The filling may be meat-based (either red or poultry), fish-based, or cheese-based. Ravioli can be rectangular, triangular, half-moon or circular in shape. Other traditional Italian filings include ricotta mixed with grated cheese and vegetables such as spinach, swiss chard, or nettles or they may be a puree made of potatoes, mushrooms, pumpkin, chestnut or artichokes.
Ravioli is often topped with a red tomato-based sauce, though tomato sauce would not have been used until tomatoes were introduced to Europe in the 15th century. More delicate fillings are often paired with sage and melted butter, or more rarely with pesto- or broth-based sauces. Cream sauces are foreign to Italian traditional cuisine. Though the dish is of Italian origin, the oldest known recipe is an Anglo-Norman vellum manuscript from the 1290s.. Sicilian ravioli and Malta's "ravjul" (the Maltese word for ravioli) may thus be older than North Italian ones. Maltese " ravjul" are stuffed with "irkotta" (locally produced sheep's milk ricotta) or with Gbejna, traditional fresh sheep cheese.
Today, ravioli are made in worldwide industrial lines supplied by Italian companies such as Arienti & Cattaneo, Ima, Ostoni, and Zamboni. "Fresh" packed ravioli usually have seven weeks of shelf life.
Similar foods in other cultures include the Chinese jiaozi or wonton – in fact, ravioli and tortellini are collectively referred to as "Italian jiaozi" (義大利餃) or "Italian wonton" (意大利雲吞)) – Eastern and central European pierogi, the Russian pelmeni, the Ukrainian varenyky, the Tibetan momo, the Turkish mantı, German Maultaschen, and Jewish kreplach. In Lebanon, a similar dish called shish barak (shishbarak) contains pasta filled with minced beef meat and cooked in hot yogurt.