There was another man in Lola’s life before I came along. I know, I know. Your image of Lola as the pure maiden sitting atop her tower looking out over the rolling landscape dreaming of her Prince Charming to come has probably been shattered. But sometimes that’s how life works. The heart wants what it wants when it wants it. I have to say this man was a formidable foe. He had three things that I now know Lola is a sucker for: he was a good cook, he looked good in a uniform and he had a special twinkle in his eye. That man was Chef Boyardee.
I have always known Lola to be a woman of great taste and a distinguished palate. She was, and is, a good food enthusiast. She’s not a snob about it. She actually gets behind any good food as long as it tastes great. She enjoys a perfectly prepared Italian sausage outside of Fenway Park as much as she enjoys an almond encrusted grouper prepared oceanside at a resort in Aruba. To her, good food is good food and she savors every morsel of it. That’s one of the reasons why she’s a fun dinner date. She’s adventurous and when she finds a treasure, she’s appreciative. It’s also why she’s fun to have alongside me on this quest. She is my litmus test for quality. I tend to just scarf down whatever is in front of me while Lola will savor and reflect. When we find something special, she’ll let me know. She is not just a connoisseur of good food, she is a champion and an authentic fan. This is what confuses me about her love of Chef Boyardee.
I could have the story of her Chef Boyardee love a bit mixed up, but to my knowledge it comes from growing up in a house that didn’t serve such things. Lola’s mom was a great cook and if they were having pasta, her mom would make her own sauce alongside some meatballs and spaghetti. But they also tended to have more healthier options in their house. Processed foods like Chef Boyardee were not available to her, although she would be aware of them after seeing them on television and was probably pretty curious. On occasion, they would show up at friends’ houses and Lola could try them there. That’s where she likely got her first tastes. Later, when she moved out and was living in New Hampshire (before we officially met), she did much of her grocery shopping at the Irving gas station across the street from her apartment. That’s just what nineteen year olds do. That’s where she would pick up her supplies like milk, Pop Tarts and of course Chef Boyardee. You can’t blame her. It’s cheap, easy to make and a whole meal in a can. That’s where her love for the Chef blossomed. That lifestyle didn’t last too long, but it made an impression on her. Even now, on very rare occasion, she gets a hankering for some Chef Boyardee. I keep an emergency can in stock for those times when the craving comes. It’s a quick fix and an easy smile for her.
That’s who I thought of today when I realized it was National Ravioli Day. Chef Boyardee. Beef Ravioli in Tomato and Meat Sauce is Lola’s choice for Chef Boyardee products. Don’t get fancy on her. Don’t go for the ones with extra beef or other flavors. Just the original. I was actually going to serve this to her today but when I checked our cabinet, the emergency can was gone. She must have broken down one afternoon and made herself a bowl. I’m sure she actually enjoys it best that way. When she’s craving it. When it’s on her mind. I’m sure it was exactly what she wanted when she ate it, so trying to recreate that today on my agenda would almost be a robbery of her Chef Boyardee joy. In the end, it was probably best that I didn’t get involved with her Chef craving. That was a life of Lola I didn’t know and maybe it’s best if she keeps that moment to herself.
However, I still had to celebrate raviolis. A few weeks back, I had bought some frozen pasta (tortellinis) from Clements Market from a place in Providence that specializes in pastas. It’s a place on Federal Hill called Venda Ravioli. It’s part of a whole complex there that houses a few restaurants, a cafe and a grocery store where they make the pasta fresh daily. They also package it for local sellers too. It’s good stuff. When I knew I was going to have ravioli today, I walked right past the Chef Boyardee aisle and headed right to the freezer section where the frozen pasta is kept. They had a bunch of different varieties. That’s one of the joys of ravioli – you can stuff it with whatever you like. I ended up going with some basil ravioli because I know that’s one of Lola’s favorite tastes.
The word “ravioli” comes from the Italian word riavvolgere, which means “to wrap.” That makes sense because when you make ravioli, you are literally wrapping your pasta dough around the filling. The history of ravioli isn’t exactly clear but the first mention of them dates back to the 14th century, although they were likely around before that. Traditionally they were served in broth so the pasta would soak up the flavor. Today however, tomato sauces or cream sauces are just as common when served. For ours, I opted for some of Clement’s homemade vodka sauce which is a great little product you can find mixed in with all the tomato sauce products. Vodka sauce is a tomato sauce that is made with vodka (the alcohol burns out while cooking) and also cream giving the sauce a distinctive pink hue. Clements’ sauce is tasty and there is an element of heat to it that gives it a great kick. You can smell it if you take a whiff of the sauce while it’s cooking, but it’s not overwhelming in the dish. I cooked the pasta which you drop while they are still frozen into boiling water and cook for about 12 minutes. On the side I heated up the sauce. When I plated everything, I put a ladle of sauce on the bottom of the plate and then placed the ravioli atop it. I then sprinkled on the parmesan cheese.
The folks at Venda Ravioli really know what they are doing. Even though it was frozen, the pasta tastes nice and fresh. The filling of basil along with cheese felt fresh too and as if it was made with love. I cooked it right or at least I didn’t overcook it because the pasta wasn’t soggy or mushy. It held up well with the sauce too which gave it that tomato taste with a little kick. The sauce mixed well with the filling too. It’s the second time I have purchased their products and I have not been disappointed. A success. Lola even enjoyed it too. I also made her some garlic bread to go with it because if you want to win Lola’s heart, make her anything with garlic. All I did was take half a ciabatta roll and top it with a mixture of fresh chopped garlic that I cooked in some butter (don’t be stingy with the garlic). After that, I sprinkled on the parmesan and heated it underneath the broiler. Every time I make garlic bread, Lola raves about it, but again, I’m just pandering to her blind love of garlic.
This was a great dinner and the perfect way to celebrate Ravioli Day. I don’t think that Lola was at all disappointed that Chef Boyardee did not show up. That could have been awkward – the three of us sitting there together. Maybe it was best we just avoided the whole situation. No, I think I liked this celebration better. It was delicious food that Lola and I shared. It was made with love. It was more our kind of celebration. Lola’s past may include the joy of canned ravioli and I’ll never begrudge her that delight. I know that it still holds memories of good times for her. But our story is about this dinner and this enjoyment. It seems that the true path to happy celebration is to honor the past and be happy with the path that got you to where you are now. Plus, serve it with garlic bread.
Next Up: National French Bread Day