Monday, 14 March 2011

Butternut squash, pine nut and sage ravioli

A few weeks ago, as I mentioned in a previous post, my partner was in Athens for business, and I was left alone in London craving souvlaki, Greek pizza and everything else that he was posting in facebook as a status update with the words "I am eating Greek X now...yuuummm". However, to make it up to me (all those hours of suffering looking at facebook photos with my friends...grrr...) he was contracted to carry back a suitcaseful of Greek treats, plus the greatest (and heaviest) of them all, my mom's ancient pasta maker.

This little gem, a Marcato Ampia, was bought sometime in the 1980s by my mom who thought it would be a trendy item of kitchenalia (things imported from Italy were a big deal at the time in the Greek culinary gadget world!), plus it might at some point help her in making filo. Yes, filo. Now, anyone who knows what filo is can guess that the experiment failed miserably, and the pasta maker (clue, the suggested use is "in the NAME" μαμά!) stayed stacked in a cupboard, miserably gathering dust over the years, as my mom proclaimed "this metal thing is rubbish, all dough stick and do not clean!" (forgive the stereotypical Greek "translation"). After having gone through dozens of cookbooks, online recipes, and Italian friends' stories, I realised that making your own fresh pasta is not a scary task, and remembered the poor old Marcato, and resuscitated it finally!

My partner might have grumbled about carrying all that weight (mom had persuaded me it weighed only 1 kilo - more like 4 that is...), but in the long term he has come to terms with the "inconvenience", as the pasta this machine makes is AMAZING! And since I paid nothing for an "antique" item, I can't even complain about the investment. Plus there's something essentially romantic about kitchen bits and pieces being passed down from generation to generation (even the unused ones!), that makes me a bit sentimental.

Anyways, so pasta machine in hand (or rather on counter - it's too heavy to carry around purposelessly) I was ready for experimentation. And what would be the first recipe? Lasagne, tagliatelle, linguine? Nah, I need more challenging stuff, with filling! Quick search in my head, quick search on the internet, and definitely butternut squash overpowered all other options. I absolutely love ravioli di zucca al burro e salvia (pumpkin and sage ravioli) and as I had some butternut squash and pine nuts, I went for a classic recipe by Rick Stein, changing a few things along the way, and getting a few invaluable tips from Italian friends.

The ravioli turned out amazing, the filling was the best one I've had (up to now my favourite shop-bought ones were the award-winning Tesco Finest Pumpkin Ravioli) and definitely was beyond compare with even the Tesco ones! If you don't have a pasta machine it's still possible to make homemade pasta, but much more effortful, and since you can buy one not too expensively, it's highly recommended. You know what goes in your pasta, it can be as fresh as your eggs, and you will choose your filling, amount of salt and everything else (I actually didn't need to put any salt at all, the parmesan is enough, which is an extra bonus!)

Butternut squash, pine nut and sage ravioli
Source: Dough by my Italian friend's mom and filling inspired by Rick Stein

Serves 2

For the pasta

  • 100g "00" flour
  • 1 egg
  • Big pinch of salt

For the filling

  • 200g butternut squash, cubed
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • A big pinch of crushed fennel seeds
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 25g grated parmesan cheese
  • A pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2-3 tbsp dried breadcrumbs
  • A pinch of salt
  • 1 tbsp toasted pine nuts
  • Freshly ground black pepper

For the sauce

  • 40g butter
  • 1 tbsp crushed dried sage leaves
  • A few parmesan shavings for topping 
  • 1 tbsp toasted pine nuts for topping
  • Freshly ground mixed peppercorns

Put the cubed butternut squash in an overproof dish, toss with the olive oil, the fennel seeds and some black pepper and roast for 30 minutes at 220°C until tender and caramelised. Cool slightly and mash with a potato masher.

Pour the flour in a bowl and make a well in the centre. Break the egg in a separate bowl, beat well and pour into the centre of the flour "well". With a fork fold in the flour gradually from the outside of the egg towards the centre, mixing well constantly until it's all incorporated, then dig in with your hands and knead until you have a smooth soft ball. If it's too sticky add a bit more flour, if it's too dry add a bit of water, but if your egg is medium sized it should all work perfectly fine. Wrap the ball of dough with cling-film and leave in the fridge to rest for at least 15 minutes.

In the meantime prepare the filling by mixing the mashed butternut squash with the rest of the ingredients in a bowl. Once the pasta has had its rest, divide it into two bits and pass each one through a pasta machine, finishing with setting No 7 (the thinnest in my pasta machine). Lay one sheet of pasta on the counter, and place small spoonfuls of the filling in regular intervals, making sure to leave some space between them for the dough to stick. Wet the dough by dipping your finger in a glass of water and rubbing "water lines" between the filling and on the edges. Cover with the second sheet of pasta, pressing down to close and stick, and then cut with a pasta cutter between the ravioli, or if you don't have one you can use a pizza wheel (that's what I did!) or a knife. Trim the ravioli if some are too big and boil for a good 6 minutes (try them to make sure they're not undercooked, it will all depend on the thickness of your pasta sheets) in well-salted water.

Melt the butter with the sage leaves in a small saucepan, drain the pasta and toss in the melted butter, topping with lots of parmesan and some black pepper.


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