Monday, November 14, 2011

Butternut Squash Ravioli

Butternut squash ravioli is easily one of my favorite dishes to prepare and eat. A few years ago my parents gave me my great grandmother's ravioli cutter from Italy, now a cherished possession in my kitchen. When I was little, and unaware of the ravioli cutter's purpose, I used to use it as a pizza cutter. No wonder it never worked!

As a child, I remember picking up delicious meat-filled raviolis from The Depot, an old Italian restaurant in Napa, CA. We used to drive to the back, straight to the kitchen entrance, and pay the cook for his freshly made raviolis. As good as those were, there's nothing better or fresher than making your own.

Butternut squash is one of my favorite fall and winter vegetables. The filling for these raviolis is, as you might expect, like butter. It's smooth and creamy and what I consider the essence of comfort food. Many recipes call for mascarpone cheese in a squash filling, but I just use a good quality parmigiano reggiano, partly because it's always what I have on hand. My filling is extremely simple, made up of squash, parmesan, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Don't be deceived by its simplicity; the flavor is out of this world.  


For the squash filling:
2 cups butternut squash purée
½ cup finely grated parmigiano reggiano
heavy pinch nutmeg (freshly ground if you have it)
¾ tsp. sea salt
¼ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

For the brown butter sauce
12 tbsp. unsalted butter
1 tsp. sea salt
16 fresh sage leaves
Freshly grated Parmigiano reggiano, for garnish
Chopped toasted pecans (you could also use walnuts or hazelnuts), for garnish

Start by making the filling. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cut squash in half, seed and place cut-side down on a foil lined sheet pan. Cook for 35-45 minutes (depending on size), until skins have blistered and squash is soft to touch. Cool and peel off outer skins. Puree squash in a food processor until perfectly smooth. Add 2 cups of squash puree to a medium-sized bowl, along with the Parmesan, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Mix well to incorporate. Refrigerate filling until ready to use (can be made a day or two in advance).

See my recipe for making homemade pasta here. Once all of your pasta is rolled out to 1/8 inch thick, and slightly transparent, it's time to fill it! Using a small spoon, place about ½ tsp. (for smaller raviolis) or 1 tsp. (for larger raviolis) of squash filling on one half of one sheet of pasta. Space the mounds of filling about 1½ inches apart (for smaller raviolis) or 2 inches apart (for larger raviolis). Dip your finger or a silicone brush into a small bowl of water and use it to brush water around the mounds of filling. Fold the other half of dough over the top of the side your mounds are on (like closing a book) and press around each mound firmly, being sure no air is trapped.

Use a ravioli cutter, pizza cutter or small paring knife to cut the dough into individual raviolis, seeing that each one is well sealed (if you're not using a ravioli cutter, seal the edges gently with a fork). Place the ravioli, not touching one another, on parchment-lined sheet pans, dusted with flour (turn them occasionally to keep from drying out). Cover with plastic wrap and continue to fill the rest of your dough.  

When it comes time for you to cook your pasta, bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Add a generous amount of sea salt (it should taste like the sea). Add a splash of olive oil to keep the raviolis from sticking. Cook the pasta for 3 to 5 minutes, until al dente and they begin to float to the surface.

Meanwhile, make the brown butter sauce. In a small saucepan, melt the butter and salt over medium-low heat. Add the sage leaves and cook, stirring often, until the butter begins to brown, and the sage is crisp, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the sage leaves to a paper towel lined plate. Drizzle the browned butter sauce over the pasta, toss on a few sage leaves, chopped toasted pecans, and Parmesan and serve immediately.

Yield: 4 servings

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