This rustic ravioli is stuffed with a spiced, butternut squash filling, and served up with a sage brown butter sauce. Classically simple and completely satisfying.
During my first visit to Florence, Italy, I had the pleasure of taking an Italian wine tour and cooking class. It was one of those all day excursions, put together strictly for the tourists. The kind where you are picked up as a group and whisked you off to the country. We started with the wine tour and tasting, then heading out to an Italian farm house where we would be learning to cook. The lady of the house, Cristina, was upstairs working on 3 of our four courses. As chefs-in-training, we headed to a large room on the lower level to learn to make pasta from scratch.
I remember thinking that pasta must be a very difficult thing to make. After all, no one I knew ever made it from scratch. My friends and family all purchased it in a box, boiled some water, and a few minutes later had a dish that would be served dripping with sauce. I was imagining complicated things and wondering why they would let us drink wine all morning if we had to conquer this incredibly difficult task before we could eat. Then I saw the ingredient list: 1 1/4 cup of flour, a pinch of salt, two eggs. That was it. Nothing fancy, expensive, or crazy. We spent the next hour or so drinking wine and transforming eggs, flour, and salt into pillows of ravioli, and ribbons of fettuccine and spaghetti. Then I experienced the most amazing 4 course Italian meal I’ve ever had the pleasure of eating.
Fast forward and I still greatly enjoy bowls of pasta from a box dripping with sauce. I like them even more now that I make the sauce from scratch. However, when it comes to ravioli, it’s best to skip the box and make it from scratch. Despite what you may have heard, ravioli doesn’t require any special equipment. Yes, you could use a pasta roller, ravioli mold, ravioli cutter, ravioli stamp, etc, etc, but you don’t need to. My method calls for a rolling pin (or wine bottle) and a cookie cutter (or glass). The result is perfectly shaped, crescent moons of deliciousness.
To start, measure out 1 1/4 cup of flour on to a clean work surface. Shape it into a mound and then hollow out the middle like a bowl to hold the eggs. Crack the eggs right into the the middle of the flour. If you’ve done it right, your eggs should stay in the flour bowl and not run all over the counter. Sprinkle a dash of salt on top of the eggs and flour.
Grab a fork and gently start scrambling the eggs. As you mix, the flour will slowly incorporate and the dough will build. When the flour starts to recede back, simply fold it forward on the eggs. It will take a few minutes, but keep at it. As the dough thickens, use the fork to scrape up any bits sticking to the counter and work it back into the dough. Once most of the flour is absorbed swap the fork for your hands and continue to mix until all the flour is absorbed.
At this point you should have a floury dough ball, that needs to be kneaded for about 7 – 10 minutes. If the dough is sticking to your hands or the work surface, add a little more flour, but only a little at a time. Once the dough is smooth and not sticking, shape it into a ball, wrap it in plastic wrap and let it rest. The rest phase allow the flour to soak up the moisture and the gluten to form and relax. It takes at least 30 minutes but can be left up to 6 hours. If you are going to more than an hour, put it in the fridge to start and let it rest on the counter for the last 30 minutes. During this rest phase your dough will transform, becoming more yellow in color and smoother to the touch.
While the dough is resting, make the filling. Chop 3 cups of butternut squash into 3/4″ cubes (between half and 3/4 of a medium sized squash.) Place them in a steamer basket over boiling water for 15 – 20 or until fork tender. Alternatively you can roast, boil, or even microwave your squash to soften. Using a fork, roughly mash the squash. With rustic ravioli, you don’t need to have a super smooth filling. Add salt, milk, nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, and all spice, adjusting to taste. On the nutmeg and ginger 1/4th of a tsp was just a bit too much, but 1/8th wasn’t quite enough. Remember you can always add more, but you can’t take it out, so start with less, taste, and work your way up.
Before you roll out your dough liberally flour your work surface. Using a rolling pin, or rolling pin substitute, begin to roll your dough into a rough rectangle. Wine bottles – empty or full, round towel rods, or even sturdy drinking glasses can sub for a rolling pin when you need it. Since we are working with half rounds, the edges do not need to be perfectly straight. Roll the sheet flat until you cannot roll it any more, adding more flour to the top and bottom as necessary so that it doesn’t stick. The dough should be thin and pliable. If you are running out of space, cut your sheet in half. Carefully fold one sheet over and cover it with a clean kitchen towel while working with the other half. When the dough is as thin as you can get it, it’s time to cut.
To make my perfectly even circles I used a glass that measured 3 1/4″ across, but a cookie cutter will do the job as well. I was able to cut 38 ravioli rounds from my pasta sheet. Once they are cut and separated from the leftover dough, measure out 2 teaspoons of filling and pile it into the center of each round. If your circles are smaller or larger adjust the filling accordingly.
Once you have the filling in place, grab a small dish and fill it with clean water. Using the water, dampen the bottom half of your ravioli circle. With dry fingers, grab the top center of the ravioli circle and gently pull it down around the filing, sealing the top center to the bottom center. Working from the center out, tap down the filling then move up the sides of the ravioli, sealing the seam and pushing out any air bubbles as you go. Repeat with each ravioli until you have a bunch of little half-moon shapes laying on your work surface.
At this point you can easily freeze or cook your raviolis.
To freeze: lay them out in a single row on a cookie sheet. Place it in the freezer 6 – 8 hours or until they firm up. Transfer to a freezer safe bag and return to the freezer for up to 6 months. When it’s time to cook, follow the directions below, adding 3 – 5 minutes to the cooking time.
To cook: heat a large pot of water over a high flame. Once the water is boiling, gently but quickly drop the raviolis in one by one then lower the heat to medium/medium low. The raviolis need to simmer – not boil. Boiling can cause the raviolis to break apart and lose their filling. Simmer for 10 – 15 minutes until tender, then drain gently.
The sauce of the day is a sage brown butter sauce. It’s quick, easy, and a great complimentary flavor to the the squash. For each serving of 5 – 6 raviolis, allow for 1 tablespoon of butter and 1/2 tsp of fresh sage. In a small saucepan, melt the butter over high heat, stirring often. When the butter starts to foam up, add the sage. If you use dried sage, you will need half the amount compared to fresh. My sage came from a plant that appears alive one day and dead the next, so I used a combination of fresh and dried. Once the butter starts to darken in color and give off a nutty aroma, remove it from the heat. The whole process took about 4 minutes. It’s very easy to go from browned butter to burned butter, so keep a close eye on it.
To serve, place 5 – 6 raviolis on a plate and drizzle the sage brown butter sauce on top. Enjoy with a crisp, dry, white wine. I would suggest a California sauvignon blanc, a dry German Riesling, or a bottle of sparkling Spanish Cava. Bon appetite!
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Rustic Butternut Squash Ravioli
- 1 1/4 cup all purpose flour
- 2 large eggs
- dash of salt
- 3 cups of butternut squash cubed
- 1/2 tsp salt
- scant 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- scant 1/4 tsp ginger
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- scant 1/8th tsp all spice
- 2 Tablespoons of milk
- Sauce per serving of 5 - 6 raviolis:
- 1 tablespoon of salted butter
- 1/2 tsp of sage
Measure 1 1/4 cups of flour onto a clean counter top.
Hollow out the middle of the mound to form a bowl.
Crack both eggs into the flour bowl, being careful not to break the walls.
Sprinkle with a dash of salt.
Use a fork to scramble the eggs.
Continue to mix, gradually incorporating the flour into the eggs.
When the flour is mostly absorbed, knead the dough for about 10 minutes, adding extra flour as needed to keep it from sticking.
Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and allow it to rest 30 minutes - 6 hours. If resting longer, place in the fridge and pull it out for the final 30 minutes.
While the dough is resting, make your filling.
Steam, boil, or roast your cubed squash until it is fork tender.
Mash it with a fork, adding the salt, nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, all spice, and milk. Adjust the spices to taste. Remember you can add more, but you cannot take it out.
Liberally flour your clean work surface and roll out your dough. Try to get it as thin as possible.
Using a glass or cookie cutter that is about 3" across, cut out your ravioli circles.
Place just under 2 teaspoons of filling int he middle of each circle.
Dip you fingers into a clean bowl of water and moisten the edge around the bottom half of your ravioli.
Dry your fingers, grab the top center of the ravioli and gently fold it down to the bottom,. Working from the center point outwards, seal in the filling.
Place the completed raviolis on a floured surface while you finish the others.
You can reuse the remaining dough, by reworking it with a little water and re-rolling it out if you choose.
Once the raviolis are constructed you can freeze them or cook them.
To freeze: place in a single row on a cookie sheet and freeze 6 - 8 hours or until firm. Transfer to a freezer safe bag and store in the freezer for up to 6 months.
To cook: bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. One at a time add the raviolis, then reduce the heat to medium. Simmer the raviolis for 10 - 15 minutes over medium - low heat until tender.
While they cook, in a small sauce pan melt the butter over high heat, stirring constantly. Adjust amount of butter and sage based on the number of serving you are making. Once the butter begins to foam, add the sage, continuing to stir. When the butter begins to darken and smells nutty, remove it from the heat.
Gently drain the raviolis in a colander.
Serve 5 - 6 raviolis drizzled with about 1 tablespoon of the sage brown butter sauce.