EVERYONE HAS A favorite Italian pasta dish, and this autumnal treat is mine. Tender ravioli pillows filled with butternut squash, onion, and savory parmesan, are finished with browned butter and sage. In northern Italy, friends there tell me this dish is served throughout fall and winter, even starring as the first course in Christmas Eve feasts. For the very best homemade pasta results, I’ve used semolina flour, made from first quality durum wheat. The high gluten content of the semolina is what helps the pasta hold shape and texture. But it also requires strong hands to work the dough. I believe the effort is worth it. So, pour yourself a glass of wine, roll up your sleeves, and give it a go!
FOR THE FILLING
• 1 shallot, peeled, cored and finely diced to make 1/2 cup
• 1 Tbsp olive oil
• 1/2 cup water
• 1 butternut squash, peeled, seeds discarded, cubed to make 4 cups
• 1 cup grated Parmesan Reggiano cheese (plus a little extra to top finished servings)
• 1/2 cup egg whites (reserved from the pasta recipe)
• 1 tsp salt
• 1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
• 1/2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
FOR THE PASTA
• Hand-cranked pasta-sheet roller machine (Many models available on Amazon)
• 1 Tbsp saffron threads + 4/3 cup water, simmered/reduced down to 1/4 cup liquid
• 1/4 cup water
• 3 1/4 cups semolina flour (I used Bob’s Red Mill No. 1 durum wheat version)
• 1 dozen large egg yolks (Reserve 1/2 cup of the whites for the ravioli filling and 1/2 cup to use as egg wash)
• 1 Tbsp olive oil
• 3 to 4 Tbsp cream (as needed)
FOR THE BROWNED BUTTER SAGE SAUCE
• 15 fresh sage leaves, small leaves whole,
large leaves chopped
• 1 stick butter
MAKE BUTTERNUT SQUASH FILLING
In a sauté pan over low heat, cook diced shallot in oil for five minutes until very soft. Add water and butternut squash cubes. Cover pan and simmer for 15 minutes or until squash is tender. Remove cover and continue simmering a scant few minutes until the liquid has cooked off. (Do not brown the squash.) Place squash/onion mixture in a bowl and blend with hand-held blender until smooth. (Or blend in food processor.) Line a fine mesh sieve with cheesecloth and place over a bowl. Scoop pureed squash into cheesecloth-lined sieve and allow to strain while you make pasta dough.
Once pasta dough is made, finish the filling by stirring in the parmesan cheese, . cup egg whites, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Place finished filling in refrigerator.
In a small pan over medium-low heat, simmer saffron in 3/4 cup water until reduced down to 1/4 cup liquid. Strain out saffron threads and cool liquid. Set aside. Place semolina flour in a very wide, shallow bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk egg yolks with olive oil, saffron water and additional 1/2 cup water. Make a well in the middle of the flour, pour in some of the egg mixture. With a fork, mix egg with some of the flour. Continue pulling flour from the sides of the well, adding egg mixture and mixing with fork until all of the egg and flour has been used and you have gathered the mixture into a rough ball of dough, with some loose bits remaining. Using your hands and fingers, gather up the dough bits and knead into a ball, adding a few tablespoons of cream (just as much as is needed) and continue working the stiff dough until no crumbly bits remain and you have kneaded the dough into a firm, smooth ball. Continue kneading for 10 minutes.
Flatten dough into a 12 x 8 rectangle, about 1 1/2 inches thick. Wrap this well in plastic wrap. Set aside to rest for one hour. On a clean work surface, unwrap the pasta dough. Slice off a 2 x 8 inch slice of the pasta dough. Rewrap the rest of the dough. Using a rolling pin, roll out the slice of dough until about 1/8 of an inch thick (or until thin enough to fit through the largest setting on your pasta roller.) Cut this strip in half. With your hand-cranked pasta sheet roller at the thickest setting, feed the halved strip into the machine, cranking the roller until the dough has passed all the way through. Gather up the strip and repeat feeding it through the machine, reducing the setting one click smaller with each pass through the machine, resulting in a thinner and longer pasta strip with each pass. (You will feed the sheet through the pasta roller nine times.) Repeat this process with the other half of the dough strip you began with. Place one of the finished pasta sheets on your work surface. Line the length of the sheet with spoonfuls of filling, leaving about an inch and one half between each spoonful. Brush egg whites along the edges of the pasta and around the filling circles. Top with second strip of pasta. Press down firmly along the edges and between each dollop of filling to seal the two sheets of pasta together. Using a ravioli stamp, or ruffle-edged pastry cutter, cut out ravioli. Place ravioli on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Continue making more ravioli until you have used up the filling. (Note: You can either throw away the edges and scraps OR cut them up and boil them in the salted water and eat them topped with your favorite pasta sauce, or more sage butter and parmesan.)
In a large pot, heat salted water to boiling over medium high heat. Cook four or five ravioli at a time in the boiling water until they float to the surface, are tender and cooked through. (About 5 minutes for each batch.) Remove cooked ravioli to a colander with slotted spoon. Once well drained, place in serving dish.
MAKE BROWNED BUTTER SAGE SAUCE
In a sauté pan over medium heat, melt butter. Continue cooking until butter foams and butter has browned. Add sage leaves and cook 30 seconds more. Pour sauce over ravioli in serving dish, top with a little extra grated parmesan. Serve immediately.