Angels in the Kitchen, Part 2

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I heard a cheesy thing on TV, somewhere between Oprah and Ellen: “Life isn’t cured, it’s managed.”

The Guitar Player and I are still at it, cooking our Friday night meals. It’s something for us to look forward to, all through a busy stressful week. It’s something we don’t want to give up, we love it so much. So if one or the other of us gets snarky, the other is , like, Hey, I don’t want this to wreck our Friday night.

It’s helping us manage the electrical field of our emotions, and the crazy way love can trigger all kinds of circuits, currents and live wires.

Last week we decided to make homemade ravioli. My film, Flesh and Blood: A Journey Between East and West, had just been accepted into a film festival in Turin. Italy was on our minds.

The Guitar Player felt quite strongly that we should make the dough ourselves. However,since reading Bill Buford’s food memoir Heat, a gripping account of his apprenticeship with chef Mario Batali and other related foodies, including the formidable Betta from a dour mountain village in the Appenines, I was too much in awe. Buford lovingly describes Betta’s memories of making pasta with her aunts:

Every December they gathered round a kitchen table and made pasta, a warm, noisy convocation: banter, gossip, high hilarity, storytelling, the smells of food, a fire burning, everyone’s fingers busy. Making the tortellini, Betta said, was always social […] and as a child she felt privileged when these older, cultivated women asked her to join their circle. She was twelve years old, and the tortellini she made were her first homemade pasta – no small feat. They are complex, tightly-layered pieces of food sculpture […] “My learning to make pasta was learning how to grow up and be a woman.”

I talked The Guitar Player into using wonton wrappers instead.

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We adapted a recipe I’d seen on Chow.com. The Guitar Player likes to follow a recipe exactly, and only then figure out some adjustments. For me a recipe is a melody, to which harmonies are added as you cook. We compromised. I added a touch of cream cheese and blue cheese to the squash filling; we stayed true, more-or-less, to the plainness of the broth-like brown butter sauce.

The Guitar Player’s delicate, roughly textured hands went to work, gracefully creating filled pasta squares.

The dish, in the end, was lovely, tasting of earth and Italy, but also of home.


Squash Ravioli with Chestnuts & Sage Brown Butter Sauce

Serves 4

For the ravioli:

1 medium squash (use butternut, delicata, or kabocha)
1/2 bunch thyme sprigs
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Pinch of nutmeg
1 tbslpn blue cheese
2 tbslpns. good-quality cream cheese
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and seeds scraped from the pod
36 wonton wrappers
1 egg, lightly beaten for egg wash
1 tablespoon butter
1/4 pound roasted chestnuts, peeled and sliced

For the brown butter sauce:

1 clove garlic, smashed
5 tablespoons butter
¼ cup white wine
15 to 18 small fresh sage leaves
½ cup low-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Instructions

1. Heat the oven to 375°F. Cut the squash in half and remove seeds. Season with salt and pepper, and place cut side down on a rimmed baking sheet that’s been sprinkled with thyme sprigs and vegetable oil. Bake for about 45 minutes or until squash is completely soft. Set aside and allow to cool.
2. When the squash is cool enough to handle, use a spoon to scoop the flesh from its skin and place in a large mixing bowl. Discard skin. Season squash with the nutmeg, vanilla bean seeds, salt, blue cheese, cream cheese, and freshly ground pepper. Mash this mixture by hand until it is well blended but still slightly chunky. Put the mixture in a colander set in the sink, and let the excess liquid drain off for about 30 minutes.
3. Form the ravioli by placing about 2 teaspoons of the squash mixture on a wonton wrapper. Brush the edges with a pastry brush dipped slightly into the beaten egg, and place another wonton wrapper on top. Be sure to remove all air pockets and seal the edges well. Make five ravioli per person. To prevent the ravioli from sticking together, dust them with flour and don’t stack them. Bring a pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat.
4. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a medium frying pan over medium heat. Add the chestnuts and cook until they are crisp and golden. Drain.
5. To make the sauce, place 5 tablespoons of butter and the smashed garlic in a medium frying pan and cook until the white milk solids have browned. Deglaze with wine, scraping up any solids and letting the liquid get syrupy. Add the sage and chicken broth, and bring to a simmer. Reduce until sauce is slightly thickened, and season with salt and freshly ground pepper. When the water is at a rolling boil, add the ravioli (only about four or five at a time) and cook until tender, about 3-5 minutes.
6. To serve, place a few tablespoons of grated cheese onto each dish and top with three ravioli. Spoon the brown butter sauce over the ravioli and garnish with chestnuts.

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