The Italians had the right idea when they stuffed plain old noodles with a flavourful filling. Ravioli comes in various flavours of the pasta, such as basil, spinach and tomato, with fillings such as goat cheese and herbs, squash and walnuts, or ricotta and Parmesan cheese. Serve the ravioli with browned butter, olive oil and garlic or a classic tomato sauce. Round out the meal with side dishes such as salad, bread and vegetables.
The crunch of a fresh crisp green salad contrasts with the smoothness of the ravioli pasta and its filling. Choose greens with a strong flavour, such as escarole or arugula. Their dark green colour contrasts ravioli topped with tomato sauce. Add chopped green peppers, cucumbers and artichoke hearts in an olive oil and red wine vinegar dressing. A winter salad of julienne vegetables -- cut in matchstick-size pieces -- includes fennel, carrots and radishes with added sweetness from apples. Top it with walnuts and dress it with walnut oil and apple cider vinegar to bring out the flavours.
Crusty bread belongs on the table when ravioli is on the menu. Choose from classic Italian bread, simply cut in slices and served with olive oil for dipping or spread with herbed butter and garlic and toasted in the oven. Focaccia bread topped with Parmesan cheese makes a good choice too. Breadsticks lend extra crunchiness and add a whimsical touch, especially for children. Wrap them with prosciutto and serve.
If the ravioli filling contains vegetables, such as squash, mushrooms or spinach, choose a side dish that does not include the same vegetables. Staying in season is always a good idea. Serve asparagus or sweet peas bathed in lemon butter with a touch of dill in the spring. Summer calls for green beans, perhaps topped with bacon crumbles and basil. Cool fall weather calls for a tumble of roasted beets, parsnips and turnips. Add a few fresh orange slices for colour and a bright note of citrus.
Offer guests a selection of toppings for their ravioli. Include crushed nuts, chopped onions, different grated cheeses, fresh spinach ribbons, roasted cherry tomatoes, a variety of olives, artichoke hearts and roasted red peppers. When guests create their own entrée, they're certain to like it. You can also combine the toppings to make several side dishes, such as the spinach with roasted cherry tomatoes and artichoke hearts.