In these post-truth times, Swabian ravioli sounds like fake food or some kind of joke. Because ravioli is a speciality of Italian cuisine, right? And wasn’t Swabia a territory of the long-disappeared Holy Roman Empire? In 21st century gastronomy, however, there’s an explanation for almost everything.
Let’s start with ravioli. Their Italian-ness is questionable, given that they’re basically the same as Chinese wonton, pierogi from Eastern Europe, Jewish kreplach, piruhi from Turkey, or Swabian maultaschen. In other words, a pasta parcel with a tasty filling.
And Swabia? The area that goes by this name was a duchy from the Middle Ages, which ended up disappearing through the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. Nowadays, Swabia refers to a historical region, although its lands are spread across the German states of Baden-Württemberg (whose capital is Stuttgart) and Bavaria.
The inhabitants of both states have delved into their history to uncover the roots of their most popular dishes. And in that search, they’ve found a link between ravioli and maultaschen: the Church. While the former were served by the chef, Scappi, in the papal conclave of 1549, the latter came into being at the Maulbronn Abbey. What’s more, rumour has it that they were developed as a way to sidestep the prohibition on eating meat during Lent, as this ingredient — minced and mixed with breadcrumbs, onion and spinach — went unnoticed at the monks’ tables. That’s why they’re also known as Herrgottsbescheißerle, or “God-cheaters”.
A notable difference between ravioli and maultaschen is their size: the first are smaller and the second, at some 7cm each side, much larger. As a result, a typical serving will consist of three or four maultaschen per person.
There are three ways to enjoy them: in a soup; served with butter-fried onions or with egg and onion (similar to an omelette); or, in a more recent development now becoming popular, grilled maultaschen. When it comes to the filling, everything depends on the taste of the chef, although the traditional recipe is still the monk’s version with spinach and meat.
In any case, visitors to Stuttgart should be aware that few dishes are quite so typical as these ravioli, described by the writer Thaddäus Troll as the very essence of Swabia, and inspiration for the poem by Heinz Eugen Schramm, Die Maultasche.