The Packet Protocol

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Butternut squash ravioli in sage butter sauce

I apologize for the sinister, Ludlumesque title. Really all I’m talking about is butternut squash ravioli — those pillow-soft — umm, pillows — made of pasta and filled with fillings.

Stuffing things into dough is something that every culture seems to get up to eventually. In India we have parathas and samosas, in China they do the won tons, in Nepal and Tibet they have momos, in Latin America they have the pupusa, and of course we get the ravioli from Italy (just one of their many filled pastas).

Butternut squash ravioli has been my husband’s favorite for years. He would always order it at Italian restaurants if it was available on the menu; that didn’t happen often enough, so we found a source of made raviolis at Rainbow Grocery and farmers markets. That source was not consistent either, so he coaxed me into getting out my pasta machine out from storage to attempt making it at home. The dough of course, is the same for any pasta shapes you might want to make; the recipe for the filling and the procedure follows.

One thing to note is that this is a vegan filling, which is somewhat unusual. We have always sought out vegan fillings (not because we don’t eat dairy, we do) but because most fillings seem to be so full of cheese and creaminess that one can hardly taste the actual flavor of the stuff. This one is chock full of butternut squash flavor.

Butternut squash ravioli with sage butter sauce: Ingredients:

Half a recipe of pasta dough from “It’s nice to be kneaded“, made into sheets

Half a regular-sized butternut squash

A teaspoon of olive oil

Salt to tast

Two tablespoons butter

Some slivered almonds

5-6 leaves of sage, chopped

Butternut squash ravioli with sage butter sauce: method:

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preparing the squash

Cut the squash into halves lengthwise. Place it face-down on a plate, with a few tablespoons of water, and stick it in the microwave for 8 minutes or until done. Test it with a knife — it should as soft as butter. When it cools a little, it should be easy to scoop out the seeds to discard, and the flesh to save in a bowl.

Mix in some salt and the olive oil, and whisk them in, which should have the effect of making the filling more luscious. Filling is done.

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Now we construct the ravioli. Find two sheets of pasta that are roughly even in size. Lay out one (after dusting the surface with flour). Then place the filling in dots along the sheet, a teaspoon each, while leaving a lot of space around to stitch up the pillow seams, so to speak.  Using some water to dip your finger in, carefully moisten the gaps in between the filling rounds.

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The other sheet of pasta gets laid carefully over to cover. Press down gently but firmly to stick to its brother sheet on the bottom, along the channels that you dampened with water. Try to squeeze out any air from the pocket. Now, using a pizza cutter if you have one, or a butter knife if you don’t, cut the ravioli into squares along the pillow seams. Keep dusting with flour as you remove the prepared squares to a plate.

If you have some weird shapes left, don’t throw them away, I at any rate wrap filling into the scraps and fold over like a won ton, or find a few misshapen scraps to combine into a plausible ravioli.

These are ready, now to cook them and the sauce. Set a big pot of water to boil with a teaspoon of salt. While that is coming to a boil, prepare the very simple sauce in a wide pan. Heat up the butter; in it, gently saute the sage leaves and the slivered almonds. Let it simmer very gently.

sage butter sauce

sage butter sauce

Once the water comes to a rolling boil, put in the raviolis (do not toss them in, or the hot water will toss back at you). They only need to cook for a few minutes, and you will know when they are done when they float up to the top. Remove them with a slotted spoon into the sauce, and add a few ladles of the pasta cooking water to make the sauce flowing. Stir, simmer additionally for a few minutes with the cover on, and they are ready.

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ravioli in sage butter sauce


It’s nice to be kneaded

There are a lot of kids who will eat nothing but pasta. Imagine if they helped you manufacture the pasta themselves, watched the strands appear, then saw those same strands on their plates for dinner? Wouldn’t they feel special, knowing that their own little hands created their dinner? Wouldn’t they feel — I don’t know — needed?

Well pasta dough relishes some kneading too. So let’s get to it.

You might have heard of semolina flour. It is yellower than the flour used for bread, and coarser. This is the official flour used for making pasta. What is so special about it that makes it suitable for pasta, where the regular bread wheat is not?

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Durum wheat image from Purcell Mountain farms

Semolina is made out of durum wheat, a different species than bread wheat. This one has a somewhat different gluten. It is very strong (stronger than bread wheat) but not as elastic. When I first heard that it was a revelation to me. One can see that in the substance of pasta itself. It can definitely hold its shape, but doesn’t expand — can you imagine a spongy spaghetti filled with air bubbles? I can’t. There’s your durum. Strong gluten, but not elastic.

Much as I would love it if it were so, semolina is not whole grain. In fact the word ‘semolina’ describes a certain kind of grind of wheat:

– it is coarse,

– it doesn’t include the bran (the fibrous outer covering, think egg shell)

– it doesn’t include the germ (the new baby wheat plant in utero, think egg yolk)

– it is entirely composed of endosperm, which in any seed is the starchy part that would form the food of the new plant, if it were to germinate (think egg white).

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pasta machine

Although you could make pasta with a simple rolling pin, it is so much easier, if you are in the mood to splurge, to go buy a hand-cranked pasta machine. Plus that means a kid can crank the handle, feed the dough in, choose shapes, and have a great time. My kid certainly did and she doesn’t even like pasta.

Homemade pasta — the dough:

Put in a bowl: one and three-quarters cup semolina flour for four dinner portions; half a teaspoon salt, and stir with a fork. Make a well in the center and break three eggs into it.

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Semolina with eggs

Stir the eggs to break the yolks, and gradually start pulling in the dry semolina. When the middle part of the semolina is more or less moistened, and quite wet, it is time to use your fingers and upper body strength. You might want to put the dough out onto the counter as well.

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This dough comes together relatively easily. Could it be the strong gluten? Keep pushing the dry bits into the center of the dough to integrate them; if you need to add a few drops of olive oil to add moisture, you can; or add a spoon or two of extra dry flour if too sticky. The dough should be integrated, smooth, and only a little tacky.

Leave it aside for about half an hour, covered.

Homemade pasta — the sheets or shapes:

Divide up the dough into even sized pieces. Flatten each piece and send it through the pasta machine while cranking it. You will start with size 1 (where the rollers are at their widest). What comes out will be a thick sheet approximately rectangular in shape. Send it through again with the next size up: 2.

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Sometimes you will see that the sheet comes out with a few rips in it. My guess is that the gluten wasn’t developed enough. Perhaps not enough kneading, or not enough waiting after kneading. This happened to me, but I solved it by folding over one of the rectangles two or three times, and then sending it through, thus kneading again, by means of the pasta machine.

Get it as thin as you like, I went up to size 5 and thought that was enough. Most machines come with some shapes too for you to experiment with. I did plain rectangular sheets to make raviolis with below:

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pasta sheets for ravioli

Oh — and dust with dry flour once in a while, so the sheets or noodles don’t stick together!