After a hectic day, few things are as comforting as a big bowl of pasta, preferably some ravioli. Whether. they're filled with meat, cheese, pumpkin or lobster, these delicious little pasta bites are like tiny pillows for the soul. But who has time to make homemade ravioli? Is there a convenient-but-delicious way to take store-bought ravioli and turn it into a drool-worthy dinner?
If you're a little less like Giada De Laurentiis and lean more toward Sandra Lee's Semi-Homemade Cooking style, you may be curious how to spruce up store-bought ravioli. Luckily, turning pre-made ravioli into a homestyle dinner isn't hard as you think. Want to bring the tastes of Italy directly to your home? Yahoo Life asked chefs how to use store-bought ravioli — combined with a little love in the form of simple homemade sauces — to instantly turn your next kitchen pursuit into a five-star meal.
Lifestyle expert Joey Skladany wrote the book, quite literally, on bringing simplicity to the kitchen without sacrificing any of the flavor. As author of Basic Bitchen: 100+ Everyday Recipes — from Nacho Average Nachos to Gossip-Worthy Sunday Pancakes — for the Basic Bitch in Your Life, the chef delivers straightforward and easy-to-follow recipes and tips for the home cook, many of which he learned from his own Italian family.
"My great grandma Vincenza Albanese immigrated to the U.S. from Sicily when she was 17 years old," Skladany shares. "She brought with her an abundance of authentic Italian recipes that have been passed down for generations. Sunday dinner was a tradition during my mom's childhood and 'the gravy' (a traditional Italian-American recipe that combines tomato sauce with various cuts of meat) was the heart of these meals."
Still, Skladany isn't one to shy away from store-bought ravioli if it means saving time at home. "Despite my Italian upbringing, I'm actually quite easy to please and have found Giovanni Rana to be the most consistently delicious store-bought ravioli."
How do you know you've got your hands on good store-bought ravioli?
"Go straight to the nutrition label and make sure those ingredients are pure and not chock-full of hard-to-pronounce preservatives," says Skladany. "Since I'll likely be doctoring [my ravioli] up with some high-quality additions like extra virgin olive oil, fresh herbs, homemade sauce, fried pancetta (Italian bacon) or guanciale (an Italian cured meat made from pork jowl,) parmigiano reggiano or shaved truffles, it needs to already taste delicious on its own."
"Italian is one of my favorite cuisines and has incredible emotional power, Mary Ann Kaylor-Griffiths, author of I'm Not Drunk, I'm Cooking, tells Yahoo Life. "Whether going out to eat or staying home, pasta is always what I want. The aromas and rich delicious flavor from a nice homemade sauce is nothing short of amazing: Every time I make pasta and eat it, it's like getting a big warm hug from a best friend."
Kaylor-Griffiths often gathers with friends and family in her home to make homemade ravioli with her trusty pasta maker, but she's the first to admit it does take a lot of time ... and love. "Store-bought ravioli is usually my go-to. I recommend Buitoni four-cheese ravioli. Throw in some cherry tomatoes that are cut in half and voila: It's a great dish to feed a crowd."
How do you choose between fresh pastas, sold in the refrigerated section, and the dried boxed noodles in the pasta aisle? The distinction is simple, but it could end up having a big impact on your finished product. Fresh pastas found in the refrigerated section of the supermarket contain egg, causing them to produce a much different texture when cooked than dried varieties of pasta.
"I always go for the pasta in the refrigerated section," Kaylor-Griffiths explains. "I just like the taste and how they cook better. Fresh ravioli is just a better texture."
Chef Michael Kramer is owner of Jianna in Greenville, S.C., a modern Italian restaurant that serves house-made pastas. Kramer shares another solution for the home cook looking to elevate dinnertime. "I usually look for fresh ravioli from local artisans," Kramer says. "If you have a farmer's market or smaller local grocery store that carries regional products you might have better luck there. Dry pastas can often be too al dente (firm) no matter how you cook them."
Ready to be the master of your own pasta kitchen? These chefs will take your store-bought ravioli from drab to fab with these sensational and simple sauces. Voila: Italian night at home just got a whole lot more delicious.
Joey Skladany's Basic Bitchen Pomodoro Sauce
"A simple but solid tomato sauce is the foundation to so many beloved Italian dishes," says Skladany. "It not only works for pasta, but also fried calamari, pizza and eggplant parmigiana. You can also easily turn it into a vodka sauce or bolognese and customize it based on personal preferences, like making it spicier or more herbaceous. My recipe is intentionally simple: I wanted it to be versatile, but also delicious on its own."
"Of course, the longer it simmers, the more the flavors meld together," he adds. "Keep it on low and give it a stir every 15 minutes. I also add more aromatics, like garlic and onion, than the norm. Apparently, I enjoy being single and not kissable."
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small red onion, finely diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 fresh oregano sprigs
2 fresh thyme sprigs
2 (28-ounce) cans whole peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1. In a medium Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until translucent, about five minutes.
2. Add the red pepper flakes and tomato paste and cook for 30 seconds.
3. Tie the oregano and thyme sprigs with butcher's twine and add the herb bundle to the pot with the tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and cook for 20 minutes.
Mary Ann Kaylor-Griffiths' Carrot Top Pesto
"Carrot top pesto is delicious, healthy for you, super easy to make and a great way to use an entire vegetable," says Kaylor-Griffiths." I received carrots with the tops still attached in a community supported agriculture box: They were so beautiful and fragrant, I did not want to waste such a beautiful thing. After some research and testing, I fell in love with this recipe. Now my sister Lisa plants carrots in her garden and saves me the young tops to make pesto."
2 cups of fresh, washed carrot top greens, pulled off of the steam
Handful of basil leaves
1/3 cup of pine nuts (or any nut combo) that have been slightly browned in a skillet
2 large garlic cloves, peeled (can also be browned in skillet with nuts)
1/2 tsp each of salt and black pepper
2/3 cup of olive oil
1/2 cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese
1. Combine toasted nuts and garlic in food processor, pulse a few times.
2. Add the carrot top greens and basil one cup at a time to food processor, pulsing in between.
3. Add parmesan cheese and do another quick pulse.
4. Slowly begin adding your olive oil while blending, scraping sides of processor as needed.
5. Add salt and black pepper and process until pesto reaches your desired consistency.
6. Store in jars in the fridge for up to a couple of weeks or in the freezer for several months.
Jianna's Tomato Sauce created by Chef Michael Kramer
"This is a rustic-style tomato sauce with nice layers of flavor, some spice herbal notes from the basil and richness from the red wine and vegetables," Kramer shares.
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, peeled, small-diced
1 fennel bulb, medium-diced
3 cloves garlic, peeled, minced
1/2 cup red wine
1 large can (28oz) San Marzano tomatoes whole, peeled
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 tablespoon Calabrian chiles, minced
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon dry oregano
6 large basil leaves
Kosher salt and black pepper to taste
1. In a medium size heavy-bottom pot over medium heat add the olive oil. When the oil gets hot, add the onion and the fennel and sauté until the onion and fennel become soft and have a little color to them.
2. Add the garlic and quickly stir for two minutes, making sure not to burn it.
3. Deglaze the pot with red wine and add tomato paste, tomatoes, chiles, red pepper flakes and oregano.
4. Bring to a simmer and cook for 45 minutes.
5. To finish, add fresh basil and using a stick blender, blend the sauce well so it is almost smooth. Season to taste with kosher salt and black pepper. Add to your favorite pasta, ravioli and lasagna.
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