Secret sauce. My Maltese Nanna’s ricotta ravioli recipe

6 Jun

Tessie's tomato sauce with fresh Maltese ricotta ravioli

Who can resist a tried and tested family recipe? On a recent visit to Malta to reconnect with my family heritage and meet long lost cousins, aunties and uncles, one of my most treasured and memorable experiences was that of a cooking session with my wonderful Maltese Nanna Tessie.

Before leaving, my mother begged me to get the recipe off my grandmother for her basic tomato pasta sauce- the most important and versatile base in Maltese cuisine. Being smack bang in the middle of the Mediterranean with a hot and dry climate, the staple food of the Maltese usually involves pasta, rice, bread, cheese, meat, rabbit (fenech), fish often with a tomato base- thus the importance of a perfect and simple tomato sauce.

Here I share with you a visual snapshot of our little cook-off and of course, Tessie’s family recipe for the sauce… including what Tessie swears is her ‘secret’ ingredient which will certainly surprise you!

What about the recipe for the actual ravioli itself you may ask? Well, I thought the same thing when I turned up to lunch expecting a kitchen armed with a pasta-machine, flour dust storm and production line of settling fresh curd cheese. I instead arrived presented with a neat bag of ready-made fresh pasta on the bench! It turns out that most Maltese buy the ravioli fresh and pre-made from their local pasta master of choice because the quality of the bought product is so good and only about €3 for a big bag of 3 dozen ricotta-filled morsels (or so my Nan convinced me anyway). However, If you really want to have a stab at making the pasta yourself to go with it, here are some good resources:

The real-deal: The awesome Italian Mamma ‘Rosa’ shows us how it’s done

Crazy Maltese John cooking ravioli in his kitchen

A video response tribute and step by step guide by the talented ‘Pip’ from MeetMeAtMikes showing  how she made ravioli from scratch with Nanna Tessie’s recipe


Setting the scene- here’s my Nanna Tessie with her pot of sauce

Nanna Tessie with her pot of tomato sauce

Ready for that recipe now?

Here it is! (serves approx 4)


  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 6 whole tomatoes (Tessie insists they must be super-red vine ripened roma tomatoes)
  • 1 tsp white sugar (start with 1/2 teaspoon and add the remaining half to taste as some may find the full amount a little too much)
  • 2 bay leaves (dried)
  • 1 tbsp good quality tomato paste
  • Extra virgin olive oil (preferably Spanish)
  • Freshly cracked black pepper and sea salt to taste

And now for her ‘secret’ ingredient…

Wait for it….

1 chicken stock cube!

Yes, that’s right- a chicken stock cube! A little unconventional and I’m sure they were never part of her own mother’s repertoire, but to Tessie, those things are like butter to a french chef!

The other big no no, she insists, is never to put onion in the tomato sauce, and always cook it slowly slowly, gently gently.

Here she is again- reminding us not to use onion!

Tessie says 'never use onion, and simmer it slooooolwy'

Now for the method:


Using a medium sized, heavy based pot, fill the base with olive oil to the depth of approximately halfway up your index fingertip. Peel and dice the garlic lengthways. You can add 2 extra cloves if you wish, it only intensifies the flavour (in a good way). Add the diced garlic to the pot with oil and gently fry the garlic at a low heat being careful not to burn them.

Fill a separate small pot with water and bring it to the boil. Add the tomatoes and boil for approximately 3 minutes, until you begin to see the skin peeling away from the flesh. Remove from the boiling water, discard water and then peel tomatoes.

Add the tomatoes to the pot with oil and garlic and chop them into small pieces with sharp knife. Simmer at a low heat and stir continually as the sauce begins to thicken and reduce. Gradually add a few drops of water, then add the stock cube and the bay leaves. Stir and simmer for a further 10 minutes then add the tomato paste, sugar and salt and pepper. Keep on a low simmer for a further ten minutes for the sauce to reduce and flavours intensify. Remove bay leaves before serving.

Sauce on simmer

In a large pot bring water to the boil at (3/4’s) full and add 1 tbsp sea salt and a dash of olive oil.

Add the ravioli (fresh bought version or homemade) and cook until all the pasta has floated to the top.

Ravioli on the boil- floating to the surface when ready

Immediately drain in a colander.

Serve on a wide pasta dish with generous servings of freshly grated romano or parmesan, cracked black pepper and finely diced parsley (optional). Traditionally this is served with a side of mortadella ham and a local delicacy- black pepper chesee with crusty Maltese bread called “hobz.”


Side serving: Mortadella ham and Maltese black pepper cheese with crusty 'hobz' bread

Lambrusco frizzante or spumante are refreshingly light and fruity sparkling red table wines commonly found at a Maltese table

Dining at Tessie's Table

Nanna Tessie's kitchen

Sweet tooth. Maltese Kannoli "ta l-irkottaare" is a delicous dessert of fried pastry shell piped with sweet ricotta and dusted with crushed almonds

Viva la ravioli! Ciao, Tessie xxx


22 Responses to “Secret sauce. My Maltese Nanna’s ricotta ravioli recipe”

  1. Cas August 2, 2012 at 9:38 am #

    I love your Nana Tessie ! I don’t like the way my mother in law makes her sauce for ravioli, it’s basically just tomato paste & water & ONION. I have your nana’s version in my favorites list and come back to it time after time. My hubby prefers my sauce to his mums 🙂

  2. parisbreakfast July 28, 2012 at 10:31 pm #

    Your nanna is FABULOUS!
    Great photos and even though I just ate lunch now I’m salivating.
    was it a ‘Maltese’ chicken cube?
    Hmmmm…the mystery ingredient!

  3. Loretta May 4, 2012 at 3:11 pm #

    It’s the way our family has made it for years, without the stock cube, must try it next time, its also delicious with fried eggplant, capsicum, capers and black olives…top with parmessan and its a real hit,,, dont forget to let sauce simmer until vegetables are tender.

    We live in country Victoria in Australia, about 2 hours from Melbourne, and 5 weeks ago opened our own shop stocking maltese pastries, pastas & cakes, including the traditional maltese drink ofcourse KINNIE. If your ever in Aus please feel welcome to visit our store :
    ‘Dunolly House of Fine Foods’
    85 Broadway Dunolly

  4. Chloe Vella March 7, 2012 at 6:23 am #

    My Nanna used tinned corned beef in her pasta sauce and always served it with ricotta ravioli, 2 generations later and we are still making it.. It’s yum 🙂

  5. chris grech January 22, 2012 at 12:41 am #

    awesome, just the way my mum made it….. exacly! but what im after is a recipe to make maltese tomato paste…..OMG its been so long since i have had it and my nanna (god rest her soul) is not with us anymore and im not sure how to make it??? all i know is you need heaps of tomatos and it was extreamly salty lol

  6. ablokewhocancook June 1, 2011 at 7:30 am #

    Does anyone else find Maltese cooking using tinned corned beef in their tomato sauces?

    Maybe it’s just a peculiarity of the generation of Maltese who emigrated post-War?

    • June 1, 2011 at 9:30 am #

      No but my Maltese Grandfather used to eat it with crusty bread and tomato paste!

    • Loretta May 4, 2012 at 3:14 pm #

      yes we have always used it in our macaroni and rice bakes and with steamed cauliflower with a squeeze of lemon

  7. Michelle May 6, 2011 at 8:43 am #

    My Maltese mum makes her ravioli sauce exactly the same way. Tried and tested always is the best.

    • Rachel Bajada May 7, 2011 at 2:26 pm #

      Really! That´s great. Family recipes are the best. Does she leave out the onion too?

  8. Don Druker February 4, 2011 at 6:09 am #

    Also, before I drop the tomatoes into the boiling water, I make two small cuts across the end of each tomato with a paring knife. When you see the edges of the cuts start to curl back, it’s time to take the tomatoes out of the water.

  9. Don Druker February 3, 2011 at 9:38 pm #

    In my experience, that seems like an awfully long time to immerse the tomatoes in boiling water, if you’re only doing it to loosen the skin. The technique I use is to drop the tomatoes into boiling water, let them simmer for about 90 seconds, then lift them out with a slotted spoon or spider and immediately plunge them into a bowl of iced water. They will cool down almost immediately, and you can then lift each one out and peel it fairly easily.

  10. Vanessa June 14, 2010 at 12:04 pm #

    Hello Maltese sista!
    I have an Aunty Tessie in Malta who cooks fabulous food too.
    My mouth is watering from your ravioli and kannoli. Oh yum yum yum.
    I made a delicious ragu with pappardelle pasta last weekend.
    Keep it up sista.

  11. Verity June 8, 2010 at 9:55 am #

    Actually I love the table cloth & tiles, not kidding, they remind me so vividly of the decor in our doug-out in Cooper Pedy when I was a wee little kid.

  12. amanda June 7, 2010 at 11:19 am #

    interesting that the spumante is “expertly blended” by marks and spencer ….. just an observation.
    love the photos, recipe and the decor….. oh and nana tessie is just adorable.
    mwah x

    • Rachel Bajada June 7, 2010 at 5:55 pm #

      Good eyes Amanda! I didn’t even notice that myself!

  13. Lily June 7, 2010 at 9:03 am #

    I want a Nanna Tessie too 🙂
    Thank u for sharing this recipe, I’m going to try it this WE.

    Btw, I luv your photos Rach. I think you should try and work for a magazine. You should contact Prisma Presse in Paris.


  14. fimcindoe June 7, 2010 at 12:11 am #

    Beautiful pictures Rachel. Your Nanna is sweet. I wish I could eat ravioli :(. If you don’t mind I’m going to share this recipe with my pasta loving friends.

    Hope you are enjoying your travels.

    Fi x

  15. Geoffrey Emerson June 6, 2010 at 10:10 pm #

    best post ever!

    Loving the second photo of you nana Tessie and the last photo just awesome.

    Your photography looks great too Rachie, I am going to cook this up for Oscar and I. Just to let you know I have added your blog to my blog roll.

    Hope your well your world looks amazing over there I am slightly jealous that you are having such a sea change, please keep posting!

  16. Verity June 6, 2010 at 9:36 pm #

    You realise you’ll have us all rushing out for fresh ravioli this week so we can test this out, thanks Nanna Tessie!


  1. Maltese Ravioli « A Bloke Who Can Cook - June 1, 2011

    […] If you want to keep it vegetarian, use the basic tomato sauce I posted earlier. There’s also another take on the tomato sauce from a Maltese-Australian on this excellent blog: frenchforfoodies. […]

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