Passed Down the Generations

For some, the holiday season is marked by gifts and cookies. But for me, ravioli-making is what brings in the Christmas cheer.


Halle Marsalis

The freshly cooked homemade ravioli are being ready to freeze for a Christmas day feast.

Halle Marsalis, Staff Writer

For my family, one of the best things about Christmas is cramming in one kitchen while scurrying to make my family’s famous homemade ravioli. I often find myself, regularly, craving this ever so delicate and delicious homemade pasta dish. To be perfectly honest, sometimes all I think about is this ravioli.  

Every year my extended family on my mom’s side gets together the Sunday before Christmas to make our traditional ravioli from scratch. My great aunts knead the dough, make the mouth-watering secret signature sauce, and prepare the delightful ricotta filling, as my mom’s generation of cousins, my sister, and I gently fold the filling inside the nicely thinned out dough. 

This tradition started with my great-great grandmother. She would make homemade ravioli every Christmas by herself for her small family. Her daughter — my great grandmother — eventually learned all of her secrets and passed it down to my grandmother. The tradition was passed down by generations, and it is still something my current family generation looks forward to. 

Rumor has it that the filling of the original recipe was a combination of cheeses with calves’ brains mixed in. However, when she brought the recipe over from Italy to the United States she could not find calves’ brains; therefore, she used ground beef and pork sausage instead.   

As generations passed by, and the family grew, more people began to help make the ravioli. My grandmother and her two sisters were taught how to make the secret red sauce. My family says nobody can make it quite like my great grandmother, but personally I think nobody can make it quite like my grandmother. 

Times like these are when I am thankful for such a big family with such an amazing tradition.

Every year we go over to my Great Aunt Pat’s house, where Christmas music plays faintly in the distance, the cheering from the Steelers game fills the living room, and chatter from the kitchen fills the house. Sandwich toppings line the table with warm Mancini’s bread, a few homemade boxes of cookies, and a salad. 

After standing in the kitchen for hours, my mouth waters for a cold Mancini’s sandwich. After the hard work, the sandwiches taste almost as good as the ravioli. 

As a kid, I remember learning how to fold the delicate dough over the filling — making sure there were no air bubbles — and thinking how I could not wait to pass this tradition down. About fifteen of us cram in the kitchen, all contributing to pasta making in some way. Times like these are when I am thankful for such a big family with such an amazing tradition.

This year, I was diagnosed with celiac disease, meaning I am allergic to gluten. When I realized I could not eat ravioli this Christmas, I began to cry and I debated if my health or the ravioli were more important.

Honestly, I still do not know if I should just suck it up and eat the ravioli. However, I decided it is probably better that I just have gluten free pasta — but, of course, with the signature sauce and ricotta filling. 

However, just because I cannot eat them, it does not mean I will not help with the making of them. This is a tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation, and I will not let my celiac disease stop me from making them.  

I am so thankful for this holiday tradition because it makes the holiday season feel more magical. I often think about the generation below me and imagine how fun it is going to be to carry this tradition on. 

For me, ravioli-making is the essence of the Christmas spirit. It is something that makes the holidays feel special, and I will always hold a place in my heart for my family and this tradition.