These ricotta-filled sweet ravioli (ravioli dolci de ricotta) are a classic food for Carnevale in Italy. The sweet creamy filling, studded with chocolate chips, is wrapped in a gently sweet pastry and fried to become crisp outside. A little indulgent and so delicious!
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If you are in the US, when you think of the Mardi Gras period, you probably think of New Orleans parades, king cake and enjoying meals like jambalaya. But it's far from the only place that gets in the festive mood at this time of year.
It goes by various names, with different celebrations, in different languages and places. These include Karneval or Fasching in Germany and carnaval in Spain. In Italy, it's Carnevale and these little pastries are one of a few traditional treats enjoyed during the festivities.
What does Carnevale mean?
Carnevale literally translates as "goodbye to meat", since Carnevale is when things like meat were used up before they were given up for the 40 days of Lent. It is also often seen as a chance to more generally indulge before the more sombre Lenten period.
While Carnevale/Mardi Gras is a Christian celebration, it has much older roots. Some of those are Pagan, celebrating the end of winter and start of spring, while others can be traced back to Greece and celebrations of Bacchus, the God of wine, and Saturn. Christianity incorporated these existing celebrations into the celebrations we know today.
In Italy, celebrations vary from region to region, though you will find some common themes like costumes and parades. Venice is famous throughout the world for its masked ball. Viareggio in Tuscany and Acireale in Sicily are famous for their parades with elaborately decorated floats which can take months to design and make.
Ivrea in Piedemont celebrates with a battle of the oranges, while Putignano in Puglia has the longest celebration, starting on December 26th each year. (You can find out more about some of the celebrations in this article.)
Different places have different special foods for the occasion, like schiacciata alla fiorentina, Florentine orange cake, as well as some that are more generally popular like lasagne.
Sweet ravioli variations
Sweet ravioli exist in a few regions of Italy with slight variations. Some fry them, while others bake them. Others again are cooked like regular ravioli in boiling water. In some areas, you fill them with jam rather than a sweet ricotta filling.
The version here is one of the more common variations, with sweetened ricotta and chocolate chips in the filling. I have drawn on a few sources in developing the recipe below, including this recipe and this youtube tutorial. Cassatelle in Sicily are much the same thing, though I think those are usually slightly bigger and have marsala or wine mixed into the filling.
The dough for these is a little different from your typical pasta dough, like that used in pumpkin ravioli, tortelli di zucca. This uses less egg and some milk, butter and sugar in the mix. Once formed, you fry them in oil before serving them sprinkled with powdered sugar.
Tips for making ravioli dolci
The short version is I have two main tips to keep in mind as you make these: don't fill them too full and try to seal them really well.
Doing both of these will help to avoid them bursting open during cooking, though they are not completely failsafe.
Top tip: use a fork to seal
Using a fork is a great way to press the two layers together as it both helps the edges stick and gives a nice edge pattern. Even still, I found that sometimes, it wasn't quite enough unless I did it a second time.
If they do happen to burst during frying, though, don't panic. As long as they are partly cooked, you may well find that only a small amount of filling escapes, if any. Sometimes, just a little chocolate sits at the edge and nothing more. So the result is, while they may not be quite as pretty, they will still be just as tasty.
Keep an eye on them as they cook and once lightly browned and crisp, remove them with a slotted spoon or strainer. Let excess oil drip back in, then drain the pastries on kitchen paper before serving. You don't want them to be excessively oily.
Don't forget the dusting of powdered/icing sugar to finish them off. It both makes them look pretty (and hides any imperfections!), as well as giving a lovely extra little sweetness as you take a bite.
These ravioli dolci are a wonderful tasty festive treat. The combination of sweet, creamy ricotta filling, studded with chocolate, pairs so well with the crisp outside. The small amounts of lemon zest and cinnamon are the perfect flavor additions, too. Yes, they may be a little indulgent, but that's part of what of carnival is about. So why not embrace it and enjoy these lovely bites (which are great other times too!).
Try these other sweet bites:
- Magdalenas (Spanish lemon muffins)
- Hotteok (Korean sweet filled pancakes)
- Baklava (pastry and nut layered treat)
- Plus get more Italian recipes and snack recipes in the archives.
Ravioli dolci (sweet ravioli)
For the pastry -
- 1 ½ cups all purpose flour or 00 flour
- 2 tablespoon sugar
- 2 tablespoon butter softened
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 egg
- 3 tablespoon milk or a little more as needed
For the filling -
- ¾ cup ricotta whole milk
- 3 tablespoon sugar
- ½ lemon zest ie from ½ lemon
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 egg yolk or only part, see below
- 3 tablespoon semi sweet chocolate chips
To seal -
- 1 egg white reserved from the filling - you won't need all
To cook -
- Vegetable oil - you will need a lot for frying but can save after and re-use
To serve -
- 2 tablespoon Powdered/confectioner's sugar approx
- Combine all of the pastry ingredients either in a stand mixer with paddle attachment or in a bowl and mix by hand. Bring everything together into a smooth dough, but it should not be sticky. Knead for a few minutes (around 3-5 in mixer or 5 - 8 by hand) then cover with plastic wrap and set aside at a cool room temperature to rest. Leave for around 30 - 45 minutes.
- While the dough is resting, also drain the ricotta in a fine strainer set over a bowl, or a slightly less fine strainer lined with kitchen paper. Towards the end, you can squeeze a little to help remove excess liquid.
- Combine the drained ricotta, sugar, lemon zest and cinnamon in a bowl and mix well. Add some of the egg yolk, or all if needed, and mix through. It will become a little more runny, so you may not want all of it as it can be too liquid, but the egg helps the texture as it cooks. Fold in the chocolate chips to distribute relatively evenly.
- Place the filling in the fridge or simply set aside as you roll out the dough. Start with half of the dough and leave the rest covered. Roll it out as thinly as you can - it should look around the thickness of a lasagna sheet, if possible, as it will likely spring back and become a little thicker as you fill and seal it.
- Use a large round cutter, around 4in/10cm diameter, and cut out circles from the dough - try to cut them close together to minimize scraps needing to be re-rolled. Remove the scraps and ease the circles of dough from the work surface.
- Place a teaspoon of the filling in the middle of each circle of dough. Drain off any excess liquid from the filling as you scoop it before placing on the dough.
- Lightly brush the edge of the dough with the reserved egg white then fold one side over the other to form a half moon shape. If your dough has been shrinking, it can be good to stretch it back out a little as you fold over. Use the tips of a fork to press the edges together tightly and seal in the filling. You may want to lift the ravioli from the work surface then repeat sealing it with the fork to make sure they are well-sealed.
- Repeat forming the ravioli with the rest of the dough and filling (you can join the scraps of dough and re-roll but take care they are well-joined together). Meanwhile, warm a pan with a good depth of oil to fry the ravioli. You want the oil to be deep enough that the ravioli will be covered.
- Once the oil is hot (around 350F), fry in batches of two or three at a time so that the oil doesn't cool too much. Turn over, as needed, during cooking until both sides are golden brown. Remove from the oil with a slotted strainer and drain on kitchen paper, then repeat with the rest of the ravioli. Dust with powdered sugar before serving, ideally while still warm.
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I first shared the recipe for Italian sweet ravioli on Curious Cuisiniere where I am a contributor.