Monday, January 20, 2014

Squash Ravioli with Mushrooms and Sage

These men ask for just the same thing, fairness, and fairness only. This, so far as in my power, they, and all others, shall have. – Abraham Lincoln

I’m not about to get into the broader themes of equality. I could, but I won’t...right now. I’m talking today about egalitarian eating, serving a vegetarian main dish at home, and to start, taking a vegetarian out to a restaurant.

This past weekend we took our friend – who my spouse was staying with last school term – out for dinner. It was a thank you for all her help to us. A small one for all she did, but a thank you none-the-less.

It's tricky to go out eating with a vegetarian. Short of going to a vegetarian restaurant, great choices for the non-meaters can be hit or miss. Luckily we found a fantastic place in The Cellar, on Clyde Street in Halifax. Go. There. This. Weekend. But make reservations.

If your pasta dough isn't smooth after kneading don't worry.
The 30 minute "sit" does miraculous things.
Besides several fantastic vegetarian starters they also had squash ravioli. Nothing beats squash ravioli with sage, not even meat dishes. It is the most wonderful combination of flavours. 

Every Italian restaurant worth its salt will have either squash or pumpkin ravioli on the menu in the fall/winter. Most good restaurants vary their menus by the season to offer diners the best in available ingredients.

How to pick a dry squash, maybe...
I love dry squash. Mushy squash is, well, gross. Dry squash is fluffy, light and soaks up butter like it was born to it.

Here's an interesting tidbit for people who dislike "wet" squash as much as I do. I think I have found out the secret to picking a dry squash out of the pile at the market.

The secret is kind of obvious. You lift the squash and compare how heavy ones of similar size feel. I was doing this at the store to get the biggest one for the least amount of money. They sell squash by the pound (most times) and you’re buying a lot of water. I was being cheap.

I have tried other techniques: pressing my fingernail into the skin to see if it dents easily, tapping for a hollow sound, etc. But my new technique makes so much sense. A lighter squash will have less water content. Less water content means drier flesh. This technique has worked so far...

Making homemade pasta
Don't be intimidated by making your own pasta. It is really quite easy. Ravioli is a little more time intensive but the work is worth it. All you really need is a hand crank pasta roller, although you can roll it by hand. In Halifax the only place I was able to find one was at Stokes in Dartmouth Crossing. They’re about $29.98. Go and get one. You should have one. It’s great fun on wintry weekends, and sadly we’ll be having more of them before spring.

Homemade pasta cooks in minutes. As such everything that goes into a filling needs to be cooked beforehand. (There is an egg used for binder, but the usual four minutes cooking time is enough.)

Another important tip about ravioli is that you have to make sure they are well sealed on all four sides. If not you will have a terrible, disappointing mess when they cook. I usually pinch them together again just before cooking.

One last note. If you’ve never had fried sage you have no idea what you have been missing. A simple fried sage butter sauce is the perfect complement to these fall ravioli or even plain pasta. Two ingredients, and superb.

I added mushrooms to the sage/butter sauce to make it a little more filling, but that is all. Do yourself a culinary favour and make homemade ravioli soon. If you don't eat them all they can be frozen separately and then bagged very easily.

Squash Ravioli with Mushrooms and Sage
Prep: 1 hour  |  Cook: 3-4 minutes  |  Makes 24 ravioli
Pasta dough:
1/2 cup flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 egg
1/4 cup milk + 1 tbsp
3/4 cup cooked squash
140 g soft goat cheese
1/4 cup parmesan (optional)
1 egg
1/2 tsp salt 
1/2 tsp cracked black  pepper
3/4 cup butter
150 g crimini mushrooms
1/2 cup sage leaves
cracked black pepper

Mix together the egg and milk in a small dish. Combine the flour and salt in a bowl. Whisk the egg mixture into the flour with a fork.

Continue to mix with your hands until a ball is formed. If necessary add a slight bit more milk but err on the dry, rather than wet, side.

Place the dough on a board and knead for about 5-8 minutes until relatively smooth and elastic. Wrap in plastic wrap and let rest on the counter for 30 minutes. You can also let it rest longer in the refrigerator.

While the dough is resting, make the filling. Mix together the squash, goat cheese egg, salt and pepper. It should be fairly dry and a spoonful will keep its shape. If not, add the parmesan. Set aside.

After the dough has rested cut into four equal pieces. Roll each piece out to a thin sheet. (On my pasta machine I have seven settings. I roll to one from the thinnest – 6.) Roll all four pieces of dough.

Lay one sheet on the counter. It should be about 2-1/2 feet long. Place a rounded dessert spoonful of filling at each end of the dough about 1/2” from the edge. Place 10 more spoonfuls along the dough at equal intervals.

If your filling isn’t equally spaced adjust the balls so they are. Dampen all the pasta showing around the filling with water. Take a second sheet and place over the fillings. Firmly press down between the filling trying to push out as much air as possible. (Air will make them explode when cooking.)

After the top sheet is well adhered to the bottom trim the outer edges and ends with a sharp knife. Then cut down between each ball of filling. This will make 12 ravioli.

Repeat with the remaining sheets of pasta. Place the finished ravioli on a lightly dusted surface or a piece of plastic wrap or tin foil. Don’t worry if they’re not perfect. That is part of their charm.

Make the sauce by melting the butter in a frying pan. Coarsely chop the sage leaves. Chop the mushrooms and add to the butter. Once the mushrooms start to soften add the sage leaves and let cook until the mushrooms have browned and the sage has darkened. Do not let the sage burn. Season with pepper.

Bring water and salt to a boil in a large pot. Add the ravioli and let cook for 4 minutes. Drain and serve with the mushroom/sage/butter sauce.

These ravioli are on the large side. An appetizer serving is usually three or four ravioli; an entrée is six to eight.


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