Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Pasta with Sausage and a Creamy Butternut Squash and Sage Sauce

For a while now, I had been wanting to make a fall-ish pasta dish, and this is what I came up with. Because the sauce is a bechamel with some squash puree mixed in, the squash flavor is on the light side, but the sauce is also lighter on fat and calories than it would be if it was made of squash and heavy cream. I'm not claiming that this dish is low-fat, though--there's a good bit of butter, and of course there's the fat from the sausage. But fat is flavor, right? Plus, you get all of the nutrients from the squash, like fiber and beta carotene, so this might be a good way to get some veggies into vegetable-phobic kids.

Sage can overpower a dish, and it can therefore be a little bit intimidating to cook with. But in this case, with the sage added at the beginning of the cooking process, it's present without fighting too much with the other ingredients. 

Fried sage leaves would make a lovely garnish, and they're apparently delicious, so I've included Thomas Keller's instructions for making them. You may notice, though, that I have fresh sage leaves as a garnish on my poorly-plated dish. That's because I was too lazy to use a thermometer for frying, and for some reason, I expected the oil to bubble. 

When it started to smoke profusely and smell like burning plastic, I figured something wasn't quite right, so I turned off the heat. As for why I then threw in some sage leaves anyway, I have no good explanation. But it was pretty amusing how they instantly went 'Poof!' (they really did make that sound) and turned black. I made this a couple days ago now, and the kitchen still smells bad. Otherwise, the dish was a success. 

Pasta with Sausage and a Creamy Butternut Squash and Sage Sauce

Serves 4-6
  • 2 medium-sized butternut squash
  • Canola oil
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 recipe fresh pasta dough (below), or 1 pound dried fettuccine
  • 5tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup finely diced shallots
  • 8 sage leaves, finely diced
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 3/4 cup whole milk
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 3 tablespoons Sherry or Marsala
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • One link hot Italian sausage per person
  • Optional: Fried sage leaves (below)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the butternut squash in half and remove the seeds. Place on a foil-lined baking sheet and smear a little bit of oil over the halves, which should be cut-side up. Sprinkle liberally with Kosher salt. Roast in the center of the oven until the squash is very tender and a little bit browned, about an hour.

While the squash roasts, prepare the pasta dough as instructed below. When the squash is ready, remove it from the oven and allow it to cool.

In the meantime, cook the shallots and sage in 3 tablespoons butter until the shallots are tender, about 7 minutes. Add the flour and cook 3 minutes. Add the nutmeg and pour in the milk and chicken stock. Over medium heat, continue to stir until the sauce is thickened and coats the back of a spoon. This takes a while, as you must be patient in order to not curdle or burn the sauce. Taste for seasoning along the way-this sauce requires a good bit of salt.

When the sauce is thickened, stir in the Sherry. Scoop the flesh out of the squash skins, and puree in a blender of food processor until very smooth. Stir the puree into the milk sauce (bechamel). Add freshly ground black pepper, taste for seasoning, and add more salt and pepper as necessary.

In a large skillet, melt a tablespoon butter over medium-high heat and add the sausage. Sear for a minute, and place a lid over the skillet. Turn the heat down to medium. Occasionally shift the sausages in the pan. After about about 4 minutes, flip the sausage, put the lid back on the pan and cook for about 4 minutes. Remove the lid and cook for another 3 minutes. Add another tablespoon butter, and continue to cook until the sausage is cooked through. They could be done at this point, or they could need a few more minutes.

While the sausage cooks, roll out the pasta and set a large pot of salted water on to boil. To roll out the pasta, divide it into 4 pieces. Make each piece into a flattish shape. Take one to start with, and cover the other so that they don't dry out.

With your plain roller set to the largest setting (lowest number), pass the dough through once. Fold like a book (one flat piece in the back, and two pieces folded over on the sides so that they almost meet in the middle) and pass through again. Fold like a book and repeat 2 more times. After the last time, send the pasta through as is. Send it through as a flat piece 2 more times.

Then, put the roller on the next smallest setting and pass the dough through. Continue to do this on smaller and smaller settings until the pasta is the right thickness (about a 6 on Kitchenaid stand mixers, depending on how flat you'd like the pasta). Lay the dough out on a flat surface and cover with a towel so that it does not dry out, and repeat with the remaining lumps of dough.

When all of the pasta is laid out flat, switch to the fettuccine-cutting roller, and pass the pieces of dough through, one at a time. If your pieces are very long, cut them into more manageable lengths. Again, spread out the dough and cover with a towel so that it does not dry out. 

al dente (it will continue to cook in the hot sauce). Drain, reserving about a cup of the cooking water.

Add the sauce to the skillet (you may not need all of it) and, if necessary, reheat until hot, stirring to incorporate the fat that was left in the skillet. Add the pasta and toss to coat with the sauce. If the sauce is very thick and you would like to thin it out, add some of the reserved cooking water.

Divide the pasta among the plates. If you like, slice the sausage into pieces that are a little more than 1/4-inch thick, ans divide the slices among the plates. Or, place a whole sausage on each plate. Garnish with the fried sage leaves, if using.

Fresh Pasta
  • 400 grams all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 4 large eggs

Mound the flour onto a large cutting board or other work surface, and make a well in the middle. Sprinkle the salt over the flour, then add the eggs to the well.

Using your fingers or a fork, break the egg yolks, mix the eggs together a bit, and keep swirling while you gradually incorporate the flour into the eggs. Use your other hand to keep the outer wall intact as you swirl on the inside. This takes some practice, so don't worry if your well breaks--just mix it all together.

Knead the dough for 10 minutes. Seriously--10 minutes. Use primarily the palms of your hands, and occasionally fold the dough in half and continue kneading. When the dough is very soft and silky, almost cloud-like, wrap it in plastic and let it sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. Proceed with rolling as instructed above.

Fried Sage Leaves
  • Canola oil, for deep-frying
  • About 16 smallish sage leaves

In a small pot, heat oil for deep frying to 275 degrees. Fry the small sage leaves briefly, just until they are crisp (their color should not change), and dry on paper towels. 

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