Thursday, October 23, 2008

Squash Ravioli

I had made squash ravioli a few times before, but I'd never made the authentic, Mantovan (or Mantuan I suppose) kind, because it requires a few somewhat-difficult-to-obtain ingredients. However, this evening when I got home from work, I looked at my acorn squash which had been sitting forlornly on the counter for about a month, and decided tonight would be the night! Real, authentic, squash ravioli!

The two difficult-to-obtain ingredients were amaretti, a light little meringuey almond cookie, and mostarda di cremona, which is a sort of combination between a jam and a mustard and tastes much better than that description makes it sound!

Well, I hopped down over to my local Italian imports grocery store and wonderfully enough, they had both the amaretti and the mostarda (see below). As I had feared, the mostarda cost an exorbitant sum, but I decided it was worth it for the purposes of making real authentic squash ravioli.

And it was. The ravioli I had made on previous occasions were pretty good, but these ones were absolutely amazing. Please, some day when you have lots of time, make these! They're actually pretty simple to make, but it does require a bit of patience to form all the little ravioli - but that's the fun of it! So, to make Mantovan Squash Ravioli...

For the pasta:
100-150 g. of pasta (for about 20-25 medium-small ravioli)
1 egg (if you want to make more ravioli simply add one egg for every 100 g of flour)
A pinch of salt

For the filling:
One small squash or half a larger one. The official squash to use is what is unsurprisingly called in Italian a Mantuan squash (Zucca Mantovana)! I'm not sure what its English name is, but it looks like a dark greenish nubbly pumpkin, though a bit smaller usually. In any event, I used my acorn squash and it was fine. Butternut squash would also work well here.
About 8-10 amaretti
A small cupful of mostarda di cremona
About 25 g parmesan

For the condiment:
A pat of butter
More parmesan

Begin by washing off the squash and cutting it into small pieces. Bring some water to a boil and throw the pieces of squash in. Let them boil for about 15-20 minutes. Alternately, you can bake the squash in the oven. You can also chop off the peel before cooking, but it's so much easier to take off after the squash has cooked that I generally don't bother peeling first.

While the squash is cooking, grind the amaretti to a fine powder and grate the parmesan cheese. Dice the mostarda di cremona into very fine pieces (the mostarda comes with whole fruit candied in it, so that's what you dice and then you pour in the liquid too).

Once the squash is nice and soft and cooked, let it dry off and cool enough for you to remove the peel. Mash the squash up and then stir in the mostarda, the ground-up amaretti, the parmesan, the salt and the pepper. I've seen recipes that call for adding a bit of lemon peel and also some nutmeg; though I didn't do that this time, it probably would be a good thing to try.

Once you have your filling, cover it and let it sit in the fridge for any time period upwards of an hour, even overnight if you want.

When you want to finally make your ravioli, prepare the pasta dough in the following manner: pour the flour into a bowl, leaving a depression in the center. Add the salt to the flour and then beat the egg in, mixing everything together until you get a nice smooth dough. If necessary, add some tepid water.

When everything is well mixed, turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead it for several minutes. Form a ball with the dough and wrap the ball in plastic wrap (make sure the whole thing is well-covered so it doesn't dry out!). Let the dough sit for 30 minutes to an hour at room temperature.

After the time is up, cut off small bits of the dough and roll them out into long thinnish strips. Spoon the filling onto the strips, placing little balls of it along the dough, evenly spaced from one another.

Carefully fold the dough lengthwise over the filling so that it closes neatly. One thing to be careful of is to not put too much filling in. I've made this mistake before and you end up with filling oozing out all over the place and tearing dough and other such mishaps. Be conservative. You can always save the leftover filling and come up with some creative uses for it the next day!

After you've folded the dough over, wet your finger and use it to press along the edges of the ravioli to make the edges flat and the middles lumpish. Cut off any excess dough and then cut the ravioli apart from each other. As you finish with one set, place them onto a floured surface while you work on the rest. Try to move the finished ravioli around from time to time to keep them from sticking to the plate.

Once you've made all your little ravioli, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt and then the ravioli, making sure not to put in too many at once (this you have to judge by the size of the ravioli and of the pot but I usually put in between 10-15 of the medium-small type at once).

While the ravioli are cooking, heat the butter in a small pan until it melts and grate the parmesan. Once the ravioli have floated to the top (in Italian salgono a galla), remove them with a slotted spoon and place them on your serving plate (heated if possible). When all the ravioli are done, pour the melted butter over them and then the parmesan. Eat warm!

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