While Marco Polo may not have introduced Italians to noodle making after he returned to Venice in 1295 from his two decade long sojourn at the court of Kublai Khan in Cathay (there is ample evidence that, by the Middle Ages, noodles were well established in both China and Italy), it has been argued that he may have brought back Chinese dumpling making techniques. And there’s more than one theory about how ravioli, a possible dumpling descendant, got its name. Some believe it comes from riavvolgere which, in Italian, means wrapped. Others claim it was named after Ravioli, a 13th century chef who is sometimes credited with its invention.
As stuffed pasta spread through Italy it acquired new names, shapes and stuffings: it is now called agnolotti in Piedmont, casoncelli in Lombardy, pansoti in Liguria, ravioli in Tuscany and tortelli in Emilia-Romagna, to name just a few. It can be half-moon shaped, square, hat-shaped or round, and can be filled with a meat mixture or with vegetables, eggs or cheese. In Italian families today, pasta ripiena is often reserved for special occasions because of the work it requires; preparing enough filled pasta for a large family and guests takes many hours or many hands or both.
Italians are not alone in wishing for ravioli shortcuts. Craig Claiborne writes in the New York Times Cookbook that “Ravioli has become one of the ultimate dishes in many American homes and restaurants, but is considered by many to be a bit too tedious to prepare if you have to roll out the pasta dough. Many restaurants in this country and abroad now resort to a shortcut. The “dough” is now obtainable in already cut rounds. They are called suey gow or goyza, and in Oriental kitchens they are used to make the dumplings known as jao-tze or pot stickers. Wonton skins also work well for ravioli.” Marco Polo would be amused.