I opened the food magazines this weekend only to find to the inevitable annual onslaught of Halloween pumpkin recipes. The squash suggestions range from the classic (pies) to the modern (martinis). I actually don’t like many dishes made with pumpkin outside of the usual sweet treats like pies and spice bread, and even then once-a-year is just fine. I favor butternut and kabocha if I’m going to cook with winter squash. For me, they have more flavor and stand up better to aggressive spicing. I once made a pumpkin layer cake, and the recipe substituted Chinese five-spice for the tradition cinnamon, clove and ginger. The five-spice gave a new dimension to the cake, verging on the savory. I will repeat this substitution with my Thanksgiving pie.
Here is my favorite dish with winter squash, and one that is a real crowd-pleaser: butternut squash ravioli. Also good here is red kuri squash, pictured above. I use my main concession to the time constraints of my life: wonton skins from the market instead of rolling my own pasta dough. I own a pasta roller, and do make my own pasta once in a while, but I admit that I actually like this recipe better with wonton skins. The filling is so rich and heavy, that the ethereal wrapper seems more appropriate. The pale white eggless dough also shows off the beautiful orange-brown color of the filling. If you want to get all DIY and make your own dough, go for it, here is a recipe.
I am not going to take the reader step by step through filling the ravioli: just wet the sides and fold together, making sure not to capture any air bubbles. Don’t overfill. After a few tries you’ll get the hang of it. Keep the filled pasta covered with a damp dishcloth so it doesn’t dry out. If you need more concrete instructions, here is a youtube video, hosted by a guy with a very authentic Italian accent. You can cook the ravioli right away or they freeze beautifully. If you want to go on a fall-themed ravioli jag, I also suggest the excellent carrot ricotta filling I just snagged from Food and Wine. I know that ravioli sound intimidating, but with a glass of wine and some music, the work goes quickly and is rather pleasant. Just the thing to do on a rainy fall afternoon.
BUTTERNUT SQUASH RAVIOLI
(adapted from Jamie Oliver)
1 butternut squash
1 tablespoon coriander
1 tablespoon oregano
large pinch fennel seed
large pinch crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 cloves of garlic, minced or garlic-pressed
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup grated Parmigianno cheese
4 tablespoons butter
8 sage leaves, torn into pieces
1. Preheat oven to 400. Cut squash lengthwise into 6 skinny wedges, and scoop out seeds. Do not peel.
2. Mash the spices, garlic and oil together in a bowl to make a coarse paste. Rub all over the squash wedges. Place on a baking sheet skin side down and bake until soft, about 45 minutes. Let cool.
3. Scrape out flesh from peel and discard peels. Mash the squash with the egg yolk and a 1/4 cup of the cheese.
4. Put a tablespoon of filling in each wonton skin and seal with water (freeze here if you want — works great!). Cook in well-salted boiling water 5-7 minutes.
5. Melt butter gently in a small pan and add sage. Allow to infuse for several minutes over low heat. Scoop ravioli from the water and place on a large platter, don’t drain too thoroughly, you want some moisture to lighten up the sauce. Pour over the sage butter and turn gently. Sprinkle with remaining cheese.