I have to start by saying we made somewhere in the neighborhood of 125 pieces of ravioli yesterday. I have to further say that they are in no way as beautiful as I’d like but we were literally cooking all afternoon. I’ve given a much more manageable recipe in my post here but be advised that the seasoning of the filling is pretty much “to taste”. There’s not a whole lot you can do wrong with this recipe as long as you let the squash be the star of the show. Lastly, I am apologizing in advance for my lack of photos (and crappy quality). I meant to take more pictures and better ones, but I was elbow-deep in filling and dough and just wasn’t thinking about picture-taking. But since I promised… Here we go!
Yesterday I spent most of the day at my parents’ house. My sister and I cooked up a bunch of squash and made ourselves a mess of homemade ravioli. Homemade pasta is not very hard – just incredibly time-consuming. I’m really not sure how my grandmother managed to make it – by herself – for every holiday and every visit we’d make back home. I found myself wishing most of the day yesterday – and even this morning as I write this – that I could call her up and ask. I know she was in the room with us yesterday when we were cooking, but I wish she could have been in the room.
Ah well, no amount of wishing will bring her back. The best we can do is remember. And every time I make pasta or bread I remember her. This actually wasn’t one of her pasta recipes – she would make tortellini (veal and pork minced with a ton of nutmeg and, I’ve heard, Italian lunch meat – but that’s never been confirmed) and tortellachi (spinach and ricotta with more nutmeg – I didn’t eat them while she was alive because I was the picky child, but I love them now), and a ton of other non-pasta things, but I don’t remember her ever making squash. Maybe it just wasn’t in her family’s staple of dishes. Anyway, my family fell in love with this dish at our favorite Italian place, Caffe Bella Italia in Pacific Beach. Their food tastes like it comes from Italy, and it’s the closest thing I can find to Florence in San Diego. A few years ago we tried their butternut squash ravioli, and we were all hooked (even my mom, who’d never eat a butternut squash if it were presented to her in any other form!).
Some time last year I decided to try replicating those babies at home. I had some wonton wrappers and some canned pureed pumpkin. They actually turned out surprisingly well, and I’d still reccommend that method in a pinch. But the texture of the wonton skins was not quite pasta-like, and the canned pumpkin had that slightly acidic tang that canned foods get. I prefer my food as fresh as possible (and can be a total snob about it) so I had to try making some totally from scratch.
Here’s where it gets tricky. I didn’t weigh my squash before I started, and of course even if I had I wasn’t peeling off the skins – I was cutting them. So everything here is a rough estimate. Also, making pasta depends on so many factors, including the humidity – so if your dough is super-sticky, add flour. If it’s super-crumbly, add liquid (another egg, some olive oil, or even a little splash of water will all do).
The Basic Pasta Recipe (Adapted from several sources – they pretty much all say the same thing)
- 1 1/2 cups of flour
- 2 large eggs (or 3 medium eggs; if you have extra-large eggs you might have to add more flour)
- dash salt
It’s tradition to mix pasta dough on a flat surface. But I find it a heck of a lot easier to do in a large bowl – the biggest and flattest I’ve got – because then the mess is contained. Basically, you just take your ingredients and mix them together. Keep mixing until the dough becomes smooth and isn’t crumbling apart. It should be a little sticky but not so much that you can’t touch it without getting dough on your finger. See above for tips about how to “fix” dough that isn’t quite working for you. Form into a ball and cover tightly with plastic wrap or place inside a well-sealed baggie. If you miss this step you’ll end up with dough the texture of leftover play-doh, which just won’t work. Let the dough rest for 1-2 hours before rolling out.
The Yummy Filling
- 1 winter squash (whatever kind is on sale – they pretty much taste if not exactly the same then similar enough to substitute. If you get a large one, you’ll probably only need 1/2 for this recipe)
- 1 medium clove garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (to start – you may want to experiment with the nutmeg in this recipe. I usually just sort of add shakes of it until it smells nice and spicy)
- a dash of cracked pepper
- a dash of salt
- milk or cream (sorry I didn’t measure)
Yup. That’s it. I swear. You could add mascarpone or ricotta, or parmesan or sage. But you really don’t need to. It’s a very simple but satisfying combination!
Start by cutting the squash into manageable pieces. I halved my acorn squashes and cut my butternut squashes into quarters. Scoop out all the stringy bits and the seeds (save those and roast them later – YUM) and arrange the squash on a sheet pan (I like to cover mine with foil so the cleanup is easy). I rub a tiny bit of olive oil on the tops of each squash (some people say to roast them cut-side-down and I haven’t really found much of a difference, except that cut-side up allows for a little carmelization) and bake in a 350 degree oven for 30-45 minutes, or until the flesh is tender when you poke at it with a fork.
Let the squash cool completely before you try to peel it! Then use a knife or a vegetable peeler and remove the skin. Roughly cut into chunks and put in a food processor. Yes, this is pretty much a necessary step. I suppose you could use a potato masher, but you’d probably be mashing for hours! Start blending up your chunks of squash; you’ll need to add liquid to ensure that it blends up smoothly, which is where the milk or cream comes in (I suppose you could use water as well). Just add a small amount, wait until it’s absorbed, and see whether it helps. You’ll know when you’ve added enough – all the chunks just magically start blending.
You can add your seasoning directly to the food processor if you like. You should end up with something like a cup and a half of squash puree to every medium garlic clove. I’m one of those touchy-feely cooks who just sort of knows when something is right – but at the very least you can feel free to taste this puree. It won’t be exactly the same as when it’s cooked unless you roast the garlic before you add it, but you’ll have an idea of the spices and the salt.
Once the whole thing is pureed together, you can start rolling out your dough and assembling!
Rolling in the Dough
The biggest trick to rolling out dough is to START SMALL. Seriously it’s not worth having to deal with a six-foot piece of dough. By the time you roll it, you’ll be dragging it on the floor or you’ll have torn it. Or at the very least, you’ll get halfway through filling it and find that it’s gone all crusty on you. Just take a small piece (no larger than a tennis ball) and cover the rest.
Obviously you need a pasta roller for this job. You can get relatively inexpensive ones at the store – and sometimes you can find them secondhand, from people who swore they’d use them! – and you can even get attachments for your mixer. You wouldn’t be able to get your pasta thin enough without a roller (and truthfully my grandmother’s pasta was about half the thickness of the stuff I can make on my thinnest roller setting). If you’ve never rolled pasta before, there are a couple of things to know:
1) Flour everything. The pasta dough. The roller. The counter or table where you’re working. Your hands. Be liberal about the flour. Otherwise be sad.
2) If it’s a new roller, take a small piece of your dough and sacrifice it to clean the thing. Put it through ten or twenty times. You’ll clean all the icky stuff – like oil from the factory – away. Be sure to get it in the crevices. Then toss that piece. Trust me, you don’t want to eat it.
3) Start on the largest setting. For most rollers, it’s the setting corresponding to the highest number on the dial. Always roll the dough through at least once on each setting. It’s tempting to try to cut corners, but you’ll just end up with a mess.
4) Start by slightly flattening a disk of dough (to about 1/2 inch thickness). Run it through the machine once on the highest setting. Flour it again. Fold it in half or in thirds until it’s about the same size as it was when you first ran it through. Run it through again. Repeat the folding and running through a third time. This kneads the dough. You’ll notice the first time you run it through that the dough will sort of fold up, get little tears, and be generally ugly. But with each subsequent fold-and-roll, you’ll find that it gets smoother. Feel free to repeat until the dough looks smooth (five or six fold-and-rolls are okay).
5) Be sure to grab the pasta dough as it comes out of the roller. I know it sounds like a strange request, but if you let the dough pile up on itself as it comes out of the machine, it will stick to itself. Pasta dough is incredibly prone to sticking, especially to itself. So grab the end (lightly) and feed it out of the machine (this is where a mechanical roller -or a third hand – comes in handy, so you can have ahold of both ends and the roller at the same time).
6) Work down until the thinnest setting – especially with filled pasta, you want thin noodles – and set on a lightly-floured surface to fill.
Whew! Okay, are you scared yet? I swear it sounds more intimidating than it actually is! It’s just a matter of trying to get the timing down. And even though I helped my grandmother as a kid, the first time I made pasta I was pretty much a walking disaster, so don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t turn out exactly as you hoped the first time!
The next step is filling. I have to admit, my ravioli aren’t exactly beautiful. We went the easy route – a glop of puree in the middle, a roughly-cut piece of pasta, fold it over, and seal the edges with water. Next time I make them I think I’m going to use a cutter and measure the filling out so it’s all perfect. But for now, a few filling tips:
1) DON’T OVERFILL. Seriously. You want filling in there. But if you overfill you end up with filling all over the cooking water and not on the plate. Don’t overfill. I repeat, don’t overfill.
2) How do you know if you’ve overfilled? The filling goes spilling out the sides. How do you know how not to overfill? All I can say is that the surface area of the pasta should be about twice the surface area of the filling. Maybe I can come up with a hard-and-fast measurement next time. You might just want to experiment; you’ll know when you’ve overfilled because you can’t close the ravioli without the filling spilling out.
3) Push out all the air bubbles. It sounds strange, but they’ll actually explode when cooking (we had a casualty last night). Just be as careful as you can, pressing the dough on the filling and on itself. Any air should go out the sides before you finish sealing.
4) Sealing is incredibly important. I know I said that dough sticks to everything – and it does – but somehow when you want it to stick it decides not to. Get yourself a little cup of water and “glue” the edges together (you should only need to put the water on one half of the pasta unless it’s getting crusty). I use my fingers, but I guess you could use a brush. Make sure all the sides are totally sealed together or the ravioli filling will seep out.
5) Proper storage is super-important! Through trial and error, I found that the very best storage technique is to cut a piece of parchment paper the size of your cookie sheet and flour it well. Then place each ravioli as it’s finished on the parchment paper. Don’t let your ravioli touch! I usually lightly flour the outside of each ravioli as it’s finished, too. As soon as a tray of ravioli is finished, I put them in the freezer. If you’re going to cook them tonight, you don’t need to freeze them too much. But it’s better to freeze them separately than to leave them on floured towels and let them get all soggy (yes, I speak from experience). And if you have extra, you’ll already be on your way to freezing them perfectly (just let them freeze overnight before putting them in a baggie together).
This recipe should make somewhere between 2 and 3 dozen ravioli. We usually enjoy them as a side dish – about 5 per person – so plan accordingly.
Cooking and Serving
So you got through the whole ravioli-making process! Congratulations! See, I told you it was more time-consuming than hard. 🙂 Now it’s time to cook and serve your ravioli. I know you could probably do this a million different ways, but I like boiling them and serving with a simple sage-browned butter sauce. It’s quick and easy and super-yummy. I’ve also had them (but not made them) fried in the butter. That’s good but probably takes more effort than it’s worth!
Butternut Squash Ravioli in Sage and Browned Butter Sauce
If you’ve gotten through the whole thing (or if you found some yummy-looking ravioli in the frozen section of the supermarket!), you’re now ready for saucing and plating. Cooking the ravioli is simple: drop them into boiling water and cook until they’re floating on the water’s surface and they’re tender (about 8 minutes). But the sauce?
- 1/2 stick unsalted butter (yes, this is a lot. no you don’t have to serve it all. last night we only ate about half of the sauce)
- handful fresh sage (sorry, there’s no substitution for the fresh stuff)
- dash salt
Melt the butter in a small sauce- or frying pan. Add the sage and the salt. Cook on medium-high heat, stirring often, until the butter stops foaming. The butter will turn golden brown and the sage will fry. Turn the butter off when it gets to be the color of milk chocolate and serve immediately. I usually pour the butter sauce over the pasta (it will pool at the bottom of the serving platter but you’ll get all the yummy carmelized solids over the top of your dish). Eat the sage. Trust me, it’s incredible!