Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Butternut Squash Ravioli with Hawaiian Almonds and Herb Cream Sauce

Whenever I come home my mom and I usually bring out the pasta maker and allow ourselves to get creative. Sometimes we have additional help from friends who join us in our cooking ventures. This was one of those incidents where I took a well known favorite -- butternut ravioli with cream sauce -- and kicked it up with a few of my own ideas. We served this alongside lemon herb chicken and greens with garlic and olive oil. What really comes in handy is a hunk of sourdough to mop up the extra cream sauce, but that's just me and my family and our questionable way of thinking.

Instead of giving three different detailed recipes for the ingredients involved in this process, I will summarize my own methods and highly recommend that you get comfortable with them before you try to serve this as more than a test. The first method is one I've mentioned before, getting the puree out of a squash or gourd. You want to slice it in half, remove the seeds and guts, place the halves cut side down in a large roasting pan with about an inch of water. Bake for around an hour at 350, remove from the oven and carefully scoop out the puree into a bowl. Mash it and you're set on that end.

As far as the pasta goes, I like to use a mix of bread flour and semolina -- 2 cups of each, 6 eggs, 2 tablespoons of olive oil and a dash of salt. This yeilds enough to feed 6-8 people. You combine the two flours and salt, form a cavern in the middle of the flour and pour the eggs and oil into it. Mix it from the inside working outwards until the dough is an even consistency. Stick it into the fridge for anywhere from ten minutes to an hour, I always mix the dough before starting the rest of the recipe. When you're ready to work with the dough, take small handfuls at a time and knead them first. Once they're stretchy and able to withstand rolling out, either put them through a pasta mill to the next to thinnest setting or use a rolling pin to get the sheet as thin as possible. If this is too much or if you're crunched for time, many high end grocers sell prerolled sheets of pasta -- the only restriction is that it absolutely must be fresh pasta, otherwise the ravioli can't stay intact.

For the filling, you will need:

3 cups butternut squash puree
2/3 cup toasted Hawaiian almonds (cashews also work well), crushed finely
1 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp sage
dash of chili powder
salt to taste

Mix all ingredients together and set aside, try to make it as smooth as possible.

Herb Cream Sauce:

1/2 quart half and half
1/4 cup flour
3 tbsp butter
2 tbsp fresh chopped sage
1 tsp dried thyme
2 springs fresh rosemary, leaves crushed and separated
2 tsp fresh chopped oregano
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the butter over medium in a saucepan until liquefied; add the flour and mix into a paste with a whisk extremely quickly. Add a cup of the half and half and, again, whisk extremely quickly to incorporate the flour-butter mixture into the liquid. Add the rest of the half and half once you've eliminated most lumps and add the salt/pepper. Keep an eye on it and whisk often, after the sauce starts to get hot youll notice it thicken a bit. Add the herbs at that point. Keep whisking until the sauce reaches the consistency of yogurt -- not as thick as pudding. Take off the heat and set aside.

You should have several sheets of pasta ready to work with. Take about a tablespoon of the filling and place it near an edge. Slice a square or circle around the filling, leaving about a half inch on each side for attachment. Slice out another piece the same size and put it over the filling on the first, fold the edges together. Square ravioli tends to make the best use of your pasta dough and is easiest to fold by far but with some practice, circular ravioli can offer a different aesthetic to the meal you're preparing.

Bring a large pot of water to boil and set aside a large plate or bowl for the ravioli. Putting about 8 in at a time, boil the raviolis for 2-3 minutes and scoop out with a slotted spoon. Do this repeatedly until they're all cooked. At this point you can arrange them on the plate and top with the cream sauce. Some people like this with a bit of shredded fontina, but when done right, the cream sauce provides plenty of flavor.

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