Sunday, February 3, 2008

Butternut-squash cannelloni with sage brown butter

(Photo courtesy of the lovely Nancy Pontius)

I absolutely adore the flavor of roasted butternut squash. It's nutty and filling, with a rich warmth that isn't matched by anything in the world. Yum. It's fantastic for making soups, of course; I also like to use it as the base for filled pasta. Normally I make ravioli, but last night I was pressed for time whilst cooking for seven, so I made cannelonni instead, which were just as tasty and saved many vital minutes. I'll definitely be making this again.

Butternut squash ravioli with sage brown butter

  • One 2lb. butternut squash, halved lengthwise and seeded

  • One head garlic, peeled

  • 6oz. whole-milk ricotta

  • 1/4 c. grated parmesean or reggiano

  • 1 tbsp. assorted dried Italian herbs

  • Salt and pepper to taste

  • Eight thin fresh pasta sheets, approximately 4" x 6"

  • One large egg

  • 1 tbsp. milk or water

  • 1/2 c. (one stick) butter

  • Sixteen fresh sage leaves

  • Whole nutmeg

  • Bitter or bittersweet chocolate

  • Shelled pistachios

  • Grated parmesean or reggiano

Preheat oven to 400°F.

Rub or brush the cut faces of squash with oil and place them open-face-up in roasting pan. Place the garlic cloves in the center of a square of aluminum foil (about five inches on a side) with a drizzle of olive oil and wrap tightly, twisting ends together to form a bundle which will trap liquids. Roast garlic and squash in oven for about an hour or until squash is very tender to the fork and garlic is squishy. Let squash cool until it is comfortable to hold (be sure to allow adequate time, as this may take as much as an hour), then scrape flesh out with a spoon and reserve, discarding skins. Note: roasted butternut squash flesh freezes well, so you can buy a piece much larger than 2lbs, roast it, and save what you don't use for this recipe.

Place squash flesh and roasted garlic in a large processor or mixing bowl. Process on high or mash together with potato masher until smooth, then add ricotta, parmesean, dried Italian herbs, and salt and pepper, mixing thoroughly. Set aside.

Boil pasta sheets one to two minutes until al dente. The exact time will depend on the thickness and freshness of the sheets. If fresh noodles are not available, boxed lasagna noodles can be substituted but should be cut in half and formed into miniature cannelloni, adjusting quantities below to suit; fresh noodles are, of course, to be preferred. In either case, after boiling, toss the noodles in a bath of cold water and olive oil to stop cooking and prevent sticking.

Beat egg with milk or water in a bowl and set aside.

To assemble each cannelloni, lay one sheet of cooked pasta on a clean surface. Place about an eighth of the squash mixture in a line down one short edge of the noodle with a spoon, spreading out evenly. Roll tightly, starting at the end with the filling. Before finishing the roll, brush some of the egg wash on the end and press to seal.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Place the assembeled cannelloni in an oven-safe dish and bake for about 9 minutes, until pasta shells are tinged with gold and pliable but firm. The timing is fairly forgiving here; just be sure not to dry out or burn the noodles. Remove from oven and set aside for serving.

While the cannelloni are baking, melt the butter in saucepan over medium heat, then fry the sage leaves for about three minutes or until crisp. Remove the sage leaves with a slotted spoon and set on paper towels to dry. Continue to heat the butter until it just begins to turn brown, then remove from heat.

To serve the cannelloni, place one tube on a plate, drizzle it with the brown butter, and garnish with two sage leaves, pistachios, parmesean or reggiano, and a bit of grated chocolate and nutmeg. Serve hot.

Serves eight.