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Globe North Dining Out

At a tiny spot in Medford, pasta the way it was meant to be

October 11, 2009

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Bella Ravioli
369 Main St., Medford
781-396-0875
Open Tuesday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m;, Saturday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Sunday, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Credit cards not accepted
Accessible to the handicapped

It’s nearly impossible to hear the name Bella Ravioli without thinking of Charlie Ravioli, the absurdly busy imaginary playmate of New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik’s young daughter, a name that came to symbolize the frenetic pace of American lives. And yet, Bella Ravioli, a tiny, Old World shop in Medford, is the antithesis of Charlie.

Bella Ravioli does not have a website. The shop does not take credit cards. The DePasquales, who own the store, do not Tweet or blog or even e-mail about their pasta. Anna DePasquale and her husband, Mario, natives of Italy, opened Bella Ravioli in 1981. Mario passed away nearly two decades ago, but their two sons, Michael and Robert, work in the family business. Anna is usually up front, at the counter, and one of her boys is working the pasta machine in the back.

On the day we stopped by Bella Ravioli, the cheese ravioli ($4.75 for 24 ravioli) and other kinds of pasta were fresh; frozen ravioli were available with assorted fillings.

Prices at Bella Ravioli are budget-minded: Nearly all the fresh pasta other than ravioli costs $2.75 a pound. Anna DePasquale sold us the fresh ravioli, dusted with semolina, in rectangular cardboard boxes tied with string. She offered help carrying our purchases to the car.

The fresh cheese ravioli is so tender that after only a few minutes of cooking, it floats to the top of the pan. Freshly made ravioli is as different from frozen versions as tomatoes off the vine are from the canned variety. These ravioli are delicate pillows of pasta, not chewy, not coarse. Although we loved the flavors of the frozen ravioli, we were spoiled by trying the fresh pasta first.

The lobster ravioli ($11.50 a pound) was a favorite, rich and flavorful. The pumpkin ravioli ($6.75 per pound), popular around Thanksgiving, is almost decadent, sweet and gently spiced. We liked them so much that we ate them with just a bit of butter, though DePasquale suggests a butter and sage sauce. The mushroom ravioli ($7.75 per pound) was earthy and strong with garlic, sophisticated enough for a dinner party but simple enough for our preschooler to crave. Still, these ravioli were too strong for some tastes.

Bella Ravioli also sells a few precooked sauces, including a fresh tomato sauce ($7 a quart) and a frozen cream sauce ($5.75 a pint). The sauces tend to be delicate, so they don’t overpower the flavors of the ravioli. The tomato sauce was an old-fashioned one with a hint of sweetness. We probably wouldn’t choose this sauce for ordinary dried pasta — we’d want something more flavorful — but it didn’t upstage the ravioli. The cream sauce looked heavy but was also surprisingly light.

Bella Ravioli is a tiny store with a trim white facade. There’s a table just inside the door, where other members of the DePasquale family often sit, eating or reading the paper.

A long deli case holds fresh ravioli, an assortment of fresh pasta, and the store’s own tomato sauce. Several freezer cases hold the frozen ravioli, including spinach, eggplant, and squash.

Anna DePasquale will tell you how long to cook the pasta, or how to make a sauce that will match the ravioli. She suggested a tomato sauce for the mushroom ravioli, a cream sauce for the lobster ravioli. Our order was large, and when DePasquale heard children would be present at dinner, she threw in a pound of fresh fusilli for them.

The fusilli needed only to cook for a few minutes and was light and airy. She also made a point of giving us the frozen mushroom ravioli that had been made just the day before, rather than the stock in the freezer.

Parking is usually available in the old-fashioned perpendicular spaces in front of the store. But don’t forget to bring cash.

KATHLEEN BURGE

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