Tue Oct 26, 2010
Pumpkins, pumpkins, pumpkins! Last week it was an influx of apples, this week it's all about pumpkins. Unlike the CSA being the root of my apple predicament, I'm the creator of on my own pumpkin destiny, and when I see them just about every step I take right now, I just seem to want them all the more. Along with a few big fellas for carving taking up the majority of my kitchen table, I'm quite fond of the smaller sugar pumpkins, who can still undergo the transformation into a jack-o-lantern, but do even better in edible incarnations, like this pumpkin ravioli.
Pumpkin as a food stuff beyond pie is not something I grew up with, and only learned it recently after going through a pumpkin awakening. It started with carving one for work a few years ago, where the smell of cutting the top off, then scooping out its slimy guts and seed brought back sensations of from my youth that ignited a desire for these fall squash that I previously had never known. Since then I've never passed up a chance to do a little pumpkin carving, but that wasn't enough for me, so I turned to experimenting with them as an item to be cooked.
Most of my food experimentation begins with the grill (naturally), so my first inclination for pumpkin was to grill it, but how? Seeing as their quite tough and fibrous in their raw state, I thought the best approach would be to get them softened up nicely before working with them. This involved cooking them over indirect heat until the innards softened to a point that they could just be scooped out easily with a spoon—this took about an hour.
Meatwaver Marissa has been all about pumpkin ravioli in the past, and while I actually never had it before, her enthusiasm led me to the decision to turn my grilled pumpkin into these. The only problem standing in my way—I had never made pasta before. I was dead set on making my own pasta though because a wedding gift of a Kitchen Aid pasta roller had remained untouched for way too long.
I started off using the well method I had seem done so effortlessly on cooking show after cooking show, but this ended up being somewhat of disaster, with eggs and flour ending up just about everywhere except where I wanted them to be. I've since switched to doing the initial mixing in a bowl and haven't looked back.
After finally getting the dough together in one place, I was ill prepared for the job of kneading. This firm ball took a hell of a lot of effort to knead, requiring a full ten minutes to get the cohesive and smooth look I was going for. I could totally get some arms of steel if I could only commit to making a pasta dough a day.
With the dough and my arms ready for a rest, I was able to turn my attention to the filling. I wanted to create a complex, yet cohesive mixture to fill the raviolis and started it with sauteing shallots in some butter. Then I added in the scooped out pumpkin flesh, a nice helping of ricotta along with a little cayenne and nutmeg. I let this cook together until warmed through, then seasoned with salt and pepper to make a filling that was a sweet, earthy, creamy, and just a little bit spicy, and tasted just excellent together as a whole.
Rolling the pasta didn't come without its own challenges, but luckily I was quick to overcome them. After a few crumbly passes through the roller, I got the hang of folding and re-rolling to develop the gluten needed for the pasta to survive its arduous journey to becoming thin sheets.
With some nicely rolled pasta, I was in the home stretch in what was becoming a marathon of a weeknight meal. I placed a rounded tablespoon on each sheet of pasta, surrounded the filling with an egg wash, then set another sheet on top and formed the ravioli. As the production went on, I realized the easier method was line the filling up on side of a sheet of pasta, then fold over the other side, which was not only faster and easier, but produced far less excess pasta requiring re-rolling.
Now we've entered the home stretch—just a few minutes in boiling water, then a toss in my favorite brown butter and sage sauce, and it was eating time. What started as a mere desire to cook a pumpkin had now consumed all of my attention late into the evening, but the pay off was well worth it. The pasta had a freshness you just can't buy, and the filling was a unique and tasty combination that I had never quite experienced anywhere before. I've become a much more proficient pasta maker since starting out making these, but I owe a lot of my first experience to the pumpkin and my grill, both of which combined together in an initial pursuit that ended with learning something completely new and exciting. For this, I think we must all hail the pumpkin king!
Pumpkin Ravioli with Brown Butter and Sage SaucePasta recipe adapted from Saveur
For the filling
1 small sugar pumpkin, about 3 lbs, halved and seeded
1 large shallot, finely diced
6 tablespoons butter, divided
1/4 lb fresh ricotta
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Pinch of nutmeg
Freshly ground pepper
For the pasta
2 cups semolina flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 large eggs
1 large egg yolk
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon olive oil
Egg wash, 1 large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water
For the sauce
6 tablespoons butter
10 to 12 fresh sage leaves
Grated Parmesan cheese
1. Light a chimney 3/4 full of charcoal. While the charcoal is lighting, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter and brush it on the exposed flesh of the pumpkin, then season lightly with salt and pepper.
2. When the charcoal is fully lit and covered in gray ash, pour coals out and arrange them on one side of the charcoal grate, keeping the other side empty. Place the pumpkin halves over the cool side of the grill, cover, and cook over medium heat until a paring knife can be inserted in the middle of the pumpkin with no resistance, about 45-60 minutes. Remove the pumpkin from the grill and let sit until cool enough to handle. Scoop out the flesh of the pumpkin halves into a bowl and discard the skin.
3. Melt 4 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the shallot and cook until softened, but not browned, about 7 minutes. Add in the pumpkin, ricotta, cayenne, and nutmeg and cook until heated through. Remove from the heat and season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.
4. To make the pasta, mix together the semolina, all purpose flour, kosher salt, eggs, egg yolk, water, and olive oil in a large bowl, or using the well method, until dough becomes stiff. Knead dough until it's smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Wrap in plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes. Split dough into quarters and roll out one quarter using a pasta roller on the largest setting. Decrease the setting one notch and roll through again. Continue this until the third to last setting. Repeat with the remaining three pieces of dough.
5. Place a heaping tablespoon of the pumpkin filling along one side of the pasta sheet at regular intervals. Brush the egg wash around the filling and fold over the other side of the pasta. Using your fingers, remove as much air from around the filling as possible and press down to seal the pasta. Cut the pasta into squares or circles to make the ravioli.
6. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a tablespoon of salt, drop in the raviolis and cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Drain well.
7. In a large skillet, melt the remaining 6 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Add the sage leaves and cook until butter begins to brown. Add in the raviolis and toss to coat well in the sauce. Remove the ravioli to a plate, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and serve.