My grandmother, Nana, is the first person I can remember cooking with. That was her job, but she also loved doing it. She and my grandfather owned a little Italian bakery in South Jersey. The bakery was downstairs and they lived upstairs. Because of that, you couldn't escape the smells that came from downstairs- yeast, vanilla, honey, chocolate, almonds... the same scents that instantly transport me back to my childhood. My grandparents closed the bakery when I was still small, but the memories of standing on a stool next to my Nana and kneading dough to make little breads or making watermelon ice (what we fancy gourmet folks call granita nowadays) in her hot upstairs kitchen will stay with me forever.
Nana always cooked our birthday dinners. She would ask us what we wanted, but the answers were always the same, so I don't know why she bothered. My sister always asked for ravioli and I would always ask for her cavatelli (or in her antiquated southern Italian dialect, cavadelies) which are named for the shape but are really ricotta gnocci. Those cavatelli are really a labor of love, but Nana was always happy to indulge her granddaughter. I would help her though, making the pasta by hand, rolling it into ropes, cutting each little nugget of dough and then shaping each piece on a little ridged board. I have two of those boards in my kitchen now and my oldest son loves to help me shape the dough when I make them. It's like playing with play dough for him. I promise I'll share the cavatelli recipe someday, it's so easy to make and just requires a bit of patience to finish pasta. I feel like a kid again when I make them.
I don't think Nana ever made pumpkin ravioli and if she did we would have looked at her like she was crazy. Isn't pumpkin just for pie? I suppose they didn't really make a lot of winter squash in her southern Italian home in Calabria- it's much too Mediterranean there. In nothern Italy, however, butternut squash and all sorts of pumpkins are common fillings for ravioli. Nana did make killer traditional ricotta-filled ravioli, though, which she managed to make perfectly each and every time. I'm sure it was the great little ravioli press that she had. You can still get them and I wished that I had hers while I was making my ravioli. Getting the shape right and the edges pressed perfectly so that the filling doesn't ooze out is tough. Despite a few setbacks (dough sticking to the counter, holes that I couldn't patch, a few ravioli that lost their filling while cooking) I think I still made a dinner that Nana would be proud of. One that I wish I could have shared with her if she didn't live a few thousand miles away. She would have declared them bella. Ti voglio bene Nana.
Pumpkin Ravioli with Brown Butter Sage Sauce
Makes about 2 dozen ravioli
I made my own dough for this recipe, because I'm Italian and that's what we do. If you really wanted to, you could cheat and use wonton wrappers for the dough. Try making the dough once, though, I promise it's worth the effort. If you like, you could substitute roasted and pureed butternut squash for the pumpkin.
For the dough (based on Tyler Florence's recipe):
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1 tsp kosher salt
3 eggs, plus one egg yolk
2 tbs olive oil
For the filling:
1 cup pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin pie filling!)
8 oz whole milk ricotta
1/4 cup freshly grated pecorino romano or parmesean cheese
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
2 tsp finely chopped fresh sage
For the sauce:
3 tbs butter
3 sage leaves
1/3 cup heavy cream
Make the dough:
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, mix the flour and salt. With the mixer on low speed add the eggs and egg yolk one at a time, incorporating each one before adding the next. Mix in the olive oil. Raise the speed to medium and knead until you have a soft and supple dough, 4-5 minutes. Wrap the dough in plastic and let it rest on the counter at least 1 hour.
In the meantime, make the filling. In a medium bowl, mix together all of the ingredients and refrigerate until ready to use.
Cut the ball of dough in half and cover the unused portion with the plastic again to keep it from drying out. Dust the counter with flour and press the dough into an approximately 1/2 inch rectangle. Using a pasta roller, run the dough through the widest setting 2 or three times, folding the dough in half and dusting with flour as needed in between each run. Lower the setting on the pasta roller and run the dough through the narrower setting. Continue to decrease the settings and run the dough through until the dough is about 1/8 of an inch thick (setting 5 on the Kitchen Aid pasta roller). If the dough gets too long to handle, cut it in half cross-wise and continue rolling. I had to do that at about setting 4. Lay the sheets of dough on a lightly floured work surface (trust me, flour under the entire piece of dough, sticking is not something you want to have happen) and cover with a clean kitchen towel while you roll out the remainder of the dough.
When the dough is rolled out, make the ravioli. Using two spoons, scoop about 2 tbs filling onto the center of the dough about 3/4 of an inch from the edge. Continue spooning the filling onto the dough, leaving about 1 1/2 inches between each scoop.
Brush a bit of water or beaten egg along the edges of the sheet of dough and in between each scoop of filling. Carefully lay another sheet of dough over top, pressing along the edges and in between the filling to let the air escape and seal the dough together. Using a knife or pastry wheel, trim the edges of the dough and then cut in between each ravioli. Lay the completed ravioli on a floured baking sheet, being careful not to let them touch. The ravioli can be refrigerated until you are ready to use them or used immediately. They can also be frozen on the sheet pan and then packed into freezer bags.
When you're ready to cook the ravioli, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. While the water comes to a boil, make the sauce. Place the butter in a large skillet set over low heat. Slowly melt the butter and let it brown, but not burn. Thinly slice the sage leaves and add them to the butter once it is browned. They will sizzle when you first put them in, fun! After a minute, add the heavy cream and heat the sauce through. Keep it on low heat until the pasta is cooked. When the water reaches a boil, carefully add the ravioli one at a time to the pot. Simmer until the pasta is cooked, about 4 minutes. Gently remove the ravioli with a slotted spoon and place them in the skillet with the sauce. Spoon the sauce over the ravioli.
Serve with a salad on the side for a wonderful, hearty dinner. Mangia!