'Tis the season for me to throw simple out the window and make dishes that are, frankly, a pain in the ass. So what better way to start than by trying my hand at a fresh stuffed pasta!
At first, since I have been on my processed meats kick, I wanted to make some kind of goat cheese/duck liver creation, but apparently it's quite difficult to find duck liver in a suburb where safeways and savemarts dominate the market. So, I took a page out of Mario Batalli's Simple Italian Food: Recipes from My Two Villages and went with something seasonal - Cappellacci di Zucca, or little hats stuffed with roasted squash.
Now, why would such a seemingly straightforward dish be so painful to make? Because of the pitfalls - there are roughly 323 things that could go wrong. The dough could be too dry, too wet, not kneaded enough, it could rip as it goes through the pasta roller (which actually happened, more details later), it could break when you put it in the water, the filling could be too wet, and you could over-stuff the pasta making it impossible to seal the edges. These are all things I learned through trial and error. So, if you're ready to put your ego aside and face this dish head on, here's the recipe.
We started with the filling, so it would have enough time to firm up in the fridge by the time we needed it. Throw 3 lbs of butternut squash (cut in 1/2 and seeded) in the oven for 1 hr. at 350 degrees. By that time, they get all soft and you can just scoop the filling right out. Combine it with 2 eggs, 1 cup of parmesan reggiano, and 1/2 tspn of nutmeg, salt, and pepper, and then throw it in the fridge.
Next came the pasta. All you need is 3 c. of unbleached flour with 4 large eggs, and a pair of strong hands to knead it forever and ever. Luckily I have a wonderful sous-chef (my dad) who I make do all of the manual labor - after 20 minutes I came back from watching the Jersey Shore (which, by the way, is incredible) to find a perfectly smooth, yellow, ball of dough wrapped in plastic, awaiting my arrival.
I let it rest for 1 hour, and then I was ready to roll! Cut the pasta into thirds, flatten it just a bit, throw flour over everything, and, starting with the lowest (widest) setting, roll the pasta through.
This is really straightforward, so here are the only things you need to remember when rolling pasta:
1) Put it through the largest setting a couple of times. Just flatten it out, fold it in 1/2 or in thirds, and then roll it through again.
2) When you are done rolling out a piece and moving on to the next one, be sure to cover whatever you're not working on with plastic wrap - it dries out incredibly quickly.
3) Don't skip a setting - it will tear easier if you go from 2 to 4.
4) Don't put too much in at a time. If there is too much trying to push its way through the roller at one time, it will get all smashed up in one side and start tearing. This is exactly what happened to me, and just before I was on the brink of a pasta-induced breakdown, I cut down the piece I was trying to roll through, it worked just fine.
So that's the rolling. Then comes the stuffing - the single most annoying thing I've ever done. If I was to do this again, I'd make ravioli because you can make them en masse - no need to everything by hand and fold the pieces one-by-one. The recipe told me to put 1 tspn in each 3x3 square, but this seemed so tiny and ridiculous that I was determined to put twice the amount in. Bad idea. It was impossible to seal the squares. So once I figured out I should actually follow Mario's directions (damn you Mario!), it started working. You put a little dollop of filling in the center of the square, fold it over and press the edges together, then take the 2 corners and press those together.
So after going through what my dad likened to the "evolution of man" (with big, ugly, misshapened pasta coming first and evolving into a beautiful, perfectly shaped hat) I finally arrived at my final product and was ready to cook.
Thank god they didn't fall apart in the water - I probably would've started screaming and throwing things. After about 4-5 minutes in the water, it was time to eat. I threw them in a pan of melted butter (with 4 sage leaves added for flavor), mixed it up, plated, and finished them with some parmesan cheese and chopped, fresh sage.
Despite getting a few awkwardly huge, cro-magnon man pieces, it turned out just perfect. The brown butter/sage complimented the squash perfectly, and the nutmeg provided just enough spice to remind everyone that it was the holiday season.
How to gain a pound the day before Christmas? Eat 3 helpings of stuffed pasta.