All I want is food with flavor, is that too much to ask? If I eat cheese it has to taste like something (Kraft are you listening?), if I buy ice-cream I want more than different combinations of the same 4 flavors, I see no reason why Pizza can't have more than one type of sauce and 5 toppings. And the point of this article - if I eat stuffed pasta the filling should serve a purpose other than to keep two pieces of dough from sticking together. There's a restaurant in Modena Italy (home to Ferrari) that serves a butternut squash ravioli in pistachio cream sauce that's supposedly divine. I say supposedly because I've travelled to Modena twice just to eat that dish and both times the restaurant was closed. Yes, that's a true story. This brings me to the present time and I'm still chasing this grand idea that stuffed pasta can have flavor and not just the Robin to the sauce's Batman. Pumpkin puree and Butternut squash are both seasonal so taking a page from The French Laundry's list of tricks I've been using sweet potato. The French Laundry if you don't know is a wonderful French restaurant in Napa Valley California owned by Thomas Keller, one of my favorite chefs because of his philosophy on food. He believes that the first bite is wonderful, the second is similar and by the third bite your mouth is bored so there's no reason going on. So at the French Laundry you only get the first couple of bites of a lot of dishes. He keeps you in this "Oh my God" stage throughout the entire meal.
Anyway back to pasta. I don't like sweet potato pasta nearly as much as butternut squash because it doesn't have that bright flavor of squash nor is the flavor as mallable because it takes too long for you to make it taste like something else than sweet potatoes. But having said that it's much easier to work with because the water content is significantly less making a firmer filling. With butternut squash I aim for (imagine if you will), bright orange flavorful meat with a touch of cinnamon, a burst of fresh shaved nutmeg and a dash of grade B maple syrup. This makes a very flavorful, pretty and not too sweet filling for a ravioli and provides quite the visual punch in a green pistachio creame sauce. Alas, the sweet potatoes are an imposter but unlike the squash are available year round. Also even the worst sweet potato filled pasta is better than the best you can get from the store.
Most people don't make pasta because it takes too long or it's too difficult to work with. I have a few tricks which I'll share with you that may change your mind. By myself I made 100 ravioli (about 4lbs) in about an hour (plus an hour to bake the potatoes during which I watched a movie). If you have two people working - one rolling dough and the other stuffing you can double that number. This ravioli would cost you about $25 in the store ($2.50 homemade) so maybe it doesn't pay off but the quality is better. It's imperative that you have a powered pasta roller like the attachment to Kitchenaide's Mixer line or you have a second (or third person) hand cranking. Rolling the dough even with a power roller is the most time consuming part.
So on with it. I bought several Ravioli forms from Amazon (see the picture after the link) but what's funny is that I don't use them as they were intended. The idea is that you roll out flat dough, lay it over the form, push down with the plastic insert to create the indentions, fill, cover them with another layer of rolled out flat dough and finally seal the whole thing by rolling over the whole thing with a rolling pin. This sounds like a great idea but gets very messy with the sauce not going where it's not supposed to and it's almost impossible to avoid air pockets. If you prick the air pockets you end up with ravioli full of water when you cook it. So I take the plastic inserts, fill them with filling and throw them in the freezer for a few minutes. The result is little squash or potato ice cubes which I then lay flat surface down on the dough and fold over another layer, seal it and cut them manually. This ends up being as fast and I have more control.
A lot of people use egg wash to seal their pasta which also is messy. I have not found that it's necessary and if you're rolling your dough as you use it you don't even need water. Just dust your area with flour, roll the dough, place filling flat side down on the dough and fold it over to cover it up. Press long the edges to seal and cut them. Now take them and freeze them for cooking later. I even freeze them if I cook them immediately as it helps them hold together.
- sweet potatoes
- maple syrup or extract