As summer draws to a close, most of us have cleared out our garden beds either to let them rest for the winter months or turn them over for fall...
There is something deeply satisfying to me about the changing of the seasons. Perhaps it is the shedding of the old and now familiar; the awakening of new colors, new aromas and the magnificent light. The cooler weather ushers in autumn’s treasures that re-awaken the senses – chestnuts, mushrooms, kale, pears, pomegranates. The earthy colors in the market deepen; the flavors explode once again after the final heat of summer.
Chestnuts hold a special place in my heart. Throughout the fall and winter, my mother always had chestnuts in the house. We would help make the little ‘X’ across the chestnut before placing them in the pan and sit patiently as they roasted in the oven. Many years later, I would buy cones of freshly roasted chestnuts from the street vendors in Sicily and fall in love with these treasures all over again – that smoky flavor mingling with the salt tasting fresh from the sea, warming you to your soul on that chilly fall evening.
With Thanksgiving quickly approaching and a house full of family on the calendar, I decided to add a touch of fall to our usual first course of pasta on the Thanksgiving menu. The combination of the smoky chestnuts and pancetta is heavenly and the pear adds just a hint of sweetness to the flavor. I hope you enjoy these as much as we did. Buon appetito, Michele
CHESTNUT AND PEAR RAVIOLI WITH SAGED BROWN-BUTTER
For the pasta:
• 3 ½ cups all-purpose flour or ‘00’ flour (or a combination)
• 5 large eggs
• 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
For the filling:
• 2 tablespoons butter
• 2 ounces pancetta, diced
• ½ small onion, diced
• 2 garlic cloves, diced
• About 8 ounces chestnuts (use fresh roasted or pre-packaged)
• 1/2 Bosc pear
• ¼ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
• Freshly ground black pepper
For the sauce:
• 8 tablespoons unsalted butter
• Fresh sage leaves
• Freshly ground black pepper
Prepare the pasta dough:
Make a large mound of the flour in the center of your cutting board or surface prep area. Form a well in the center of the flour. Add the eggs and olive oil. Using a fork, beat together the eggs with the oil and slowly begin to incorporate the flour from the inner rim of the well. Continue until the dough starts to come together. Switch to using your hands. Incorporate the rest of the flour until you have a large ball. Scrape off any excess from the surface. Re-flour the board and continue kneading the dough until it becomes smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes. Add a little more flour if the dough is too sticky.
Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and allow to rest for at least 30 minutes at room temperature.
Prepare the filling: In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the diced pancetta and slowly cook until the fat has rendered, about 5 minutes. Add in the onion and garlic and cook until the onion has softened, about 3 minutes. Coarsely chop the chestnuts and add to the pan. Cook until the chestnuts have softened a bit.
Remove from the heat. Peel the pear and remove the core, stem and seeds. Grate the pear on a box grater. In a food processor, combine the chestnut-pancetta mixture along with the pear and process until still slightly chunky. Pour the mixture into a bowl and stir in the grated Parmigiano. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.
Make the ravioli: Allow the dough to come to room temperature if refrigerated. Cut the ball of dough into quarters. Cover the dough you are not using immediately to prevent it from drying out. Dust your surface and the dough with a bit of flour. Flatten the piece of dough and roll it through the pasta machine a few times at its widest setting. Reduce the setting and crank the dough through the machine, continuing until the dough is paper-thin (number 6 setting on my machine.)
Lay out the sheet of pasta. Keep a small bowl of water nearby. Place about 1 tablespoon of the filling every few inches on half of the pasta sheet. Brush around the filling with water. Fold the unfilled half over the filled half and using fingers, gently press any air pockets out from around the mounds of filling, seal. Cut into squares using a ravioli cutter. Place the finished ravioli on a sheet pan dusted with semolina or cornmeal until ready to use. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.
To finish the ravioli:
In a large saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat until the foam subsides and the butter begins to turn brown. Lay in the sage leaves and cook until the sage is crisp, about 1 minute. Remove the sage leaves to a paper towel. Season the sauce with salt and pepper.
In the meantime, bring a pot of salted water to boil over medium heat. Gently add the ravioli and cook at a slow boil until the ravioli float to the surface and are tender, about 3 minutes. Carefully remove the ravioli with a spider or slotted spoon to a colander to drain. Gently slide the ravioli into the butter and cook for about 1 minute. Sprinkle with the sage leaves, additional freshly ground black pepper and serve!
Joe and Michele Becci are a brother and sister team who love all things Italian. Together, from opposite coasts, they co-author the blog OurItalianTable.com.