Savor Each Bite
Still sinking deeper into Autumn. Leaves are piling up on the edges of the streets while naked trees scratch the gray skies with their sharp, empty branches. I scuff my way through the piles for the deep satisfaction of their crunch, swirling lightness and that unmistakable smell of a pile of fallen leaves. I breathe it in and hold the musty, earthy smell in my nose and lungs as long as I possibly can.
I do love this time of year, the time beyond all the vibrant and always astonishingly beautiful foliage. I love the wind that comes up to shake the naked trees and swirl their dropped leaves into piles along the curb. I love the clouds that hang gray and sometimes bleak, covering the sky with no sign of rain, snow or ever leaving. Although I may tire of it in a few weeks or months I find myself eagerly welcoming these cloud-blanketed days for they give me permission to be cozy and productive in the kitchen.
We’ve been living in our apartment for over a year and I’ve recently become nostalgic for late fall evenings spent with a cooking project and NPR. Even if I’ve been on my feet all day making food at work, it won’t stop me from a few more hours of truly satisfying edible alchemy. Almost daily, I find myself taking inventory of what’s in the kitchen or what I might find at the farmer’s market this week and dreaming up combinations of ingredients into a meal. Its practically involuntary at this point, but each possibility brings a little jolt of excitement for what I will create, even if its just something simple. I guess I’m a bit of a nerd, but I’ve reached the point in life where I am content to do the things I enjoy and not worry (too much) about the rest. So, many Saturday or Sunday evenings I find myself holed up in the kitchen.
Last weekend I finally got to making the butternut squash ravioli I had been thinking about for weeks. Home made pasta is so worth the effort and, actually its not that much work, it just requires extra time and usually patience. The first time I made this recipe was a few years ago when I was making dinner for my mom and step-father in my first grown up apartment. At the time, I didn’t have a pasta roller, so I pushed and pushed at it with a rolling pin to get it as thin as I could. Now I have a pasta roller and not only does it make thinner sheets of pasta but it is also quite fun to watch the dough change from a stiff lump, not unlike play dough, to those long uniform sheets. But of course you can do it either way, depending on what is available to you.
After baking the squash and mashing it with breadcrumbs, butter, and Parmesan I could have eaten that mixture and been immensely satisfied. Instead I forged on, stuffing the squash into little half moon pillows, dropping them into boiling water and then, while they cooked, tossing garlic, sage, and toasted pecans into melted butter followed by the cooked ravioli. Is your mouth watering yet? Mine definitely was at this point and when the ravioli landed on a plate sprinkled with parmesan I savored each bite slowly.
Butternut Squash Ravioli with Toasted Pecans and Sage
This recipe is adapted from Deborah Madison’s Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. The combination of the hearty ravioli with the brown butter sauce is flavorful and satisfying. It serves 4-6 people, and I was only serving two so I froze the ravioli we wouldn’t eat and made a half batch of the brown butter. Sometime this winter we’ll enjoy the meal again.
For the Pasta:
3 cups flour
3 teaspoons of olive oil or water
1/4 teaspoon salt
Pile the flour on a counter top work surface. Shape it into a mound with a well in the center Put the eggs, oil and salt into the well. Break up the eggs with a fork and begin piling the flour in from the sides to create a smooth mass of dough that doesn’t stick to your hands. Knead the dough, picking up as much of the remaining flour as it will hold until it is smooth and moist but not sticky. Cover the dough and let it rest for 10 to 15 minutes before rolling it out.
OR, Place the flour and salt in a food processor. Turn on the motor and add oil, then the eggs. Work until little particles are formed (it will look like coarse corn meal). Take the dough out of the food processor, gather it all together and knead until smooth. Cover the dough and let it rest for 10 to fifteeen minutes.
For the Filling
2 cups of cooked butternut squash*
2 tablespoons butter
Salt and pepper
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1/2 cup dried breadcrumbs
Mash the squash and beat it with the butter until smooth. Season well with salt and pepper. Mix in the cheese and breadcrumbs until it is evenly combined. Resist the temptation to eat all of the filling then and there!
After it has rested, roll out the dough with a pasta machine until it is very thin (I rolled it out through the second to last setting on my pasta machine). Dot the dough with mounded teaspoons of filling and then fold it over to cover it (as pictured above). Cut the dough into half circles or squares and moisten them with water to tightly seal the edges. It takes some time to fill all of the pasta so keep the remaining sheets under a damp dishcloth so they don’t dry out. Once you are done filling all of them, cover the ravioli with the damp dishcloth so that they stay moist until you cook them.
For the Brown Butter with Toasted Pecans and Sage
4 to 6 tablespoons of butter
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons chopped sage leaves
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 teaspoons chopped thyme
1/3 cup pecans, toasted and coarsely chopped
freshly grated Parmesan
In a skillet which will also hold the finished pasta, melt the butter with the garlic, sage, 1 tablespoon parsley, and thyme and cook until the butter is lightly browned and has a nutty aroma. Cook the ravioli in boiling salted water for 4 or 5 minutes, then drain. Add the pecans to the butter with the remaining parsley, then add the ravioli to the sauce. Cook, gently tossing in the butter, for 30 seconds then serve dusted with Parmesan.
*Cut the squash in half lengthwise, remove the seeds and cut side down on a baking pan. Bake until soft, about 30 or 40 minutes. Scoop out the flesh and measure 2 cups.