Meat Free Mondays — Acorn Squash Ravioli

Father’s Day arrived early for me this year. Check out my new toy:

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I used to own a pasta maker, but through neglect I let it rust out. That inspired me to get a new one, as well as this ravioli maker:

We’re calling it my Father’s Day gift for this year. Much better than a tie!

I couldn’t wait to start playing with it. For my first pasta, I decided to make acorn squash ravioli.

Making fresh pasta is not only fun and economical, but it tastes far better than commercially produced pasta, even those that are sold as “fresh”.

The difference between homemade pasta and storebought is like the difference between the birthday cake your mom made for you as a child and a Hostess cupcake. In other words, there is no comparison.

Pasta is very simple to make and you don’t necessarily need a pasta machine, although it’s way easier if you do. There are all kinds of pasta recipes, but the most basic one is simply eggs and flour formed into a dough and then rolled out thin, either with a rolling pin or with a pasta machine.

For this recipe, I added a little salt for flavor and a few tablespoons of water to get the consistency of the dough right.

You can even make different color pasta by using all-natural coloring agents such as spinach, tomato puree or even squid ink. You can even make striped ravioli if you like.

Ravioli can be filled with anything you like, including ground meat, cheese, finely chopped vegetables, potatoes, you name it. Best of all, you can make up a big batch of ravioli, enjoy half of it for dinner right away, and save the other half for another time in the freezer. They cost literally just pennies to make and they taste amazing.

Acorn Squash Ravioli

For the Filling

1 cup Acorn squash, cooked

1/2 cup Cream Cheese (or Ricotta)

1 clove Garlic, crushed

Sea Salt

Fresh cracked black pepper

1. Combine acorn squash, cheese and garlic in a mixing bowl and mix together until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

For the Ravioli

2 cups Unbleached all-purpose flour

2 eggs

1/2 tsp Sea salt

2-3 TBS Water

1. Combine flour and salt in a mixing bowl, then use your fingers to make a hole in the middle. Crack eggs into the hole, then use a fork to mix together, slowly incorporating the flour a little at a time until a dough is formed, adding a little of the water if necessary. Transfer to a floured work surface and knead until dough is smooth, about five minutes. Cover with clean kitchen towel and set aside.

2. Assemble pasta machine or flour a work surface. Separate the dough into four peices. If using the pasta machine, set the rollers to their widest setting, then flatten one of the dough balls with your hands and feed it into the roller using the crank handle. Fold the sheet in half and feed it through the rollers again. Adjust the rollers to the next narrowest setting and repeat the process. Then adjust the rollers again and continue rolling out the dough until it is paper thin. Lay the pasta sheet flat on a floured work surface, sprinkle with flour and cover with clean kitchen towel. Repeat the process for the three remaining dough balls.

3. To assemble ravioli, lay one pasta sheet over the metal ravioli frame, then use the plastic insert to create dimples in the pasta. Carefully use a spoon to fill each dimple with about one teaspoon of the filling, then lay a second pasta sheet over the top. Use a rolling pin to press the two sheets together firmly, then pull away the excess pasta on the sides and discard. Use your fingers to carefully pick up each ravioli and set on a floured baking sheet to dry for 30 minutes, then turn each ravioli over and let dry another 15 minutes. Repeat with the remaining two pasta sheets. At this point the ravioli can be frozen for later use, if you would like.

4. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add ravioli and cook eight minutes. Drain and serve.

I served mine with my simple, all-purpose tomato sauce and some freshly shaved parmesan. I served it with this simple herbed bread recipe I’ve been making a lot lately, as well as sauteed zucchini, having been inspired by this post by The Ranting Chef.

Can I just say: Best. Father’s. Day. Ever!

Meat Free Mondays – Spinach Ravioli with Roasted Garlic and Sweet Potato Cream Sauce

I’ve been thinking about getting a pasta maker again.

I bought one when I was in culinary school (in other words, during the first Clinton administration) but rarely used it. Eventually, it rusted out sitting under my sink.

But now I want one again. They are not very expensive, at least not for the hand-cranked version, and I think I would get a lot of use out of it.

I love making my own ravioli because they are fun to make and you can fill them with anything you want. Ravioli for me always evokes childhood memories of Chef Boyardee ravioli, the sugary tomato concoction that came out of a can. It was one of the first meals I learned to “cook” by myself (open can, pour into pot, heat and serve).

But real ravioli — any pasta, really — is one of those foods that is about 1000 percent better when its made fresh. Plus it’s really simple to make, as long as you have a pasta machine.

For this recipe, I bought freshly made ravioli at the store. They tasted fine, but were a little bland. I definitely would have added more garlic and feta to the spinach to give it more punch.

Unlike Chef Boyardee’s, this sauce — which I adapted from this recipe I found on the wonderful Lesley Eats vegetarian cookig blog — was mostly fat- and sugar-free, but still had the silky, delicious flavor which perfectly complemented the texture of the fresh spinach ravioli.

Spinach Ravioli with Roasted Garlic and Sweet Potato Cream Sauce

2 Sweet potatoes

3 cloves Garlic, peeled

1/2 tsp Extra  virgin olive oil

1 cup Soy milk

1 tsp Italian seasoning

1 tsp Sea salt

1/2 tsp Cumin

1/4 tsp Cayenne pepper

Fresh cracked black pepper

12 oz Fresh spinach ravioli

1/4 cup Hard Parmesan, hand grated

1. Preheat oven to 375F. Lay the sweet potatoes on a sheet pan and drizzle a little EVOO over, then use your hands to rub the oil all over the surface of the potatoes. Bake for one hour. Meanwhile, put  the garlic cloves in a small square of aluminum foil and drizzle with the 1/4 tsp of EVOO. During the last 15 minutes of cooking, add the garlic to the sheet pan with the potatoes. Remove from oven and let both the sweet potatoes and the garlic cool at least 10 to 15 minutes.

2. Use a paring knife to remove the sweet potato skins. It should slip right off. Cut each potato into about 3 or 4 large peices and place in food processor or blender. Add garlic, soy milk, Italian seasoning, cumin, cayenne and a few grinds of fresh cracked black pepper. Pulse and then puree until smooth. Transfer to a small sauce pot.

3. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add ravioli, reduce to simmer and cook about five minutes. Drain, return to pot and toss with whole butter, salt and fresh cracked black pepper.

5. To plate, gently reheat sauce. Carefully arrange ravioli in the center of a pasta bowl. Use a cooing spoon to drape the ravioli with the sauce. Use a vegetable peeler to peel off long slices of hard parmesan and sprinkle over pasta.

Now, if you will excuse me I need to go price out pasta makers on Amazon!