Once or twice a year — ‘round about now, then some time later in the winter — I make winter-squash ravioli.
Always, I’ve started with roasted or steamed squash, then added quite a few other ingredients for flavor and texture: butter-sweated shallots or onions, herbs, grated parmesan, sometimes breadcrumbs and/or eggs and, often, amaretti cookies or toasted nuts of some kind for a bit of crunch.
This season, for a change, I thought I’d start to build flavor by over-roasting some acorn squash and giving that a taste before going any further. So I scraped the seeds from half a squash, unpeeled, and sliced it into chunky pieces.
I put the pieces into a roasting pan (a heavy skillet, actually) and slid the pan into a 400-plus-degree oven with salt and olive oil, turning it after 25 minutes and leaving it in until the squash had caramelized almost to the point of burning; there was even a bit of blackening (but you don’t want to reduce the squash to cinders). When I tasted it, I found that, sure enough, the near-char on some surfaces and the deep browning on others translated into a bittersweet flavor that seemed to be the way an ideal roasted squash should taste.
To make the ravioli, I simply pureed this, skin and all, in the food processor. Because it was so thoroughly roasted, the squash was not watery, and it seemed that no binders would be needed. And because it was so flavorful perhaps — perhaps — I’d need to add nothing but pepper and an adjustment of salt.
I prepared a batch of egg pasta and made a couple of test ravioli to see whether this one-note filling would sing. It did, and I proceeded to make a full batch, using an approximately 5/8-inch sphere of filling for each half-moon raviolo, made with a 2 3/4-inch circle of pasta dough. (The proportions are flexible, though you wouldn’t want to overfill the ravioli.)
Boiled in salted water until tender and tossed with melted butter, sage leaves and a little bit of grated parmesan, these tasted surprisingly complex, with a note of caramel, a slight bitterness and, of course, the fruitiness of the vegetable itself. They were also striking visually: The filling was deep, deep brown and nearly uniform in color and texture. It looked almost like one of those Japanese sweet bean purees. But it wasn’t pasty or dry — enough moisture remained in the squash, and the filling had been sufficiently aerated in the food processor to keep it fairly light.
Pretty amazing, really, for just squash, oil, salt, pepper — and an oven’s heat.
More stuffed pasta recipes: