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Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Ravioli Redeems the Squash

Despite the sweltering heat that hung over Charm City this first weekend of October, I am totally in the mood for fall food. This is many folks' favorite season for cooking and eating, potentially because of the leeway that the slimming effect fall layers affords the appetite, but I’ll maintain it’s the seasonal ingredients that really get me going. 

Fall at the Farmers Market is amazing, it’s all about gargantuan heads of cauliflower, myriad squash varieties in every shape and size, and a plethora of favorites like lima beans, pears and apples. It’s this time of year I find myself most inspired and active in the kitchen - ok enough gushing...

Squash, the iconic symbol of fall food, presents a conundrum for the conscientious eater in me. At the same time delicious and full of nostalgic flavor, it is also nearly nutritionally void, consisting mostly of water, a notion my grandmother has beaten into my psyche. That said, I justify using this farce of a vegetable for the flavor and textural vehicle it can be for other ingredients.

Now there are plenty of types of squash, and they all have their place - acorn for stuffing and baking, spaghetti for guilt-free pasta, pumpkin for fragrant soups - but the go-to, for me and I am sure many others, is the ubiquitous Butternut. Fortunately, these can be found in droves at nearly every farmers market in the state of Maryland from September through January, so I have plenty of opportunity to experiment, finding new ways to elevate fall food. 

Bakes, hashes, purees, they have all had their day in my kitchen, but on my most recent butternut foray I chose pasta as my muse. It was a Friday night, the work week and the 90 degree October heat which I can't even call ‘unseasonal’ any more, were weighing on my dinner decisions so I decided I wanted to stick to comfort as the theme for the night’s meal. I had invited two close friends for dinner, both of whom responded enthusiastically (a little too much so IMO) to the suggestion of pasta, so it was decided. 

I’d picked up some sage sausage from Pahl’s Hogs the prior weekend, and decided the addition of fresh sage and incorporation with sweet and earthy butternut squash would be the perfect filling for some handmade Casunsei. Casunsei, is a fancy, more Italian (is that a thing?) way of saying Ravioli…Actually it is a type of filled pasta hailing from the culinary tradition of the Italian alps, towns like Verona and Trentino. Casunsei is usually characterized by hearty fillings, its half-moon shape, and is commonly found on the Christmas Eve table - The ideal pasta for autumnal flavors.

With such full flavors going into the pasta filling, the sauce was a no-brainer; a simple brown butter made with my ‘one and only’ Kerry Gold and even more fresh sage. It is both traditional for this type of pasta, and, well, there's nothing better than butter. 

I roasted the squash as soon as I got home, scooped, mashed, and then combined with a sauté of sausage, onion, garlic, and sage, filling the house with autumnal smells prior to my friends’ arrival (I do it all for effect).

I (almost) always try to make my pasta by hand, this was no exception, but it does take time. So while the dough rested, to avoid conversational stagnation and hypoglycemia, I coated some slices of eggplant in egg-wash and cayenne spiced corn meal, and fried them up as appetizers. I topped the ‘Melanzane Fritti’ with a quenelle of fresh ricotta I’d picked up from Fleet Street Market on my way home, and drizzled an 18yr old balsamic reduction on top for a sweet punch. 

The eggplant must have been perfectly ripe, because the creaminess achieved with a quick flash fry, surprised even myself (this appetizer is happening again).

We made the ravioli sheets together, which is a way to make prep more social and temper the pre-dinner wine consumption, win WIN… Once filled, the pasta takes a 5 minute bath in boiling water and is ready to go. I topped with the brown butter, and finished with grated Fulvi Pecorino Romano, the ONLY cheese option for that sharp and salty bite needed to offset the sweetness of the squash.

It’s difficult not to be happy with a dinner of filled pasta, but I have to say this is one recipe I will be sure to repeat. The squash was totally redeemed, while not the star of the dish, it was the key player in marrying all the flavors and textural elements. The dish was perfectly rich and savory but grounded in the season by the honeyed profile of the Butternut, probably one of my favorite dishes so far this year.


Butternut Squash & Fresh Sage Sausage Casunsei

  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 cups ‘00”’ or all purpose unbleached flour
  • 1 teaspoon + 1 tablespoon EVOO
  • Sea Salt to taste
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper + more to tsate
  • 6 oz Slab bacon or pancetta (diced)
  • 2 cloves garlic (minced)
  • 1 medium white onion (chopped)
  • 1 large butter nut squash, halved, skin on
  • 1 lb fresh ground pork sausage
  • 2 oz + 1 oz fresh sage (chopped) + more for garnish
  • Pecorino Romano to taste (grated)
  • 4 tablespoons Kerry Gold Butter
  • 1 large butter nut squash, halved, skin on
  • Filling
    • Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F
    • Brush squash with evoo and roast face up for 45 mins or until fork tender
    • Carefully scoop from the skin and place in a medium bowl
    • While squash roasts, heat 1 table spoon evoo in medium sauce pan of medium heat. Add onions and garlic and sauté until translucent. Add sausage, sage, black pepper, and sea salt and cook, using a spatula break up the sausage as finely as possible. Continue until fully cooked, but do not brown.
    • Combine sausage and sage with roasted squash and ‘mash’ together until smooth, set aside.
  • Pasta:
    • In a large bowl, mound the flour forming a well in the center (looks like a volcano).
    • Put eggs, evoo, and salt into the well. Using a fork, incorporate the flour into the well, move to using your hands until all the liquid is absorbed and you have a cohesive dough ball.
    • Add water as needed and knead for 10+ minutes until dough is smooth
    • Once smooth, wrap in plastic wrap and let rest at room temperature for about 30mins – Then run through pasta maker to desired thickness and width – For Ravioli you do not want to go too thin as this will not stand up to the filling process.
    • Use a cookie cutter or other kitchen instrument to cut 3-4” diameter circles in dough sheets. Place 1 heaping table spoon filling into the center, fold over, and using your fingers, press edges together making a semi-circular half-moon shape. Be sure to seal each ravioli well so it does not come open during cooking.
      • If the dough is too dry, you will need to use some beaten eggs to seal the ravioli
      • Flour the filled ravioli to and place on a parchment lined baking sheet
    • Cook in salted boiling water for 5-8 minutes until al-dente.
    • While pasta boils, brown the butter in a small sauce pan, adding the remaining sage just as the colors turns a deep golden hue.
    • Serve immediately, drizzling brown butter over pasta, and finish with grated pecorino and fresh sage.

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