Monday, 17 October 2011

From Scratch and Supporting Local Sustainability: World Food Day Weekend, Part II

As I've noted over the past few days, yesterday was World Food Day; in the U.S. alone, 300 events marked this day which, since 1979, is meant "to heighten public awareness of the world food problem and strengthen solidarity in the struggle against hunger, malnutrition and poverty." While food concerns are certainly rampant throughout the world, the inequity, mistreatment, and mismanagement of food does not help to alleviate very glocal issues. We don't need to be Goodwill Ambassadors to initiate and bring about change in our communities; for those who are fortunate to be part of the food market (as producers and consumers), we have an obligation to give back, learn from, and support to the extent we can, local food, global and regional influences, and each other. On day two of my celebration of World Food Day weekend, I focused on preparing homemade food, with a common (and local) autumnal ingredient: butternut squash. On yesterday's menu: Monterey Jack and Roasted Squash Tomato Ravioli with Nutmeg and Brown Buttered Almonds.

After speaking with the executive board of PEAS (People Endorsing Agricultural Sustainability), one item that they'd like to see incorporated into this Saturday's Farm to Table program is butternut squash. My mind has recently been trying to conceive ways to get about 30 pairs of hands working toward a meal utilising local ingredients purchased from the farmers market in town and ravioli is high up on that list; naturally, the two just had to go together. To start, preheat your oven to 350 °F; split your butternut squash in half lengthwise (as seen above), scoop out the seeds, and place the squash halves in a baking dish with an even layer of water (just enough to cover the bottom of the dish). Lightly drizzle some olive oil and season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Put the dish in the oven and bake the squash for about 30-40 minutes, or until fork tender. At the farmers market on Saturday, I bought a small squash to test out this recipe; it turns out this is enough for about two dozen ravioli.

While the squash is in the oven, make your ravioli (from scratch, of course!); alternatively, you can make the pasta dough first to give it time to rest as you prep and bake the squash. In the past, I have used a fairly consistent recipe I adapted last year. This time around, I set off to alter the recipe once again, and settled on this blog post to aid me. (Side note: in preparing this blog post, I found this recipe which looks amazing.) As you scroll through blogger Maxine Clark's post, you'll find different ways of colouring your pasta. Based on what was lying around, I went with the tomato-based recipe. However, not having any tomato paste around, I improvised and reduced about four tablespoons of jarred pasta sauce until it got to a similar consistency; the sauce will reduce to the recommended two tablespoons.

Fusing what I know of pasta making, my previous recipe, and the recipe linked above, begin with 1 3/4 c all-purpose flour and create a well with your fingers. In a separate bowl, whisk together one egg at room temperature and a pinch of salt. Using your fingers and/or a fork, slowly add flour to the egg and combine everything together; if it helps, you can do this in a bowl. Because I would be using "tomato paste," I went with one large egg at first, then added the sauce, and then folded in about a tablespoon of olive oil. For some reason or another, the substitution of one large egg for two medium ones suggested in the linked recipe didn't seem to work for me--no matter how much I kneaded, I was still left with clumpy redish flour. I transferred everything to a bowl and used a fork to stir in another scrambled egg and pinch of salt until it got to the point where I could knead everything together, eventually I got a great ball of dough. Cover the dough with a wet sheet of paper towel and leave it to rest for at least half an hour.

Unless you're wicked fast at making fresh pasta dough, your squash should be ready to be taken out of the oven. Once cool enough to handle, scrape out the squash flesh. Add to this one tablespoon of olive oil, and mash everything together, seasoning it with salt and pepper to taste. Then, add enough shredded cheese (here, Monterey Jack) at a ratio of about 3 parts squash to 1 part cheese.

After at least half an hour of resting, it's time to roll out your dough. I used the pasta maker I bought on Saturday (thank you shout-out to my parents for the purchase à la my birthday!), though you could certainly roll out the dough by hand. I will say that for $20 (typically you can find these for $40), it's definitely a great investment and gets the job done. For those who have a pasta machine, continue rolling out the dough until it can pass through level 9 (the thinnest possible). Next, fold over your long sheet of pasta and cut it so that you have two smaller sheets, one that's about 120-125% longer than the other. Onto the smaller of the two sheets, take small mounds of filling and leave enough space in between each one so that when sealed, the perimeters are rather uniform (reference the photo directly below).

Cover the filling mounds with the longer sheet of dough, draping first and then pressing around the filling to create as tight a seal as possible; try not to get any air trapped inside the ravioli. Trim the edges and cut out the ravioli. This particular batch of dough can make about 3-3.5 dozen ravioli.

Once all the filling has been used, set the completed ravioli aside, ready for immediate cooking (or freezing for later cooking and consumption).

Since I didn't have enough filling to use up the dough this time around, I played around with the pasta maker attachment and made small batches of spaghetti and tagliatelle. I left these overnight to air dry and cook later.

Fresh pasta cooks considerably faster than dry pasta so again have your pasta ready completed before cooking. The pasta will sink upon initial placement, will slowly rise as it cooks, and then floats to the surface about two minutes later when cooked completely. Remember, the squash has already been cooked so trust the floating technique to determine when the pasta is al dente and ready to be eaten. (This is why it's particularly important to make sure the dough is as thin as possible; you may undercook the dough leaving a very raw, flour taste, you could overcook the dough in your uncertainty and have something too tough and/or waxy to eat.)

With your pasta cooked, prepare the light sauce of... butter! For a single serving, melt one tablespoon of butter and cook it past melting point until it starts to slightly crackle. As the flash of my camera indicates in the above photo, the butter will have successfully browned when you can see a deep yellow-brown colour in the pan (it's easier to recognise in a non-coated pan such as  the one above). You also know you're on the right track when you smell the nutty flavour of the butter. At that point, add about half a small handful of slivered almonds, and coat them with the butter. As soon as they're coated, take the pan off the heat and let the warmth of the butter continue slightly cook the almonds. Don't leave the pan on too long or else you'll go from rich and aromatic to burnt and bitter!

It's now time to plate your ravioli. Here, nine go on a plate and make a great course on their own. Drizzle the brown buttered almonds and remaining butter onto the ravioli, and then top this all off with a touch of freshly grated nutmeg to add a layer of warmth and depth to the dish (a light dusting, perhaps 8-10 swipes on a micro grater, will suffice... it's quite easy to overpower with this spice).

To finish everything off, sprinkle a bit of that Monterey Jack cheese!

Simple ingredients which require some pre-planning, this homemade ravioli is filled with a smooth filling, ever so slight bite from the black pepper, and enriched by the browned butter and textural difference from the almonds. Buon appetito! Click here for all 50 photos from last night's cooking.

1 comment:

  1. That sounds interesting, and after having seen a number of your homemade ravioli experiences, I might have to try it on my own!