Ask any Italian American family about their Thanksgiving meal and I guarantee you that there is a pasta course. Yes, I realize that this sounds ludicrous given the abundance of food on the table Thanksgiving Day, but tradition prevails. As Italian immigrants assimilated having pasta was something that reminded them of their history as they whole heartedly embraced the traditions of their new home.
In the Northeast, more often than not this would be a lasagna or other tomato based pasta dish. Some years ago, when developing a class for an Italian themed Thanksgiving Dinner I included a pasta stuffed with sweet squash in a sage butter sauce. This filled pasta is typical of Ferrara in the Emilia Romagna region of Italy and can be found on the menu of every restaurant there. Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s The Splendid Table continues to be my go to resource for anything about the food of Emilia Romagna and her recipe is outstanding. The dish is called Cappellacci con la Zucca; the pasta is shaped to resemble the straw hats of the farm workers during the time of the Este Dynasty. Although there are an infinite number of recipes for Cappellacci con la Zucca, The Splendid Table’s combination of butternut squash with yam, results in a flavor and texture that is closest to what is had in Ferrara. It is simply one of my favorite filled pasta dishes and I might add, was responsible for a weight gain of at least 5 pounds last spring while in Ferrara. So getting back to Thanksgiving, why not try to replace some of those memorable and not so memorable sweet potato casseroles, please? What could be more Thanksgiving in spirit than butternut squash, yams, sage and butter???
We decided to form the Thanksgiving pasta in a more conventional ravioli shape to accommodate the time constraints of our eager, yet unskilled holiday workforce. In general, I prepare the filling on the Wednesday of Thanksgiving week, refrigerating it until the next day. The preparation of the actual pasta dough and forming of the ravioli is always orchestrated by Mio Marito on Thanksgiving morning. When in California our dear friends a British transplant whom I will lovingly refer to as His Lordship and his son have been an integral part of this tradition working alongside Mio Marito and La Levitt. In New Jersey the cousins ranging from elementary school to graduate school aged participate, sometimes begrudgingly (or hungover) at first. On either coast, once we get started the kitchen is full of laughter and flour dust. Over the years all involved have become quite adept at making filled pasta and together we have created many wonderful memories. When finished, the towel lined trays holding our precious pasta sit waiting to come to the pasta pot and be devoured later in the day.
- 1 recipe for Pasta Fresca all'Uovo
- 1 Tbs. corn or canola oil
- 1 whole butternut squash, weighing about 1½ pounds
- 1 yam weighing about 12 ounces
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- Freshly grated nutmeg
- Freshly grated black pepper
- 12 Tbs. unsalted butter
- 12 large Sage leaves
- 1 cup Freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- Sage sprigs for garnish
- Preheat the oven to 375º, cover a baking sheet with foil and lightly rub with the oil. Scrub the squash and the yam, piercing the yam several times with a fork. Cut the butternut squash in half lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. Place the butternut squash cut side down on the foil lined baking sheet along with the yam. Bake for about 1 hour or until the vegetables feel soft and are easily pierced with a fork. Cool thoroughly, and scoop out the flesh of the yam and butternut squash, placing the roasted vegetable flesh in a strainer set over a bowl to drain for several hours or overnight in the refrigerator.
- Remove the vegetable mixture from the strainer and pass through a potato ricer or food mill. Add the Parmigiano, freshly grated nutmeg, and black pepper. Taste for seasoning, you do not want the flavor of the nutmeg to overwhelm the delicate filling, however there should be a definite aroma of nutmeg. The filling can be refrigerated until the next day.
- Follow the instructions for Pasta Fresca all'Uovo. The final sheets of pasta should be thin and opaque enough to detect color through it, but not so delicate as to seem as though it will tear.
- Line several baking sheets with clean cotton towels, flour the towels. Have the prepared filling, ravioli form, the remaining strained flour from the pasta recipe, a bowl with water, and a pastry brush at hand.
- Cut your pasta sheets to be slightly longer (< 1'") than the ravioli form as you are ready to use them.
- Place one sheet of dough over the form, gently use the press portion of the form to make indentations in the dough. Fill the little indentations with a slightly rounded teaspoon of the filling (this will vary depend upon the size of your ravioli form) and brush the edges of the pasta with the water. Lay a second sheet of pasta over the form and roll over the ravioli form with a rolling pin, applying enough pressure to seal and cut the ravioli. Remove carefully and lay on the flour and towel lined baking sheets. Repeat until you have used all of the pasta and or filling. Cover with clean cotton towels and set aside in a cool place until later in the day
- Gently melt the butter and the sage leaves in a saucepan, keep warm.
- Have a large flat strainer or slotted spoon and a towel lined plate at the stove. Place the pasta bowl in a warm oven, close at hand. The butter sauce, grated Parmigiano and sage garnish should be nearby.
- Bring a large pot of cold water to a full boil, at that point add a generous handful of kosher salt to the water and allow it to return to a boil. Gently drop in the ravioli and cook for 3 minutes. Turn off the heat and remove with the flat strainer, using the towel on the plate to absorb any residual water. Place into the warm serving bowl, spoon over some of the sage butter and and Parmigiano. Repeat until all of the ravioli is in the serving bowl, garnish with the sage sprigs and serve immediately.