I found out a year ago no one is quite sure how the tradition started, but it was my grandfather (who immigrated here from Italy) who had started it before I was born. Each year, my family gathers on the first of the year and makes ravioli from scratch.
I had always assumed the ravioli was only done once a year because it took my grandfather all day to prepare the dough, roll it out and fill it. But last year my aunt said no one knew why the tradition started, but it always happened.
My dad took over making the ravioli before I was born (my grandfather died a month after I was born), and he always says his dad got a kick out of watching how quickly he could make the ravioli.
It’s still not a quick process. There are no ravioli presses and much is still done by hand, but my dad makes the dough in a good processor now so that step takes considerably less time. He also uses a hand-cranked pasta machine, which takes less time than my grandfather rolling out the dough with a rolling pin.
But my dad still cuts the dough into rectangles with a pizza cutter. Then various helpers take the squares to fill them with the ricotta cheese filling. I try to fill at least one ravioli a year, which is a far cry from when I was younger and would fill dozens.
You put the ricotta filling in the middle of the rectangle, fold it over and then press the edges with a fork. My parents have said they tried molds to fill more ravioli at a time, but they were never impressed with the results.
I’d give you the recipe for the dough and the cheese, but then I’d have to kill you since it’s a family secret (or so my father says). I can tell you the dough recipe is pretty close to the recipe you can find for simple dough in any pasta recipe book. My dad (and my grandfather before him) had made some changes, though.