Craft of making ravioli passed on at St. Leo's

Novices and masters gathered to make ravioli at St. Leo's Roman Catholic Church on Saturday. After cranking out 3,600 ravioli last weekend, they planned to finish this weekend with about 12,000 of the plump pouches of seasoned ricotta. Next Saturday, they will roll meatballs out of 400 pounds of beef and pork. And next Sunday, they'll serve it all up in a grand Italian dinner.

Stephanie Bronner appeared mesmerized by Mary Jean DeLauney's hands, which folded one pouch of ricotta after another even as their owner's mouth carried on a lively conversation with three neighbors.

Bronner moved to Baltimore in August to start graduate school at Loyola University, and her search for community took her to St. Leo's Roman Catholic Church in Little Italy. Becoming an active member of St. Leo's means learning how to make ravioli. And on Saturday morning, no one modeled the craft better than DeLauney.

"I should put this on my resume," Bronner said. "I studied with the pros of ravioli."

"When I was growing up here, you didn't buy pasta, you made pasta," said DeLauney, who lives in Lauraville but learned to make ravioli at her grandparents' home in Little Italy. "If you bought pasta, you had to go to confession."

The novice and the master were among 50 volunteers preparing the pasta at St. Leo's on Saturday. After cranking out 3,600 ravioli last weekend, they planned to finish this weekend with about 12,000 of the plump pouches of seasoned ricotta. Next Saturday, they will roll meatballs out of 400 pounds of beef and pork. And next Sunday, they'll serve it all up in a grand Italian dinner.

The dinners, one in March and one in November, are the church's most important fundraisers, bringing in about $10,000 each.

Beyond the payoff for St. Leo's, the ravioli-making sessions reunite old neighbors, who swap stories about growing up in Little Italy as they pass along a craft learned from their mothers and grandmothers.

DeLauney placed a long, thin strip of dough in front of her, dusted it with flour and used a tube to squeeze eight blobs of filling in a neat row from one edge to the other. She left enough dough free so she could fold it over the eight blobs. She then used her hands to carve divisions between the eight pouches and separated them with a round, serrated blade.

Finally, she handed the ravioli to 82-year-old George Baccala, who trimmed excess dough from the edges and used a fork with the tines bent down (lest they puncture the delicate pouches) to press small grooves along three sides of each.

"George is the best partner, because he's a retired bricklayer," said DeLauney. "He trims and shapes them beautifully. He makes me look good."

When DeLauney was asked how long she has made ravioli, Baccala cut in: "Since the days of Genghis Khan."

The pair cranked out a tray of 60 ravioli every 10 or 15 minutes.

"You're the most impatient man," DeLauney said to Baccala. "I'm going to get two rolls of dough this time just so I can keep up with you."

DeLauney was a benevolent instructor, but fellow veteran Mary Sergi got a touch more strict in assessing Bob McKenzie's nascent ravioli.

"I already caught him," she said. "He didn't crimp the edges."

McKenzie, a Joppatowne resident who had made pasta at home but never attempted the stuffed variety, laughed sheepishly.

Sergi next told him to trim more dough.

"When I eat ravioli, I don't want to eat dough," she said. "I want to taste that cheese."

After a moment, she added, "We've only been doing this for 100 years. Don't feel bad."

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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