Tuesday, November 14, 2006

"Goodbye, Mario! Goodbye, The Babbo Cookbook!," or The Captain's Dinner*


Here's where I come clean with a confession: as of just a couple of days ago I had yet to return the Mario Batali book I borrowed many months ago from a friend. Remember our dinner with Mario and more dinners with Mario? Well, I'd held on to the book ever since. I even bought Molto Italiano in a pathetic effort to wean myself away from The Babbo Cookbook, but it didn't really work. Those pictures were just too beautiful to let go of. So I decided the thing to do was go out with a bang. I'd come clean and call Étienne, clueing him in on just where his beloved book had disappeared to, and then I'd make arrangements for him to pick up his book, but I'd delay him just long enough to make my farewell meal, one last parting kiss before I finally relinquished control (after all, what's another day or two when you've been missing a book for the better part of the last two years?). I know. Sounds absurd. It was. But it was worth it. I learned another great recipe, I got over my pasta-making phobia once and for all, and Étienne got his book back. Here's how I went about preparing my "Goodbye Mario, goodbye The Babbo Cookbook" meal.

Instinctively, I turned to the most autumnal recipe I could find: Squash Ravioli with Sage Buttter. Winter squash, sage, parmesan, and amaretti--what's there not to like? Turned into a ravioli dish, it makes for a great mid-autumn comfort meal--an elegant, delicately flavored one. Squash and sage is already a magical combination. Add freshly grated parmesan and freshly grated amaretti to the mix and you've got something that's truly divine.

amaretti, sage and parmesan

This dish is also a great excuse to dust off that pasta machine hiding in your cupboard. [Yikes, come to think of it, our pasta machine was also a loaner. The poor guy who loaned it to me tried to get it back a few times over the course of a couple of years. When all attempts failed, he finally gave up hope and said, "I really didn't ever use it. Just keep it." So I did.] Anyway, I hope you have one [If you don't you might want to try borrowing one from a friend. Who knows? You might wind up becoming the lucky owner.] because I tried to roll it out by hand and I don't recommend it. It took me over 20 min. to get the dough halfway to the desired thickness, and it absolutely refused to get any thinner.

Now, before you roll your eyes and say, "Homemade pasta, give me a break," listen to this... The first time I made pasta it was a disaster. With no one to show me what the right consistency was, I kneaded the dough for a grand total of two minutes. Having only made bread and pastry before, I thought, "Sure. That looks fine. Right?" It was really quite wet, though, and when I tried to roll it through the machine, it got stuck between the rollers and crumpled into an ungodly mess. I vowed then and there never to make pasta again, that I'd leave it to the professionals. Then I came across a crazy recipe at work. 100g flour, 1 egg: mixed, kneaded 10-20 min., left to relax at least 30 min. I thought to myself, it looks too simple, and too dry. I had to try it [Go figure.]. The dough was so dry, in fact, that I could barely knead it. With encouragement from other cooks, who said that it looked right, I kept at it. My arms started to ache as I continued beat it into submission. "Needs a bit more." "Give it one for me," they kept saying. I got to a point where I thought I was going to cry. After over 20 min. of hard labour [Wow, I'm really managing to make this sound easy!], I wrapped it in plastic and left it in the fridge overnight. The next day it was as if a miracle had occurred [You've gotta love a recipe that relies on a miracle.]. The unruly dough had relaxed into a perfect ball. When it was passed through the pasta roller, it came out perfectly, no additional flour was needed. Even at the thinnest setting, it came out without tears or wrinkles or any kind. We ended up eating it for our staff meal that night and suddenly I was a believer again.

Armed with this new-found sense of empowerment I jumped right into the fray and made pasta again just a few days later, this time at home. I didn't use the recipe I'd discovered at work, however, I used Batali's pasta recipe. His recipe was much easier to mix and knead, resulting in a wetter dough (though not nearly as wet as my infamous self-imploding batch, thankfully). It's a little harder to pass through the pasta machine than the recipe I tried at work, but then this pasta dough is much easier to handle. Use flour to dust the dough between each pass and it should work perfectly fine.

Squash Ravioli with Sage Butter

dough (makes 1 pound):

3 1/2-4 cups all purpose flour
4 large eggs
1/2 tsp. olive oil

Mix 3 1/2 cups of flour together with the eggs and oil until it forms a ball. Knead on a floured surface 10 min. until the dough is smooth and only slightly sticky, using extra flour if needed. Wrap in plastic and let rest at least 30 min. at room temperature before rolling out.

Captain's squash


I small winter squash, such as pumpkin, acorn, butternut or hubbard
1/2 cup parmesan, grated
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Cut squash in half, seed, drizzle with olive oil and bake in a hot oven until it is tender, about 45 min.
Scoop out the flesh of the squash with a spoon, add the remaining ingredients and mash until it is a relatively smooth paste. Set aside.

Roll dough out one slice at a time to the thinnest setting. Lay dough out on a long work surface and drop spoonfuls of the filling about 2 inches apart onto the upper half of the dough, staying clear of the edges. Fold the bottom half over to meet the top edge of the dough. Carefully seal each spoonful of filling by pressing the dough around it. Cut into desired shapes with a knife, a cookie cutter, a ravioli cutter, a pastry wheel, or any other implement you have on hand. Place on a lightly floured surface and continue with the rest of the dough and filling until one of them runs out.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Drop the ravioli in, boil 2 min., then strain.

the finished plate

to serve:

1 stick unsalted butter
8 sage leaves
1 amaretti cookie
salt, pepper and parmesan to serve

Melt the butter in a large sauté pan. Add the ravioli and the sage leaves, tossing gently until covered with the butter sauce. Place on plates, drizzling a little extra butter on the ravioli, grate parmesan and amaretti over the the plate and serve.


* The Captain in question is the Czech man at Jean-Talon market who specializes in eggs as well as winter squashes. He doesn't know it, but he's "...an endless banquet"'s official egg provider. We got both our eggs and our squash for this meal from him.

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