After passing my exam a couple weeks ago, I went and spoke with my adviser to find out what I should be doing to keep on track. She told me to rest. Rest! Actual, warranted permission to lie around, to catch up on terrible reality television series, to take naps and sleep in, uninterrupted by guilt about conferences, articles or (gulp) the dissertation!
Of course this didn’t last long. Like any kid after the first few weeks of summer vacation, I got bored. So I turned to the kitchen, as usual, to vent my new creative focus. I spent my weekend on a few special projects. As I’ve mentioned before, it has become something of a hobby of mine to “collect” menu descriptions from restaurants and try to recreate them. On this occasion, I didn’t even have to do that much guesswork.
Pasta Piatti in Ashland is a favorite of mine, and I’ve mentioned it before. When N. and I had dinner there in celebration of our second wedding anniversary this past summer, I had their butternut squash ravioli in a brown butter sauce with sage, crumbled biscotti cookies, and “Oregonzola” cheese from Rogue Creamery. It looked like this:
Gloriously, the restaurant posts recipes for some of their dishes on their website, and the filling for their extravagantly delicious squash ravioli is one of them. Make this at home? Yes, please.
It’s a process, but I think it’s worth it. See the recipe for detailed directions, but note that there are a few inconsistencies (i.e. do you food process the onion along with the squash and garlic, or just fold it in?). It took about an hour for the squash to cook and the garlic to soften and fill the house with its sweet buttery aroma. I processed together the squash, garlic, sauteed onion (though I used shallot), and egg yolks, but folded in the cheeses so they wouldn’t melt or gum up the blades of my food processor.
When the filling is cooled, you can address containment. Though you could certainly make your own fresh pasta, or maybe even stuff large shells or manicotti, I addressed a package of square wonton wrappers.
Made from wheat flour and fairly flexible, wonton wrappers are a good, easy substitute for fresh pasta. I loaded up each square with about ½ a tablespoon of filling, wet the edges, and folded them into semi-clean, somewhat isosceles triangles. How that word survived in the memory banks astounds me. Geometry was a long time ago. After spreading the little packages on a well floured cookie sheet, I stowed them in the refrigerator for an hour or so to let the seal set while I got everything else ready. With water heating on the back burner to boil my squash-stuffed parcels, I readied the rest of the arsenal:
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 TB fresh sage, minced or in chiffonade
½ – 1 cup graham cracker crust crumble (recipe follows)
2 oz. Oregonzola cheese, crumbled (or any gorgonzola or mild blue cheese)
salt and pepper to taste
1. During a downtime in the cooking process (either while the butternut squash and garlic are roasting or as the ravioli are cooling down in the refrigerator), mix together about a cup of graham cracker crust with 2 TB brown sugar and 2 TB melted butter. Spread the mixture on a parchment paper lined cookie sheet and bake at 325 or 350 until deep golden brown and crumbly. Crumble up and cool. Pasta Piatti uses crumbled almond biscotti. I just used what I had in my pantry and it worked out very well.
2. While you wait for the water to boil for the raviolis, melt the butter in a large pan over medium heat. When foam subsides, the butter will begin to turn a deep gold and then brown. As it moves from gold to brown, toss in the sage and allow it to fry until almost crisp; crunchy little shards of herbage. You may at this point have to turn down the heat so the butter will not burn while the ravioli cook.
3. The ravioli will only need 3-4 minutes to cook in rapidly simmering, salted water. I let the water cool from a rolling boil before dropping them in a few at a time because I wasn’t sure how well sealed they were, and I wanted to forestall explosions or leaking. I was mostly successful. When they float to the top of the pot, scoop them out with a strainer or a slotted spoon and deposit them carefully into the butter sauce, draining off as much water as possible before adding them to the skillet.
4. When all raviolis have joined the dark golden buttery bath, fold them gently into the sauce and add the cookie and cheese crumbles. Mix again gently and serve with bread and salad.
We had a ciabatta loaf from Trader Joe’s and a salad of romaine, arugula, thinly sliced Granny Smith apple, pomegranate seeds, and walnut halves as a side. I made a quick dressing from finely diced shallot and sage, with honey, white wine vinegar, and mayonnaise. Thanks to an impromptu Trader Joe’s trip for the gorgonzola cheese, the pomegranate seeds and the ciabatta, I was able to pair dinner with a TJ’s special: Green Fin white table wine. This is made from organic grapes, which supposedly eliminate some of the problems caused by tannins (headache, bad hangover), but also tastes delicious. It’s a bit on the sweet side, which seems good for this meal; the sweetness of the butternut squash and the cookie crumbs in the sauce offers the peril of bitterness to an ordinarily lovely white wine.
But let’s get on to the important bit: the ravioli. The filling is soft and luscious, since it has been blended, and the wonton wrappers are so delicate after their boiling bath that they almost dissolve on your tongue. With a whole head of roasted garlic in the mix, you might expect a stronger garlic flavor, but because it is roasted it just melts into the background as a sweet, mellow support for the squash. Sage and squash are a natural pairing, and the herb adds a little freshness to the nutty, almost caramel notes of the brown butter. These flavors all blend so well, but the real glory of the dish in my mind is in the contrasting crumbles. The cookies and the cheese are such opposites in flavor and in texture; the cookies are crisp and sweet-crunchy, even after a dunk in butter, while the cheese maintains its structural integrity for a while as the dish cools on your plate (ahem, it would, if the dish had long enough to cool on your plate before you devoured every last bit) and provides a creamy, slightly chewy counterpoint. Since gorgonzola is not terribly sweet and, in fact, has its own definitive funk to it in flavor and in aroma, it coats your palate a bit, protecting it from the potentially overwhelming sweetness of the squash, the butter, the cookies.
This is a beautiful dinner. It would also make a rich, out-of-the-ordinary dessert, and an unconventional but satisfying breakfast. But we didn’t leave enough for all that…