Halloween is not an official holiday in Italy but it has been since the American moved to Bettona. Most years since I moved here I host a Halloween party for the Bettonese children. There are two things that are difficult to find for decorating for a real Halloween party. The first are finding jack-O-lantern pumpkins and the second corn stalks. Just getting people to understand that you want the cornstalks and not the corn is the more difficult part. While I’ve gone up to farmers to ask if I can have 10 stalks — usually there’s only one farm in Torgiano that hasn’t harvested and plowed over their fields by mid October — I prefer to ask a friend to haggle with locals for my decorations. This year Mauro brought me 10 multicolored ears of dried corn. Oh well.
But pumpkins for cooking are easily found.
Last year Flavio gave me a wonderful, almost blue, pumpkin that he had grown himself. After using it as a decoration for the party — no, I didn’t try to make a jack-o-latern with it — I brought it to the kitchen for some serious pumpkin cooking.
First thing to do is cut the pumpkin in half horizontally. Then scoop out the seeds and place halves cut-side down on a baking tray and bake until tender. Once cooled, scoop out cooked pumpkin and let drain in a colander. Keeping 400-500 grams to use, package the remaining pumpkin in ZipLock bags and store in freezer for future use. (Note: when you take pumpkin out of freezer you will need to drain again to remove excess water.)
For pumpkin filling: I tried pumpkin ravioli many times and usually have been disappointed. Frankly they seem to have tasted more like squash. Here I’ve added a little more nutmeg and two pinches of cinnamon to give it a bit of a pumpkin pie sensibility, which guests have enjoyed. Mix ingredients well and set aside
• 400 grams drained fresh pumpkin, mashed well
• 2 pinches ground cinnamon
• 1/4 freshly grated nutmeg
• 1/4 cup freshly grated parmigiano cheese
Pasta dough: You will then need to make your fresh pasta. I like to add freshly chopped parsley to my dough. Make sure you use the leaves only as bits of stems will only tear the pasta when you roll it out. [I do not use a pasta machine but instead prefer to roll out the pasta by hand. Here in Italy, I’ve only met one person who used a pasta machine. Using a long wooden rolling pin and a wooden board gives the pasta a texture that sauces cling to better than to pasta made with the stainless steel rollers of a pasta machine.] To make 80 ravioli (you can freeze uncooked ravioli too):
• 400g of 00 flour
• four whole eggs (or one whole and one yolk if I want it more yellow)
• 2T spoon of finely chopped parsley leaves – No stems or the pasta will tear when rolling out
• a glass of white wine or prosecco (Some to add moisture but the rest for drinking while you’re working. This method of drinking while working was taught to me by my friend Enrica when I first arrived in Bettona.)
Put the flour on your work surface in a mound. (A hard nonporous surface is best. If you use wood, be careful to work quickly so surface does not get wet, which will cause you to use more flour when rolling out the dough.) Make a well in the flour, add eggs and finely chopped parsley; using a fork, mix ingredients into the center, pulling from the edges inward and adding splashes of wine as you go. As it comes together, you can use your pastry scrapper to bring it all into a ball. Adding a splash of wine or a bit of flour to make the dough the correct consistency, Knead for about 8 minutes until dough is elastic. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for half an hour to rest. Then, divide dough in quarters using the pastry cutter again. Wrap remaining up again while you work with the first piece.
Although it is time consuming, I really like the triangular shape of these ravioli so I think it’s worth it. Roll out your dough into a large rectangular sheet that is fairly thin. Then cut pasta into 3 to 3 1/2 inch strips and again each strip the other way to form squares. Place half a teaspoon of the pumpkin mixture in the center of each square and fold into a triangle. With your ravioli wheel, cut and seal each ravioli. Repeat process until all the dough is used. Cook as many as you like and freeze the rest. As a first course, usually 5 ravioli are enough.
Sage and butter sauce: To me, the sauce that compliments and brings out the pumpkin flavor best is this simple herb infused butter sauce. For four people, melt 4T of butter in a pan and then add ten or so sage leaves. If the leaves are large you can slice them into strips. sautè sage in butter for a few minutes — do not brown the butter —and you’re done.
Boil ravioli — they are done when they float to the surface — and, with a slotted spoon or similar, place into pan and coat with sauce. Serve immediately.