Divine Dining 2/20/13
The days are lengthening, that celebrity groundhog in Pennsylvania did not see his shadow, and the frogs in the pond in my backyard are becoming particularly loquacious: Spring is coming. Soon, we will be enjoying fresh zucchini and asparagus from the farmer’s market, coats and scarves will be abandoned, and our noses will tell us that, with a whiff of warming air, the seasons are changing once again.
But before we rush headlong into spring, let’s take a moment to enjoy one last taste of winter squash. I have mentioned before how squash does not generally make one weak in the knees, but I may have to correct myself. These pillowy homemade ravioli, with a creamy sweet-salty butternut squash and pancetta filling, topped with a scrumptious sage brown butter sauce, are the stuff of poetry. Using pre-made fresh pasta sheets, such as wonton wrappers, provide the taste and texture of homemade pasta, with a minimum of fuss.
A friend and I made these ravioli the other night for supper, whipping them up in only 25 minutes, and when we took that first bite, she exclaimed, “Oh my gosh. This is so good. I want to eat them slowly so they last longer.” If you’ve never had sage brown butter before, it’s an absolute must. It’s as simple as its name: butter melted until it begins to turn toasty brown and take on a nutty flavor with fresh sage swimming in in until it becomes crispy and aromatic. This sauce is classically Italian, and a perfect way to treat ravioli without overpowering the pasta like a heavier tomato or cream-based sauce might do. Let’s say farewell to winter in style, y’all.
Butternut Squash and Pancetta Ravioli with Sage Brown Butter
1 small butternut squash, halved lengthwise with seeds discarded
2 T extra virgin olive oil
6 T salted butter
1 small shallot, minced
1/4 lb. pancetta (Italian unsmoked bacon) or bacon, finely diced
12 wonton wrappers (these fresh pasta squares are found in the refrigerated produce section of the grocery store, usually near fresh herbs)
12 fresh sage leaves, roughly chopped (you really need to use fresh sage for this rather than dried)
4 T freshly grated Fontina or Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
4 T heavy cream
1/8 t freshly grated nutmeg
salt and pepper
1 egg, beaten
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Drizzle butternut squash with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and roast until tender when pierced with a fork, about 1-1/2 hours. This can be done in advance, which makes for quick preparation later. Scoop out squash and puree in a food processor or blender, until completely smooth. You will need about 1 cup of puree for this recipe. In a large skillet on medium-high heat, cook pancetta or bacon in 1 T butter, until crisp. Lower heat to medium and add shallots, stirring frequently until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add squash puree and cook, stirring well until incorporated, for about 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in cream, cheese, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Go easy on the salt to begin with, because the pancetta adds a good bit of salt. Your filling is now ready. Take a wonton wrapper, spoon 1 tsp. of filling in the center, brush two edges of the pasta square with the beaten egg, and fold the pasta in half over itself, forming a triangle. Seal the edges well with your fingers. The egg wash is a big help there. Repeat until all of your ravioli are filled. In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook until they begin to float, about 3 minutes. While pasta is cooking, melt remaining 5 T of butter and sage in a skillet on medium high heat, until the butter bubbles and begins to turn golden brown at the edges. Season with pepper. Carefully remove ravioli from the water and dab with a paper towel to remove excess water. Serve with the sage brown butter sauce spooned over the ravioli, and freshly grated cheese on top. Prepare yourself for that first bite: the flavors of pungent sage and cheesy butternut squash filling explode in your mouth. You’ll wish winter lasted all year long.
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The Rev. Whitney Wilkinson is pastor of Cameron Presbyterian Church.