Ravioli Charlie's in Belleville: What was in the red sauce?

August 26, 2013 

Sometimes, when looking for a long-gone recipe, such as the sauce from Ravioli Charlie's in Belleville (and Collinsville), I get recollections instead. And while that isn't what I hoped to find for reader Jim Finley, what people remember sure is interesting.

Since I didn't move here until 1976, and the eatery was closed by then, I missed what evidently was a great little place to dine.

Tom Nicol recalls that back in the 1940s and '50s, "Mom and Dad would go up to the restaurant and come home with a roaster full of spaghetti. Mom would always take the biggest pan she had to get it filled. Best spaghetti you could ever eat."

Jan Clasquin Burbank said, "I remember Ravioli Charlie's as being in a little two-story house somewhere on the south side of West Main, where old 57th or 59th streets are. ... In 1971, you could call first and go in the back door for pick-up ravioli with red sauce. You could stand in the kitchen while he cooked the ravioli and spooned the sauce out of huge pots into take-out containers. Amazing flavors and memory. Around that same time, he had a small dining room at the front of that building."

Gail Hunter, who said her family patronized Ravioli Charlie's for many years, thinks the building is still standing on that corner and that an "old milk house" sat down in front of it. That would likely be where a tanning salon is now.

And while I still don't have the sauce recipe from the restaurant for Jim, reader Servio Garcia emailed me in hopes of adding a recipe for the ravioli as well in my search!

"My sister and I ate there often with our father, at least 2 or 3 times a month," he wrote. "The ravioli seemed to melt in your mouth and Charlie made them in the shape of little hats (sombreros). To this day I compare ravioli at other restaurants and none come close to Charlie's."

So, once again, I'm putting the word out: Help Jim, Servio and other readers. (And the rest of us who are now intrigued.) If you used to own the restaurant, are a relative of an owner or cooked there, give me a call or email at the numbers at the bottom of this column.

Summer harvest

Are you picking herbs from your garden? Fresh herbs can go bad quickly, so don't waste them. Instead of throwing out half a bunch, Tara Duggan of The San Francisco Chronicle suggests preserving them by chopping them and adding acid (vinegar or lemon juice) and/or fat (olive oil, butter or even rendered pork fat) to make simple sauces and spreads. These can be frozen for a week or longer.

Use some of those garden herbs (and vegetables) in this pair of skewered recipes from New York Times News food writers John Willoughby and Chris Schlesinger. With one for tomatoes and the other for chicken (they can be made at the same time), all you need to complete the meal is a nice twice-baked potato.

GRILLED CHERRY TOMATOES WITH CURRY AND GOLDEN RAISINS

1 pint cherry tomatoes, washed and stemmed

3 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1/2 cup plain yogurt

1/4 cup golden raisins

1/3 cup roughly chopped fresh mint

3 teaspoons curry powder

1. Build a fire in your grill; when the flames have died down, all the coals are covered with gray ash and the temperature is medium (you can hold your hand 5 inches above the grill for about 5 seconds), you're ready to cook. (For a gas grill, turn all burners to high, lower cover and heat for 15 minutes, then turn burners to medium.)

2. Meanwhile, toss the cherry tomatoes with the oil, sprinkle them generously with the salt and pepper and thread them onto skewers loosely enough so they are just touching. Prepare the remaining ingredients but keep them separate.

3. Put the tomato skewers on the grill directly over the coals and cook, rolling around a few times, just until they are slightly soft and a bit blistered, 3 to 4 minutes. Slide the tomatoes off the skewers into a large bowl, add the yogurt, raisins, mint and curry powder one after another, toss, season to taste if needed and serve. Yield: 4 side-dish servings.

GRILLED CHICKEN SKEWERS WITH DECONSTRUCTED PESTO

3 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch chunks

1/4 cup plus 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

1 cup grated Parmesan (about 2 ounces)

1 cup roughly chopped fresh basil

1/3 cup toasted pine nuts

4 teaspoons minced garlic

1. Build a fire in your grill; when the flames have died down, all the coals are covered with gray ash and the temperature is medium (you can hold your hand 5 inches above the grill for about 5 seconds), you're ready to cook. (For a gas grill, turn all burners to high, lower cover and heat for 15 minutes, then turn burners to medium.)

2. Combine the chicken, 3 tablespoons of olive oil and salt and pepper in a large bowl and toss well to coat, then thread the chicken chunks onto the skewers so they press up against one another but aren't jammed together. Prepare the other ingredients but keep them separate.

3. Put the skewers on the grill directly over the coals and cook, rolling the skewers around every 3 to 4 minutes to ensure all the sides are more or less evenly exposed to the heat, until lightly seared, about 12 to 14 minutes. To check for doneness, make a small cut and peek inside a couple of the chunks to be sure they are opaque all the way through with no pink.

4. Slide the chicken chunks off the skewers into a large bowl, add all the other ingredients one after the other, toss well to coat evenly, season to taste if needed and serve. Yield: 4 to 6 entree servings.

Here's how to reach me: Phone, 239-2664; e-mail, sboyle@bnd.com; or write, Suzanne Boyle, Belleville News-Democrat, P.O. Box 427, 120 S. Illinois St., Belleville, IL 62222-0427.

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