Sunday, September 6, 2009

Day 171 - Ravioli with Butternut Squash Filling

Once again, I've taken on the daunting task of catering David P.'s "cheat meal." For those of you who aren't aware of this phenomenon, David eats like a monk for six days, and then for dinner on the seventh, he gorges like there's no tomorrow. By law, the meal has to be abundant, rich, and naughty. Anything less would be waste of a "cheat meal." The last time I hosted his cheat meal, the main attraction was gnocchi (a definite hit). Would this pasta get the job done??

Ravioli with Butternut Squash Filling (p. 372)

This is my second try at ravioli, the first time having used spinach pasta dough and Paula's ravioli molds. I went it alone today, no molds, no spinach. Just me, flour, eggs, and a pastry cutter.

It's kind of amazing that you can make pasta with just flour and eggs. It's so bare-bones! Martha's recipe uses two cups of all-purpose flour, but I still have 00 flour on hand, and since that's the "ultimate" pasta flour, I thought I should use at least some. (Plus I had such a nice result when I mixed some into the lasagne noodle dough last week.) For these ravioli, I used half all-purpose and half 00 flour.

Unfortunately, I think I may have used too much flour in general this time. The dough seemed a little dry and tough. It was kneadable, but it was a little sluggish and didn't have the shine and elasticity that I've seen before. Still, I forged ahead.

The filling was easy enough to make. There's something a little confusing in the ingredients list, though. I bought a smallish butternut squash, about 2.5 pounds. In the ingredients, it says to get half a small butternut squash, about 1/2 pound. So one might assume that I'd be using a fifth of the squash I bought. In fact, I used a little more than half of it to make the 1 1/4 cups of cooked squash that I needed for the recipe. So 1/2 pound may refer to the weight once cooked, but since the cooking happens within this recipe, I think that measurement should read "1 1/2 pounds," meaning raw squash.

I took Martha's suggestion to add some crushed amaretti to the filling. Who doesn't like "a hint sweetness and added texture?"

Rolling out the pasta went surprisingly quickly, although I think that because the dough was on the dry side, it was especially resilient. To a fault, even.

I'm still having an issue with the shape of my rolled out dough. It's a nice wide sheet, but the end of it is always pointed, like an arrow. Does anyone have any tips for keeping it square? (I know this has to do with it being thick in the middle at the beginning, but all my efforts to flatten it out have failed.)

I was concerned about shaping these ravioli without a mold, but it turns out that it's a breeze! The directions in the book are perfect! A couple of extra tips: Cut the top piece of dough to be a little longer than the bottom piece. You will need the extra length to accommodate the filling. Also, don't be alarmed if the sheets don't stick together perfectly after you press the edges. When you cut them with the pastry cutter, that will seal the deal. And one last thing: don't skimp with the semolina on the baking sheet. These puppies will stick, no kidding, so create some good coverage.

I ran out of filling making the last batch of these, i.e. the fourth sheet of pasta. (I filled the last half dozen with plain ricotta.) If you want big ravioli with lots of filling, you might want to increase the filling recipe by 50%. If you want a smaller, more delicate ravioli, you should be fine.

I was very happy with the look of the ravioli. They were beautiful, even professional-looking, I daresay.

As for the boiling, I had the same experience as last time. My ravioli floated to the top within seconds, way before they could possibly have been done. I went ahead and cooked them for 3-4 minutes anyway.

After tossing them with butter and adding the sage and parmesan shavings, the pasta still seemed as if it were missing something. It's almost like you can't use enough butter.

And something else strange about this dish: the ravioli cool off almost instantly. It's practically impossible to serve these hot. By the time you've tossed, plated, and accessorized, they're basically room temperature.

I think two things sabotaged these ravioli. One, the over-flouring of the dough made for a heavy pasta. Easy to roll, yes, but leaden to eat. There was none of that feathery, almost transparent, magical texture of my previous pasta efforts. This was rubbery and D.O.A.

Secondly, I think I cut these ravioli too big. I tried to use as much of the pasta sheet as possible, but that was a mistake. I'm realizing that these are meant to be filled modestly and cut to a proportionate shape. My ravioli, beautiful though they were, had too much pasta per square inch and consequently, not enough filling.

As for the flavor, the filling is lovely, but very subtle. Even with the added amaretti, they're just barely sweet. The sage is a nice accent, but the Parmesan is the real star here.

With each subsequent batch, they got better and better. I tried cooking them longer, and that helped a little with the heaviness of the dough. And strangely, salting the butter helped the flavor overall.

But at room temperature, with leaden pasta, and too much of it at that, these were definitely not cheat-meal-worthy.

Jeff: B- (for over-flouring the dough and over-sizing the ravioli)
Martha: A- (for a potentially confusing ingredient measurement)

Until we eat again....

Note: Cheat meal wasn't a total bust. David made his mother's friend Barbara's Chocolate Mousse (actually, he redubbed it Chocolate Pousse, because it came out more like pudding than mousse). The pousse definitely delivered on the three laws of cheat-meal: abundant, rich, and naughty.

David's smiling because he'd already started this meal with a generous helping of pousse. It should be mentioned that in spite of everything I chronicled above, he still ate three platefuls of this ravioli....


  1. Jeff, have you tried warming serving pieces and plates/pasta bowls in the oven before serving? It's the only way I've ever been able to keep pasta warm unless it's in a stock. I come from Houston where air conditioning instantly cooled pasta.

    Thanks for letting us inside your culinary adventures.

  2. Michael, I never would have thought of that! What a smart idea.... Thanks!