began with my paternal grandmother, Jenny Raffetto (Mamaw), who had amazing culinary skills and took my mother as a young bride under her wing at the stove. A good student, the result was amazing as her abilities as an Italian cook could rival the likes of famed, Lidia Bastanianich. The much-anticipated holiday and special occasion dish of my early years was Mamaw’s ravioli. The filling was a recipe handed down through the generations. The team effort of the ravioli making was taken on by my mom and grandmother with the assistance of me and my sisters. We would make hundreds of these little pillows covering every available surface of our home while the aroma of tomato sauce wafted throughout. My mouth still waters at the thought of these little pockets filled with meat, spinach and cheese and made with loving hands.
But as years went by and we all aged the tedious task of making them became too much for my grandmother and somewhat burdensome for Mom. It was then that she conceived the idea of converting the recipe into a lasagna. One big dish, feeding many, the same great flavor profile with less fuss. That was the ticket! It soon became her signature and the much appreciated dish of family gatherings and holidays. It seemed only fitting that this would be the dish of our first official dinner party, cooked in the new kitchen and served to friends.
Here was the menu:
Antipasto of mixed olives and almonds
First course-Garlic Soup w/ garlic croutons (I will be sharing this recipe at a later date)
Third course-Annabelle’s lasagna
Fourth course-Salted caramel sundaes with chocolate lace cookies
The filling recipe goes down like this:
Passed to us by Jenny Bonini Raffetto, our beloved Mamaw
10 oz. spinach ( I use frozen for this)
1 lb. ground round or chuck (I added an additional 1/2 lb. Hot Italian sausage as well)
6 cloves fresh garlic, crushed (or to taste)
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
4 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
1 15 oz. carton of ricotta cheese
1 c Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino Romano cheese (½ c each)
2 t dried basil or 2-3 T fresh (if available)
1-2 eggs, lightly beaten
Wilt spinach in small amount of water. Drain, cool and chop. If using frozen, thaw and squeeze out all excess liquid.
Brown meat (if necessary use a small amount of olive oil), season with salt and pepper. Add garlic and cook for 2 minutes.
Mix hot meat with cream cheese and blend thoroughly. Add ricotta, 1/2 of the Parmigiano and Romano cheeses, reserve remaining for topping. Mix thoroughly with spinach and dried and/or fresh herbs (or a combination of both).
Taste for seasonings and adjust if necessary.
Add egg and mix well. If too dry, add additional egg. Mixture should be wet but not sloppy. It should hold together enough to be spooned into ravioli dough.
Refrigerate to cool slightly for easier handling. Can be made a day ahead.
Use as filling in your favorite ravioli dough or as a filling for lasagna when time is short.
Note: For the lasagna, I preheated oven to 375 degrees. Soaked the noodles in hottest tap water for 20 minutes to soften. I used the regular noodles not precooked. Grate or slice a large ball of fresh mozzarella, set aside. I buttered a large baking dish and began layers starting and ending with the sauce (I used about 1 1/2 quarts tomato sauce, homemade). So, sauce, noodles, generous amount of filling, mozzarella, sprinkling of parm/romano mixture, noodles, sauce, more filling, mozzarella, more parm/romano, noodles, sauce and top with remaining cheeses. Cover with foil, bake for 30-45 minutes, covered, uncover for remaining 15 minutes or until it is bubbly and browned on top. Allow to sit 15- 20 minutes before serving.
So thank you Mom and Dad for my beautiful new space and for teaching us to spread the love, one dish at a time. Hope you will spread the love in your house by sharing my family’s recipe. From my home to yours, Jeanne