With my steady stream of sweet Summer heirloom tomatoes coming to an end, I’m turning my attention now to some of Autumn’s bounty, not the least of which is that very symbol of the season – the pumpkin. Long treasured by American children as the medium for their annual knife-wielding artistic expression, the sudden arrival of the ubiquitous pumpkin patch is a sure sign that Autumn is nigh.
For most Americans, of course, pumpkin as an ingredient is associated almost exclusively with the obligatory Thanksgiving pumpkin pie, an ordinarily dense layer of canned pumpkin filling in a store-bought graham cracker crust sprayed liberally with whipped cream from a can. If that is the kind of pumpkin recipe you’re looking for, you’ve come to the wrong place.
If you are instead in search of a really satisfying Sunday afternoon project that has the added benefit of resulting in a sophisticated and savory meal (plus extra to freeze and gift or use later), then look no further.
My Homemade Pumpkin Ravioli with Sage Brown Butter Sauce is not for the faint of heart, but if you have the time and patience, it will warm your very soul the way only Autumn and Winter cooking can.
While I usually prefer to cook dishes around wine rather than coming up with a wine pairing after the fact, the star of this show really is the dish. That said, it’s not a good meal without a good wine, and I paired this dish with the Chateau St. Michelle 2007 Indian Wells Merlot from Columbia Valley in Washington. Smooth and light with just enough spice to play off of the nutmeg and cinnamon, the crispy prosciutto/pancetta brought out a savory note in the middle palate of the wine. All in all, a pretty good pairing, especially since I had never actually tried this particular wine! If you don’t want a Merlot, I might suggest a Grenache or a Pinot Noir. Avoid really big, heavy reds like Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Zinfandel, as they will overpower the delicate flavors of the dish. Likewise, I would say that most white wines would detract from the earthy flavors of this dish.
Now for the food!
Homemade Pumpkin Ravioli with Sage Brown Butter Sauce
Makes about 50 ravioli and enough sauce for 4 servings (in other words, you’ll have plenty of ravioli to freeze for later!)
Ingredients for the Ravioli
- 1 medium (about 2 pounds) pumpkin, seeds and stringy pulp removed (as if you were going to carve a Jack-o-Lantern)
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground star anise (optional)
- 1 cup ricotta cheese (I prefer whole milk ricotta, but low fat will work)
- Freshly ground pepper
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour*
- Ice cold water*
Ingredients for the Sauce
- 4 ounces pancetta or prosciutto ends, chopped**
- 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
- 1/3 cup chopped fresh sage, plus a few unchopped sage leaves for garnish
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- A pinch of sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Slice the pumpkin into several long pieces, much as you would a cantaloupe. Carefully remove the skin as well as any remaining stringy pulp from the flesh. Chop the pumpkin into relatively equally sized pieces, about 1 1/2 to 2 inches each. You want them to be about the same size so that they cook evenly. In a large bowl, toss the pumpkin pieces with the nutmeg, cinnamon, salt and anise (if using), along with enough olive oil to nicely coat each piece. Spread the pumpkin out on a non-stick baking sheet or in a roasting pan. It’s alright if the pieces are a bit crowded, but they should be a single layer. Place in the oven and allow to roast for 25-30 minutes, or until the pieces are soft and golden brown. Allow to cool.
If you are making your own pasta dough (as opposed to using wonton wrappers), you’ll want to do so while the pumpkin is roasting, as the dough needs to chill for at least 30 minutes. In another large bowl, slowly add ice cold water to the flour in small amounts (a couple of ounces at a time), using your hands to incorporate the water each time before adding more. Stop adding water as soon as the flour has begun to come together into a dough and before it becomes wet and sticky, as you cannot simply fix it by adding more flour once you’ve past the proper amount of water. Form the dough into a ball, wrap it in plastic and place it in the refrigerator to chill for at least 30 minutes.
Once the pumpkin has cooled slightly, puree the pieces using a food processor or hand mixer (a blender won’t really work, as the pumpkin is not wet enough). If you don’t have either of those, you can mash the pumpkin by hand with a potato masher or fork, although a smooth puree is really the most ideal, as it gets rid of any remaining pulpiness from the pumpkin. Once the pumpkin is smooth, use a spoon or spatula to mix in the ricotta cheese. Season the mixture with salt and pepper to taste.
Heat a large non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat. Add about a tablespoon of olive oil and then the prosciutto/pancetta. Cook until dark brown and crispy (like bacon), about 7-8 minutes. Remove to a paper towel to drain and cool.
If you made your own pasta dough, now is when you’ll need to start rolling it out. Pinch off a small piece (about the size of a golf ball) and use your fingers to flatten it out to about 1/2 inch thick or less. With your pasta roller on the widest setting (mine goes from 1 to 9, with 1 being the widest), roll the piece of dough through the roller. Fold it in half and roll it through again once or twice on the widest setting. Adjust the rollers to the next widest setting, and roll the dough through. Repeat until you’ve got a length of dough about the thickness of 3-4 sheets of regular paper. In other words, you want the dough to be as thin as possible but be able to hold filling. You can experiment with different thicknesses, but I’ve found that the ideal setting on my pasta roller is 6.
Take the length of dough and place it on a cutting board dusted with flour. Place about a tablespoon of filling near the end of the dough. Fold the end of the dough over the filling and press the dough together around the edges of the filling, sealing it inside. Using a ravioli cutter, cookie cutter, jar or knife, cut around the sealed edge, leaving about 1/4 inch of sealed dough as a border. Repeat until you’ve used up the length of dough. You can return the unused dough scraps to the dough bowl and send them through the pasta roller again, provided they don’t have any filling on them. (Note: If you’re using wonton wrappers instead of your own dough, just take a wonton wrapper, place a small amount of filling in the middle, and fold the wrapper over the filling. Seal the edges tightly with your fingers.)
Whether you’re using your own dough or wonton wrappers, do not set the ravioli on top of each other or they will end up sticking together and getting ruined. Lay out the ones you’re going to eat immediately on a flour-dusted surface. For any you want to save, place them in layers in a freezer-safe airtight container with pieces of wax paper between each layer. They will keep for weeks in the freezer. Do not defrost before cooking however, as the moisture will likely cause them to fall apart.
Once you’ve made it through your dough and filling (or have made as many ravioli as you want), get a large pot of salted water boiling. Turn the heat down to medium once it has started to boil, as you do not want to put your delicate ravioli into a violently rolling boil.
While you’re waiting for the water to boil, heat a large non-stick frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the butter and allow it to melt. Add the chopped sage and lemon zest, along with a pinch each of salt and pepper. You want the butter to brown but not burn, so be sure to keep a sharp eye on it, stirring it around often and turning the heat down while the ravioli boil
While the butter is browning, pinch again around the edges of each ravioli to ensure that they are still sealed. add the ravioli to the boiling water in batches of 5-6 so as not to crowd the pot and risk them falling apart. Gently stir them with a slotted spoon. After about 2 minutes, remove them gently one by one from the water with your slotted spoon and place them flat side down in the brown butter, turning the heat up slightly under the butter pan so that you can get a mellow sear on the ravioli. Flip the ravioli over after 30 second or so to slightly sear the other side.
Remove the ravioli from the butter sauce and arrange in large pasta bowls for serving. Scoop a bit of the brown butter and prosciutto/pancetta over each bowl, sprinkle with freshly grated Parmiggiano Reggiano cheese and garnish with a sage leaf or two.
Yes, you have spent several hours cooking, but you took what was once this…
And made it into this…
Personally, I can’t think of a better way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
* Note: In order for homemade ravioli to really taste right, the dough has to be extremely thin. If you don’t have a pasta roller like mine, you can try to roll out your dough using a rolling pin. Another (possibly better) alternative, however, is fresh wonton wrappers, which can be found in the refrigerated section of most grocery stores.
** Prosciutto ends are exactly what they sound like – the end of the hock of prosciutto in your grocer’s deli case. They can’t slice the tiny end of the prosciutto using their industrial slicers, so they will often package up the ends for sale. These are perfect substitutes for pancetta or bacon, as they have less fat but are every bit as salty and delicious.