It Starts with Passion, Craftmanship, and the Finest Ingredients

It took me many years to appreciate that our annual ravioli-making family tradition was an art form.

Like sculptures, music, and graphic design, preparing great food is immersed in talent, technique, and a passion to create.

My mother-in-law had been making homemade ravioli and tomato sauce for decades—carefully preparing the foundation for our feast months in advance of Christmas Eve dinner. My husband’s family and our children looked forward to this holiday meal every year. Often the homemade pasta and filling were more cherished than the turkey dinner on Christmas Day.

Every Christmas Eve, we squished around the crowded festive table anticipating the ravioli with watering mouths. Gramma lovingly placed each ravioli on a plate, counting them prudently, covering them with sauce, and finally topping the serving with a layer of finely grated parmesan cheese. She passed the plate to me (her assistant), and it moved from person to person until it arrived at the recipient’s place setting (usually the youngest family member).

Once everyone was served, we sat restlessly with our knife and fork positioned vertically on each side of our ravioli-laden plate, quickly reciting a Catholic Latin blessing. Wearing our comfortable, stretchy pants and with our napkins tucked under our chins, so as to not stain our finest shirts with tomato sauce, we began to devour the carefully arranged ravioli.

Immersed in joyful and wildly animated discussions around the table, the ravioli was coveted and became the glue (so to speak) that kept our family congregating around that Christmas Eve table for generations.

As my children grew older, I would take them to Gramma’s house to learn the fine art of ravioli-making. Gramma used an old, hand-cranked pasta maker that was bolted to a circa 1950s, marble-green laminate kitchen table. Pasta making was definitely not for the faint of heart. The process was complex. Gramma’s freshly scrubbed assistants lined up for duty. And the finest of ingredients were measured for a flawless implementation of this art form.

The most important ingredient was love—but it didn’t need to be measured as it was always overflowing in the family cucina.

Once Gramma taught my daughters her technique, and the cheese-filled pasta had come to its completed state, each individual ravioli was placed on gingerly floured cookie sheets and arranged perfectly in rows—like a well-choreographed chorus line. Little did they know they would soon be frozen and saved for their big debut on Christmas Eve—and then cloaked in bright red dresses and sprinkled with fine gold dust.

The Passing of the Baton

Our family was as tight and supportive as ever, but like many, our extended family changed over the years. Similar to an aging ensemble, some orchestra members were replaced, and the maestro retired. That time had come in our family, too. Gramma was tired and couldn’t carry out the artistry of the ravioli-making anymore. She moved to a senior’s residence that didn’t allow cooking in her small kitchenette. Gramma really missed her kitchen. A large part of her life was gone—her culinary creations ceased. She could no longer host the much-coveted Christmas Eve dinner. It was time to mourn a little bit. And it was time to pass that damn baton.

My youngest daughter reluctantly grabbed the ravioli baton. She was bright, eager, and creative. But could she handle the pressure? She had big boots to fill, and we would have to make the transition as smooth as possible. In passing the baton, we transformed Gramma from first violin player to conductor. When ravioli-making rolled around, Gramma was there to teach, train, and orchestrate. Arriving from the senior’s residence proudly wearing her thread-bare apron and enthusiastic smile, the baton was passed.

We would carry on this old tradition with new leaders, new ideas, and modern equipment. Our powerful, megawatt mix masters and automated pasta makers replaced the old “art tools” and made the process less laborious, but the essence of the artistry stayed intact. So, while the tools changed and our family evolved, our creativity soared with new fillings and combinations of flavours.

We still keep Gramma’s old, hand-crank pasta maker in the pantry. It’s carefully stored in a box (like an old trophy), where she signed her name in the corner.

Makin' the Dough Gang


Makin’ the Dough” is just one of the chapters in my debut book, The Green Velvet Chair: Heartfelt Stories of Art and Design in Everyday Life.

Download an excerpt on my website:

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Laura Ballerini

Author Laura Ballerini

Laura Ballerini, a designer who started much of her creative journey at a big city newspaper and now owns her own digital design boutique, seamlessly weaves together an unlikely array of stories about her inspiring mother, museum visits, online shopping, designing in the dirt, and many other adventures (including a visit to Graceland).

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