You know what they say about Thanksgiving – “it’s all about the sides.” Around here, it’s also about the starters! And by starter, I mean “a little something” served just before the bird and those sides hit the table. Like a cup of creamy butternut squash soup with creme fraiche & chives (another fave), or in this case, two or three tender roasted butternut squash ravioli with sage brown butter. Delicious. And if you’re making a scaled down feast for just a couple of people with perhaps fewer sides and cornish game hens or a smoked turkey breast, you can really elevate the meal by starting with a swanky small plate.
Roasting the Squash
Toward the end of the farm market season, I usually get a butternut squash or two. I may not know exactly what I’m going to make when I start out, but for me, the first step is always roasting. Once I’ve done that, the pulp can rest quietly in the frig for a couple of days until I land on the recipe(s) of choice. Sometimes I freeze the pulp in zip freezer bags (1 cup per bag, as much air removed as possible) if roasting is all time will allow during a busy week. Then you’re ready to roll when the inspiration hits.
The roasting process is easy and takes about an hour, during which time you can tackle another small task or listen to a book on tape, my personal choice. All I do is cut the squash in half vertically, scoop out the seeds & strings (I use a grapefruit spoon), oil the surface, and roast face down for about 45 minutes at 400 degrees. When the squash is cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh with a large spoon.
Now for the ravioli. I do make fresh pasta from time to time, but the big shortcut here is using packaged wonton wrappers in place of the fresh dough. What a time saver! But first, let’s make the filling from the roasted butternut squash pulp – freshly made or frozen & defrosted.
Making the Ravioli Filling
The filling only takes 5 minutes to make, and if you’re not ready to fill the pasta, it can go right into the frig for a later assembly.
1 tbsp butter
3 tbsp minced shallots
1 cup butternut squash pulp
Salt & white pepper to taste
3 tbsp heavy cream
3 tbsp Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Melt the butter in a large saute pan over medium heat, then add the shallots and saute for one minute. Add the squash to the pan, stir and cook for 2-3 minutes, seasoning with a little salt & white pepper. (If you don’t have white pepper, don’t worry about it – use black!) Stir in the cream and cook 2 more minutes. Remove from heat and add the cheese and nutmeg. Taste, and add more salt & pepper if needed. Cool completely.
Building the Ravioli
I usually fill 8 wonton wrappers at a time, which works well to keep the wrappers from drying out. Brush one diagonal half of the wrapper with egg wash (1 beaten egg + 1 tbsp water). This will keep the filling in place and also seal your edges. Place a small ball of filling (1-1 1/2 tsp) in the center of the egg-washed half. Fold over the other half, pressing aroung the filling with your fingers and sealing the edges. Done!
As I continue to fill the ravioli, I place the finished ones on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and lightly sprinkled with cornmeal. (The cornmeal keeps the wrappers from sticking to the paper.) I usually get about 3 dozen from the cup of filling. If I’m cooking the pasta fairly soon, I just cover the tray with a kitchen towel and store in the frig. If I’m freezing some or all for my Thanksgiving feast, I put the tray in the freezer, then bag & store in a zip bag when frozen solid.
Preparing the Ravioli
To cook fresh pasta: Add a generous amount of salt and a few drops of olive oil to a large saucepan of boiling water. Reduce heat, add pasta and boil gently for 2-3 minutes – once theyr’e cooked they’ll float to the top.
To cook frozen pasta: Follow the same process as for fresh ravioli, but boil for 5-7 miinutes until they float to the top.
Lift the cooked ravioli from the water using a slotted spoon and add to the saucpan containing the sage brown butter.
Making the Sage Brown Butter – the Finishing Touch
I have a nice sage plant in my herb garden around an old millstone. When I dole out the roasted butternut squash ravioli in small batches, I pluck a few leaves and make a small amount of the brown butter. When I’m preparing a full batch as for the Thanksgiving feast, I do a pretty good harvest and make a bigger batch. The sage brown butter goes quickly, so I start it when the pasta is added to the boiling water.
Small Batch Sage Brown Butter
In a medium saute pan place 1-2 tbsp of butter over medium high heat. After 1 or 2 minutes, when the butter begins to brown at the edges of the pan, add 6-7 sliced/torn sage leaves.
Full Recipe Sage Brown Butter
Follow directions above usiing 1 stick of butter and 12-14 sage leaves.
Add the drained pasta to the saucepan, swirl to coat. Serve with freshly shaved or grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.
For a small plate starter, I suggest plating 2-3 of the ravioli. If you feel you have to sample the goods and can’t wait for the Thanksgiving feast, go ahead and fill your plate! Buono Appetito!