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by meg

It's filled pasta season in our home. Lasagna, canneloni, tortellini... all of them are good for warming up the palate and soul. With filled pasta, it's only natural to think of butternut squash in January. 

Homemade ravioli is a weekend project for sure, but not as daunting as you might think. A simple eggy pasta dough can be mixed together in five minutes, and the butternut squash needed for this recipe can be baked and scooped out of its skin well ahead of time. Ravioli also has the benefit of being a lot easier to pull together than homemade tortellini, and it holds more filling, giving you more of that intensely delicious butternut flavor.

If you have a lot of butternut squash on your hands, I recommend making a bunch of ravioli at once and freezing what you don't eat right away. Being able to pull a warming, satisfying meal from the freezer on a cold winter's night is something of a luxury. If you do this, freeze the ravioli in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet and transfer to labeled freezer bags. This way, they don't stick together during the freezing process, and you can easily cook however many portions of ravioli you desire. 

For a pasta with an assertive filling, sometimes the simplest treatments are the best. We love lightly frying fresh sage leaves and maybe some thyme in brown butter until they are fragrant and crispy. All that's left to do is add the ravioli, some freshly-ground pepper, and toss it all together. Shaved parmesan or romano is a must, a squeeze of lemon recommended.

Butternut Squash Ravioli tossed with Fried Sage and Brown Butter
Makes about 40 ravioli

You can prep nearly all of this recipe well ahead of time. Make the filling up to a couple days in advance, and be sure to make the pasta dough at least one hour in advance. You can cheat by using wonton wrappers, but it won't be quite as toothsome and delicious as a homemade dough.

Prepare the filling. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Line a baking pan with foil. Cut lengthwise in half:
     1 medium butternut squash (1½ pounds)
Scoop out the seeds and membranes. Place the halves cut side down in the pan. Bake 1 hour, or until tender when pierced with a knife. Let cool slightly, then scoop out the squash. Pass the squash through a ricer or food mill, or puree it in a food processor until smooth. You should have about 1½ cups. Mix the squash with:
     ½ cup grated Parmesan (2 ounces)
     ⅛ teaspoon grated or ground nutmeg
     Salt to taste

Prepare the dough. Mound on a clean counter:
     2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Make a well in the center and add:
     3 large eggs or 4 or 5 large egg whites (about ⅔ cup)
     ½ teaspoon salt
     1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
Beat the eggs lightly with a fork, drawing in some flour as you go, until the eggs are mixed and slightly thickened. Using the fingertips of one hand, gradually incorporate the flour into the eggs and blend everything into a smooth, not too stiff dough. If the dough feels too dry and crumbly, add a little water as needed. If it is too sticky, add a little more flour. Use a dough scraper or metal spatula to lift and turn the dough if it sticks.
Knead the dough until satiny and very elastic, about 10 minutes. Divide the dough into 4 pieces, and wrap the pieces loosely in plastic wrap. Let the dough rest at room temperature for 60 minutes before rolling it out.
After resting, roll out the pasta dough. The key to light, resilient pasta is gently stretching and pulling the sheet of dough as you roll it thinner and thinner. Whether with a rolling pin or a hand-cranked pasta machine, work with only a quarter of the pasta dough at a time, leaving the rest loosely covered.
Lightly flour a large surface and use a rolling pin to roll out one piece of the dough at a time. Try to roll the dough into long, thin 4-inch sheets rather than a circle (although, if this fails, you can always make circular ravioli). The sheets should be as thin as paper—sheer enough to see your hand clearly through it. This will take some elbow grease, but the effort will be worth it.
Trim the edges of the dough. On the bottom half of a sheet of pasta, place ½ teaspoon mounds of the filling spaced 1 inch apart. Dip your finger in water and run it around each mound of the filling. Fold over the unfilled half of the pasta sheet, taking care to cover each mound so that no air is trapped. With the side of your hand, press firmly between the mounds of filling to seal. Use a pizza cutter or pastry wheel to cut the sheet into squares or rectangles, checking that each piece is well sealed. Place the ravioli, not touching one another, on baking sheets dusted with flour. Let stand 45 minutes to 1 hour at room temperature, turning the pieces occasionally, before cooking. Repeat with the remaining pasta and filling. To cut round ravioli, use a cookie cutter or biscuit cutter. If you want to freeze the ravioli, this is the time to do it.

To cook up the ravioli, bring a large pot of well-salted water to a rolling boil. Simultaneously, heat in a medium skillet over medium heat:
     2 tablespoons salted butter per serving of ravioli
Brown the butter, stirring frequently to scrape the brown bits off the bottom of the pan, until the butter is fragrant and the milk solids have turned a deep brown (see my post on browning butter). Boil the pasta for about 5 minutes, or until al dente. Meanwhile, for each serving of pasta, add to the brown butter and lightly fry for a few minutes:
     2 fresh sage leaves per serving
     (a sprig or two of thyme leaves per serving, torn up)

Drain the ravioli and toss with the herbs and brown butter, adding:
     Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Plate the ravioli, divide the fried herbs between servings, drizzle the remaining butter mixture over the pasta, and top each with a healthy pinch of:
     Shaved Parmesan
     (a few drops of lemon juice)

Serve immediately.

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