Here’s the thing. You might think it’s a bit of a cop-out, but the truth is that I know how to make ravioli; I’ve made them several times with many different fillings, but unless I’m settling into an evening of pasta making with friends and family, I’d just as soon buy the suckers. But I buy them on the black market from a bona fide Italian who makes them from scratch. His family’s been making stuffed pasta back on “the boot” for over 150 years, and since coming to New York to start his own operation stateside, he’s been working covertly to supply in-the-know chefs, restaurants, and foodies with his delectable pasta pouches. Sometimes he even uses unpasteurized cheese. For shame! But trust me, they are pure paradiso.I shit you not.
The first time I ever had black market rav was the summer before last. Il Maestro made a slapdash caprese, filling his ravioli with burrata cheese and tossing the pasta in olive oil, fresh basil and ever so slightly garlic-roasted cherry tomatoes. The burrata filling was a revelation. Because his pasta takes only 3 minutes to finish off in a pot of boiling water, the panna stays lose inside the pasta pouch, gushing out to create a silken cream sauce once you’ve cut into your ravioli. If you’ve never had burrata, do yourself a favor and track it down. This Italian buffalo’s milk cheese looks like mozzarella di bufala (my favorite!) on the outside, but is filled with thick panna, or cream, on the inside, for a surprise taste sensation.
Last month I bought black market pumpkin ravioli for the tasting menu The Dinner Belle prepared for Macy’s. Tossed in a brown butter brodo with crisp fried sage leaves, and topped with a sprinkle of crushed Amaretti cookies and shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, the dish was an instant autumnal classic I’ll be making for customers and friends over and over again this season. Cutting the butter sauce with brodo, or broth, lightens and flavors the dish for both your mouth and your waistline. Seek out the best pumpkin or butternut squash ravioli in town, and you’re halfway to dinner. The brown butter sage sauce takes only a matter of minutes; so if you are feeling courageous and have time to spare, try your hand at making your own ravioli. Martha Stewart has a great pumpkin filling recipe and Mario Batali’s basic pasta dough technique has never steered me wrong.
We can’t all be lucky enough to have il Maestro in our arsenal of sacred foodie finds, but I do promise a video webisode of my most recent “score” next week. To get his number, you’ll have to butter me up.
• 2 dozen Pumpkin Ravioli
• 1 stick Unsalted Butter
• 1 bundle Sage Leaves (separated from stems)
• ½ cup Chicken, Vegetable or Parmigiano Cheese Rind Stock
• Amaretti Cookies (garnish)
• Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese (garnish)
• Fleur de Sel
• Canola Oil
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add a dash of canola oil to the water to prevent the ravioli from sticking. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat. When the butter has melted and the foaming subsides, add your sage leaves and fry until lightly browned and crispy on both sides, which requires flipping the leaves halfway through frying. Remove the pan from the heat and the leaves from the butter, and place the sage on paper towels to drip dry. Heavily salt the leaves with fleur de sel and set them aside to crisp up.
At this point, the white milk solids of your melted butter should have turned brown and infused your sauce with a gorgeous nutty-sage flavor and aroma. This process takes a total of about 5 minutes, so you’ll have had to work fast to prevent the butter from burning. If it’s too dark it will be bitter, in which case it’s best to cut your losses and start over with a new stick of butter.
Return the butter to medium-low heat and add the stock of your choice. Simmer until the sauce is reduced and slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Season with fleur de sel to taste and remove from heat. Boil the ravioli in batches until just al dente. Quickly toss the pasta in the skillet with the brown butter sauce over high heat for 20 seconds, and then plate. Finish ravioli with a drizzle of any extra sauce left in your skillet, and sprinkle with shaved parmigiano, crumbled Amaretti cookies and sage leaves glistening with salt crystals. Buon appetito!