Ravioli -- that Italian filled pasta often stuffed with cheese, spinach, mushrooms, butternut squash or pumpkin -- can be a meal in itself, particularly smothered in marinara or a brown butter sauce. When you want to serve it with a side dish, choose one to complement the ravioli and offset the richness of the dish. An Italian salad or vegetable combination offers a light accompaniment, along with a slice or two of good bread to round out the meal.
Creating a Salad Course
Select the freshest ingredients possible to serve with hearty ravioli. Create a spring salad using a mix of young red and green lettuce, romaine or spinach. Chef Antonio Carluccio suggests
With cheese-stuffed ravioli, omit the cheese in the salad or use it sparingly. Shave a little fresh Parmesan or Romano over the top, or dress it with crumbled ricotta.
Avoid dressings with a heavy cream base. Your salad dressing should not clash with the ravioli sauce. Create a simple dressing with olive oil, salt and lemon. Alternatively, use a high-quality bottled Italian dressing with an oil-and-vinegar base.
Bring On the Vegetables
A platter of roasted vegetables -- whether hot out of the oven or served at room temperature -- pairs well with the richness of the ravioli. Roasting fresh vegetables releases the sugars and boosts the flavors. Heat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Toss any combination of diced or sliced vegetables, including tomatoes, eggplant, onion, zucchini, asparagus, garlic and green beans, in olive oil, and then add salt to taste. Allow the vegetables to roast for about 40 minutes or until they turn tender.
Many vegetable-based side dishes pair well with the richness of ravioli. Fried whole artichokes can be used as a starter or side. Alternatively, bring some side-dish flair to the table with Brussels sprouts with pancetta
Don't Forget the Bread
A rustic, crusty bread fresh from the bakery or deli section of the grocery store makes a fitting accompaniment to ravioli. But homemade Italian bread adds a welcoming touch to the table. Most of the Old World rustic breads contain little more than flour, water, yeast and salt. Provide small dishes of olive oil with cracked black pepper for dipping, or slice the bread, brush it with melted butter and garlic, and toast it to create a crunchy garlic bread.
Alternatively, serve focaccia -- an Italian flat bread slightly thicker than pizza dough and often cut into squares. Focaccia is usually flavored with a topping of olive oil, fresh rosemary, salt and pepper. It pairs well with a variety of cheese-rich Italian dishes, including ravioli.
Add Meat for Portion Control
Ravioli can still star on the dinner plate while you cut back on carbs with smaller portions and added protein. Classic meatballs or Italian sausage links offer a traditional taste of Italy. Alternatively, add a gourmet touch to the the meat side dish by serving pork chops with capers or veal piccata.