Crackling brown leaves slowly cascade to the ground. Fast-walking pedestrians drape lightweight scarves around their necks as their ankle boots clack down crowded sidewalks. The temperature is finally dropping, and it’s actually beginning to feel like fall. Now that I’ve traded tank tops and cut-off shorts for a pea coat, I’m more inclined to indulge in a hearty pasta. And the perfect way to add some pizazz to any pasta dish is to grate some fresh parmesan on top.
Fresh parmesan (also known as Parmigiano Reggiano if you want to be fancy) livens up any pasta dish—be it freshly-made or store bought. I decided to go all the way and make a batch of fresh pasta—a dough made of flour and eggs that's rolled through a pasta machine until you've got thin sheets of dough. I cut rounds from the sheets and stuffed them with an autumnal blend of roasted butternut squash, ground hazelnuts, sage, homemade apple butter and of course, parmesan. I then made hand-shaped stuffed pasta crescents.
This pillowy-soft homemade pasta deserves a rich and creamy sauce. I browned some butter in a skillet and added more chopped hazelnuts and shredded sage. I didn’t want the flavors in the sauce to overpower the delicate squash, but this aromatic sauce pairs great with the filling and accents the dish perfectly. Of course, a hearty grating of fresh parmesan is the perfect finish to this festive fall pasta.
Parmesan has the perfect flavor to bring this dish together—and don’t skimp on it—buy the good stuff and grate it yourself to maximize its flavor and freshness. The good stuff is the straight-from-Italia, just-sliced-from-a-giant-cheese-wheel Parmigiano Reggiano.
Note: You don't need to be a pasta-making expert to make the recipe I'm sharing below. I've only made homemade pasta a handful of times. Having a machine to roll out the dough into super-thin sheets is most helpful.
Also, don't have the wherewithal to make the pasta? Just make the sauce! It's incredibly easy and will be the perfect way to top some store-bought butternut squash ravioli. And don't forget the parmesan!
Handmade Pasta Stuffed with Butternut Squash, Sage & Hazelnuts with Browned Butter Sauce, Serves 4-6
For the Dough (Makes about 12 ounces)
2 cups all-purpose flour 3 large eggs 2 pinches of fine sea salt
For the Filling
1 medium butternut squash (OK to substitute 20 ounces pre-peeled and cut raw butternut squash) 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil 3 tablespoons finely-chopped toasted hazelnuts 3 tablespoons grated parmesan 3 tablespoons apple butter or apple sauce 2 tablespoons fresh sage leaves, finely chopped Salt, to taste Ground Pepper, to taste
For the Sauce*
1/2 stick of butter 2 tablespoons finely chopped toasted hazelnuts 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh sage
*Tired from all that pasta-making? A drizzle of good olive oil and some grated parmesan is an excellent no-fuss sauce for this dish.
For the Dough
This is the easiest pasta dough ever. Just put the flour in a food processor and pulse a few times. Then, add three large eggs and process for about 30 seconds. The dough should come together. If it looks like little peas, add another teaspoon of water and pulse a few more times. Keep adding water a teaspoon at a time until it comes together. However, if the dough was too sticky and sticks to the sides of the processor, add flour about a tablespoon at a time until it's no longer sticky. Then, remove the dough and give it a good kneading (just how you'd knead bread) for a minute or two. Form the dough into a ball and let it rest in the refrigerator for at least 15 minutes. (It's ok if it rests longer!)
For the Filling
Preheat the oven to 400F. Peel, de-seed and chop the butternut squash to 1-inch pieces. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Arrange the squash in a single layer and drizzle with the three tablespoons of olive oil. Bake in the oven for about 1 hour, until the squash has some color and a fork pierces through easily. Remove from the oven, lightly sprinkle with salt, and set aside to cool while preparing the rest of the filling.
If your hazelnuts aren’t yet toasted, preheat the oven to 350F. (Be sure to roast enough nuts for both the filling AND the browned butter sauce.) Toast them on a baking sheet in a single layer for 10 minutes. Remove them from the oven and immediately transfer them to a kitchen towel and fold the towel so that no steam escapes. After about a minute, with the hazelnuts still in the towel, rub them vigorously so that their skin comes off. Remove the toasted, skinned hazelnuts and set aside (it’s OK if all of the skin doesn’t come off!)
In a food processor, pulse the hazelnuts until they are finely ground, but stop short of making a paste of them. Remove the nuts. Add the squash to the food processor and puree until creamy. Remove the pureed squash and place in a large bowl. Fold in the 3 tablespoons of the chopped nuts, grated parmesan, apple butter and chopped sage. Taste the filling to see if you should add any salt or pepper. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Rolling Out Pasta, Making the Sauce and Assembly
Using a pasta machine, roll the dough to its thinnest setting. Place the strips of dough on a lightly-floured surface. Using a 3 and ½ inch round cutter, cut circles from the dough. Add a teaspoon of filling to each circle. Lightly brush the edge of the circle with water and fold in half to make a crescent shape. Remove any air bubbles and lightly press the edges together. Place each crescent-shaped pasta in a single layer on a floured pan. Repeat until all of the dough and filling have been used up.
Boil a large pot of water with a few large dashes of salt. Add the pasta in small batches. Cook for about 3 minutes, then strain and place in serving bowls.
Lastly, prepare the sauce. Add the butter to a a skillet and heat over medium. Once the butter is melted, add the chopped hazelnuts and sage and cook until it is brown and smells nutty. Be careful because the butter can burn easily! Spoon the browned butter over the pasta, and add a few more sprinkles of salt and some freshly grated parmesan. Serve immediately and let the creamy, fresh pasta bring a medley of fall flavors to your taste buds.