Saturday, November 12, 2011
Butternut Squash Ravioli and Spinach
My recent trip to Seattle not only included a visit to the University of Washington Arboretum where the photo above was taken (I just LOVE autumn colors so had to post one more!) but also a wonderful dinner at Smash, a small restaurant which focuses on small plates and nice wines. I was particularly taken with an entree which had a bed of spinach topped with luscious tender ravioli filled with ginger enhanced butternut squash. A silky browned butter cream sauce with a hint of Marsala pulled it all together. I decided to see if I could make something similar at home.
The first thing I did was to purchase some fresh pasta ravioli made with butternut squash and sage. The filling had more cheese than the restaurant made ones, but they looked like they would work just fine. Then I made sure I had fresh baby spinach, more butternut squash that I could prepare to go on the side and the ingredients for the sauce. Although the extra squash might seem like too much, ravioli doesn't really have a lot of squash in that filling so additional veggies seemed like a good idea. I used to have Marsala, but couldn't find it and the sauce really needs it. Marsala must not be too popular...the bottle I purchased at the Safeway was dusty on the shoulders.
The real challenge was replicating the sauce because it really does bring all the other flavors together. I started with the ingredients for a basic white sauce: butter, flour, milk & cream, and salt and pepper. In addition I added some ginger because the ravioli I purchased lacked the ginger in the filling that the restaurant used. I also added some Parmesan cheese, a dash of sage and the all-important Marsala. To capture the nuttiness found in the restaurant sauce, I browned the butter gently until it was a medium golden brown and then added the flour/ginger combination. When it came time to add the Marsala I added one teaspoon, tasted, then added a second teaspoon. That was all it needed, but it added just the right hint in both flavor and fragrance to let you know it was there.
The butternut squash on the side wasn't part of the restaurant meal, but Sweetie is used to big plates, not the minimal ones found at trendy restaurants. He really liked the contrast of the delicate ravioli and creamy sauce with the squash which had been pan roasted and was still slightly al dente. It was a slight bit sweeter, too, which was a nice counterpoint to the spinach. Although I could have seasoned the spinach I remembered that the restaurant seemed to use plain spinach, wilted, under the ravioli, trusting no doubt that the seasonings in the sauce and pasta would suffice. I used about 5 cups baby spinach, but would use more if I made this again.
Timing is important when making this dish. Plan on having everyone ready to be at the table once the pasta is done. Parsley can be minced ahead of time. The pasta water needed to be fully boiling and then the pasta only takes 5 minutes to cook, so the sauce should be made ahead a bit and kept warm while the pasta cooks. If the spinach has been rinsed and put into a microwave safe bowl, the wilting takes only a minute or two after starting the pasta. Of all the elements, the pan roasted squash takes the most time but it can be made ahead and reheated in the microwave once the spinach is wilted and the pasta is in to boil. Once the pasta is just cooked, it can be drained and the plate put together quickly. Serve at once while everything is still hot.
I hope you try this one. None of the elements are difficult as long as you can find ready-made butternut squash raviolis. It makes an impressive and delicious plate of pasta and vegetables and somehow seems very luxurious as you eat it. The sauce makes enough for 4 but I only had pasta enough for two, so the recipe is for two. You could increase the ingredients to use the whole squash and buy a couple bags of baby spinach (10 oz each) and double the amount of pasta to serve four and there should be enough sauce.
Butternut Squash Ravioli
with Wilted Baby Spinach, Pan-Roasted Butternut Squash and Browned Butter Sauce
1 medium butternut squash
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon sage
1 tablespoon grated onion
1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
2 cups milk or a combination of milk and cream (I used 1 1/2 cups evaporated non-fat milk and 1/2 cup "1/2 and 1/2" light cream)
salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons Marsala
dash ground sage
1 package butternut squash ravioli (about 8 oz. for two)
1 bag (10 oz) baby spinach, well rinsed but not dried
1 tablespoon Italian parsley, minced
To make the Pan-Roasted Squash:Cut the butternut squash in half. Reserve the other half for another use and peel one half. Cut to reveal any seeds and remove seeds and stringy materials from the inside if there. Cut the squash into 1/2 inch dice. Set aside.
Heat a skillet (cast iron works best for this) over high heat. While skillet is heating, place the squash cubes, olive oil, salt, sage, and grated onion into a gallon zipper bag or large plastic bag. Close and shake vigorously to coat the squash pieces with the other ingredients.
When a drop of water dropped on the skillet sizzles, add the seasoned squash cubes. Use a spatula to flatten the mixture and compact it a bit. Let it sit undisturbed for 30 seconds, then reduce the heat to medium-high and cook for another 30 seconds.
Turn the squash with a wide spatula to bring the browned side up and get the unbrowned side in touch with the pan. Cook another minutes. Repeat. Add the maple syrup and stir to combine it with the squash mixture. Flatten the squash mixture again and let cook 30 seconds. Turn the mixture a few more times, letting the squash brown a bit before turning. Check for how done the squash is by tasting a piece. It should be softened but still have a little resistance, like al dente pasta. Correct seasonings if needed. Remove from the heat and reheat in the microwave just before serving.
To make the Browned Butter Sauce:In a medium saucepan with a heavy bottom, melt the butter over medium-high heat. As the butter melts, swirl the pan to mix the butter solids in with the clarified butter. Continue to cook and swirl until the butter is colored a medium golden brown. Remove from the heat. Combine the flour and ginger in a small bowl. Whisk the flour mixture into the browned butter. The residual heat will cook the flour enough so there is no need to return the mixture to the heat. Whisk the milk in, all at once, and continue whisking to thoroughly combine the milk mixture and flour mixture. Return to medium heat and, whisking constantly, cook until the mixture thickens, about 8-10 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the Parmesan, Marsala, and sage. Taste for seasonings and add salt and pepper as desired. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the top of the sauce to keep it from forming a skin. Set aside until needed for plating the pasta. When that time comes, remove the plastic wrap and gently heat the sauce again, whisking as needed.
Start a large pot half filled with water to boil. Add 2 teaspoons salt if you like your pasta salted.
To make the spinach:Take the washed spinach and place in a microwave safe bowl.Cover with waxed paper or a plain paper towel. Set aside.
The pasta:Once the water comes to a full boil and you know that you can serve in about7-10 minutes, reduce the heat to medium (so that water is barely boiling) and gently place the ravioli, one by one, into the pot. Start your timer for 5 minutes. About half way through that time you may want to flip the ravioli over but don't if they start to break up or lose filling.
Now, once the pasta is in the boiling water, you can reheat the butternut squash for 2-3 minutes in the microwave. Next wilt the spinach by cooking on high 1-2 minutes in the microwave. Remove the plastic from the sauce and gently reheat. Get your plates ready.
At 5 minutes (or at whatever time is recommended for cooking the pasta by the manufacturer), drain the pasta gently. Place half the spinach on each plate, spoon on a little of the sauce, place half the pasta on each plate (leaving some space on the side for the pan-roasted squash) and spoon a generous amount of sauce over the pasta. Sprinkle some minced parsley on top. Spoon some of the squash on the side and repeat with the other plate. Serve at once.
A dry red wine goes well with this dish. Toast the cook. He or she will deserve it after putting this meal together.