The Wine You Need This Season
This time of year our palates are fully primed for more intense savory flavors. Winter squash, be it butternut, pumpkin or delicata, offer much in the way of richness. These are delicious and easy additions to our seasonal diet as well as to all things Italian: whether gently simmered in risotto, roasted and tossed with delicate gnocchi or used as a filling for ravioli. The last is a personal favorite and though making fresh pasta can be intimidating, it can be quite enjoyable and less difficult than you might think. I often use this recipe from the Epicurious site which is done in the food processor in the matter of a minute or two. Yes, there is a bit of kneading involved but it's completely cathartic! The filling comes together in an instant and is best done ahead so it's cold when used. When it comes to saucing the pasta, little more than a sauce of brown butter and sage are needed from my perspective. However, other options would include an earthy pesto: kale and sage would be a nice combination. In addition, cream sauces work well, perhaps embellished with pancetta and brandy or one simply scented with rosemary.
Whichever sauce you may choose, you'll want to pour something with texture, to match the weight not just of the squash, but the rich sauce. While a southern Italian white might work, we're thinking of wines from another region: Alsace, France. The wines of this region may be dry, somewhat sweet, or intensely sweet. For this kind of meal, a wine with a bit of sweetness goes a long way. If the wine is bone-dry, it often tastes bitter and flat against rich squash and weighty sauces. Here are a few wines perfect for this dish and below is the recipe for the ravioli.
Laurent Barth Alsace AOC "Racines Métisses" 2013 - Organically Grown
"I wanted to see what was going on in the rest of the world," said Laurent Barth. So after oenology school, he set off to work in vineyards around the world, with stops in Lebanon, South Africa, California, India and Australia. Laurent began working his father's vines in 1999, but for five years kept supplying grapes to the local cooperative as his father had done. When he took over, he worked the vines entirely organically and has since experimented with biodynamics as well. "As far as indigenous yeasts, it was obvious. I'd seen it function all over the world," said Barth. His Racines Métisse is a blend of all the Alsatian white grapes with the exception of gewürztraminer as it's too aromatic. The wine is soft and clean, offering plenty of aromatics already: white flowers, ripe yellow peach and a hint of lime zest keeping it from getting overbearing. This is medium in weight with more of the citrus shining through on the palate, with a bit of more delicate white peach here. This has just enough to act as a counterpoint to the ravioli and will work equally well with a roast chicken if squash is not your cup of tea.
Cave Vinicole de Cléebourg Pinot Gris Alsace AOC 2013
This wine is produced by one of the cooperatives in Alsace, which accounts for its reasonable price as compared to other pinot gris. You may know this grape better in its Italian rendition: pinot grigio, though made in a different style here in Alsace. Here the wines are fuller in body, often rich on the palate and more deeply aromatic. For these reasons, it is an ideal partner to a rich dish like this ravioli. This wine delivers ripe pear and quince aromas and flavors that mingle with white floral notes. It retains just enough freshness to keep it from becoming dull. Also, try this wine with rich, spicy Thai or Indian dishes.
Dirler-Cade Gewürztraminer Alsace Grand Cru AOC Kessler 2009 - Certified Organic/Certified Biodynamic
With the fifth generation now operating the winery and vineyard, this winery has holdings dating into the 1700's. The estate is a melding of the Dirler estate run by Jean Dirler and those of his wife Ludivine of Domaine Hell-Cadé. The couple were married in 1998, the same year the Dirler estate began a conversion to organic and biodynamic vineyard practices. In 2000, the process of unifying the estates began, but was achieved in stages so the Hell-Cadé could also be converted to biodynamics. This gewürztraminer is from the Grand Cru vineyard Kessler. The couple treats this wine with all the respect it deserves, keeping the fruit yields to about 30 hectoliters per hectare while the legal requirement is a mere 55 hl/ha. This means more concentration in the grapes and thus in the final wine. The wine is all done in stainless steel tanks which helps maintain freshness and the wine has plenty of weight and texture without the use of oak. Aromatics burst from the glass, lychee, melon, and ripe stone fruit all converge to a symphonic note. The palate is rich and layered with honey, more lychee, while sweetness and earthy notes interplay, requiring another sip. This is rock-star level drinking and perfect for that special occasion, like when you make homemade ravioli.
BUTTERNUT SQUASH RAVIOLI
1 recipe pasta dough
flour, as needed
water, as needed
butter, as needed
fresh sage leaves, 15-20 each
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
salt & pepper, to taste
For the filling:
1 cup butternut squash purée
¼ cup ricotta cheese
salt & pepper, to taste
1. Combine all the ingredients for the filling in a bowl. Mix well and refrigerate.
2. Begin rolling out the dough using a pasta machine, starting with the widest setting. Roll the dough through each setting at least twice before moving to the next setting. (For ravioli, I stop at the 2nd to last setting, to make them more sturdy.) Use flour if the dough ever becomes tacky.
3. When you have two sheets of pasta rolled out, begin placing the filling on the first sheet about 1½ inches apart. (I use about 1½ teaspoon-size portions.) Brush the water in between the filling to moisten slightly. Place the second sheet of pasta over the filling and gently press around the filling to push as much air out of the center before sealing.
4. Make sure the ravioli are well sealed and cut with a knife or pastry cutter. Place the ravioli on a well floured baking sheet.
5. When ready to cook the ravioli, bring a large pot of water to boil and season generously with salt (it should taste like the sea). Cook the ravioli for about 1½ - 2 minutes.
6. Meanwhile, melt about 3 tablespoons of butter in a sauté pan. When the butter is fully melted, add the sage leaves and cook briefly until the butter turns brown and develops a nutty aroma. Drain the ravioli and add to the sauté pan and toss with the sauce. Add a bit more butter if the mixture is dry and lightly season with salt and pepper.
7. Place the ravioli on a serving platter and spoon the butter and sage sauce over top. Sprinkle the Parmigiano Reggiano over the ravioli and serve immediately.