When you make this recipe for the first time, you’re going to serve up these little pillows of fresh pasta dough filled with brown buttery butternut squash purée and everyone’s going to stare at you. They’re going to look from you back to the plate and back to you and they’re going to be thinking, "How in the world did [insert your name here] make this?" What you’ll know that they won’t is, really, once you get the pasta-making technique down, the rest is shockingly easy. I suggest making the filling first and the pasta dough second so the dough doesn’t dry out. And make lots and lots of pasta, more than you think you’ll need, because whatever you don’t boil now, you can freeze for later. Then, whenever you want to awe dinner guests with your culinary prowess, you just have to open your freezer and boil some water. The rest takes care of itself.
Excerpted from Secrets of the Best Chefs by Adam Roberts (Artisan Books). Copyright 2012.
For the tortellini
- 1 butternut squash, about 1/2 pound to 1 pound
- 8 Tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 3-4 amaretti cookies, crushed with a rolling pin or in a mortar with a pestle
- 1/2 Cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more to taste
- 1 whole nutmeg
- A few sage leaves, finely minced, plus 4-6 whole ones
- Kosher sallt
- 1 recipe pasta dough (see below)
For the pasta dough
- 2 Cups double-zero flour from Italy, plus more, as necessary
- 2 eggs
- 2 egg yolks
For the tortellini
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Halve the butternut squash lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, and place the squash facedown on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Bake until the squash is very tender (a knife goes through the skin easily), 45 minutes to an hour. The squash should be somewhat browned and extra squishy.
Allow the squash to cool a bit and then scrape the flesh into a large bowl, discarding the skin. In a small pot, cook the butter on medium-high heat until it’s deep brown and smells toasty and nutty. Pour into a clean heat-proof bowl so it stops cooking.
Now’s the fun part: flavor the squash to your own personal taste. Add some of the brown butter, some of the crushed amaretti cookies, a generous sprinkling of Parmesan cheese, a good grating of nutmeg, and a pinch of the sage. Give it a stir and taste: you want it to be intensely sweet and salty (only a little bit will go into each tortellini, so make it count). Add more butter, cookies, cheese, nutmeg, sage, and salt until you can’t imagine it tasting any better. Then set it aside.
Place a sheet of pasta dough on a floured surface and, using a 2 ½-inch round cookie cutter, cut out circles. Make sure to cut them close together because you’re not going to reroll the dough you don’t use.
With either a piping bag or a small pair of spoons, put a tiny dollop (about 1 teaspoon) of filling at the center of each round. You don’t want too much filling or it will ooze out. Continue doing this until you have a table full of circle shapes with filling in the middle.
With a spray bottle, mist everything lightly with water (or, if you don’t have a spray bottle, dip your fingers in tepid water and flick it all over the pasta): this will keep the pasta pliable and will help it stick. To make the tortellini, fold a circle of dough in half. Squeeze out all the air that surrounds the filling and pinch the edges tightly to make a seal. It should look a bit like a calzone. Now, along the straight edge where the filling is, make a dent with your finger. Fold this dent in on itself, bringing the edges together and pinching them. That’s it: you’ve made a tortellini.
Continue doing this until you’ve used all the dough and most of the filling, tossing the tortellini on a plate with some flour so they don’t stick. You have 2 choices now: you can cook the tortellini right away or freeze them for later. If you want to freeze them, plop them onto a parchment-lined cookie sheet with some flour and place them in the freezer for 1 hour. Then pluck them off the sheet and put them in a freezer bag; they’ll keep that way for at least a month. When you cook them from the freezer, drop them straight into boiling water — no need to defrost.
To serve the tortellini immediately, bring a pot of water to a boil. Season aggressively with salt (it should taste salty) and drop in the tortellini. They take longer to cook than most fresh pasta because they’re folded twice; even when they float, you’ll need to cook them several minutes longer (3 to 5 minutes of cooking, total).
In a separate pan, heat the butter and the sage leaves together until the butter is foamy and the sage leaves are sizzling. (If the butter starts to brown, add a ladleful of pasta cooking water to stop the cooking.) When the tortellini are ready (the best way to know is to taste one), use a spider to lift them into the pan with the butter and sage. Toss them gently on medium heat, allowing the pasta to absorb the butter, and then spoon onto plates. Sprinkle with more Parmesan cheese and serve right away.
For the pasta dough
Place the flour in a large bowl and make a well in the middle. Add the eggs and yolks and beat them together, at first, with a fork. Slowly work in the flour from around the well and then switch to your hands, pulling bits of dough from the fork tongs and working the dough with your fingers, pinching and kneading, as it comes together. If it doesn’t come together (and chances are it won’t), add another yolk and continue to work it, collecting everything at the bottom of the bowl. Continue adding yolks and working until the dough comes together into a sticky ball. If the ball is dry and crumbly, add another yolk and work that in: you want a wetter dough. (Don’t worry if it’s not homogeneous; it’ll get kneaded together in the pasta machine.)
When you have a ball of dough, remove it to a sheet of plastic wrap, sprinkle it lightly with flour, and cover it tightly, allowing it to rest for 20 to 30 minutes at room temperature. Set up the pasta machine by clamping it to a counter. (If you have a pasta-making attachment for your mixer, even better!) Flatten the dough as much as you can and, with the pasta machine at its widest setting, feed it through.
Now here’s the thing: the first time it goes through, it’ll come out looking like Swiss cheese. That’s OK! This step, with the pasta machine at the widest setting, is totally forgiving: you can’t screw up. You can put it through this setting again and again, and each time you do, the dough will get smoother and flatter (you’re essentially kneading it). The goal is to create a smooth rectangular sheet that is the same width as the machine itself: to achieve this you can fold the dough in 1/2 or you can lay pieces of dough on top of each other and feed that through until you get a smooth sheet. Continue folding and feeding (sprinkling with flour if it’s too sticky) until you do.
When you have a smooth, rectangular flat sheet, lower the machine to the second setting and run the dough through once. Pay attention to the dough as it goes in: you don’t want it to fold upon itself as it goes through, or your dough won’t be a smooth sheet anymore.
Run it 1 time through the 3rd, 4th, and 5th settings. If the dough is sticking, sprinkle it with a little more flour.
Run it through the second-to-thinnest setting three times. At this point, the dough should be thin enough for tortellini and certain other pasta shapes. (If you made it too thin, it wouldn’t hold the filling or its shape.) If you’re making linguine or tagliatelle, take it thinner, running it three times through the final (and thinnest) setting.
When you’re finished, cut the dough into 3 or 4 sheets, flour slightly so they don’t stick to one another, and cover with a damp towel until ready to use. (It’s best to shape the dough right away; it can dry out easily.) Once the dough is shaped, you can refrigerate or freeze it until ready to use.