In my mind, there is no greater compliment to a restaurant chef than rushing home to recreate the dish in one’s own kitchen. And that is what I have here. The most divine, clear, straightforward, perfectly balanced plate of pasta. One night in October, Nina June in Rockport, Maine, served me this dish and I made it two days later.
This is a reliable recipe for any vegetable puree based pasta – spinach, beet, nettle, carrot — really any vegetable you can think of. The trick is to make sure the puree is not wet. So, blanch greens and then squeeze the life out of them. For the butternut squash, because it has a dense flesh, there was no need for squeezing.
You can toss this all together in a big pan or bowl and dole it out, but I thought the presentation was just lovely. (I’ll admit, I added the shallot. The restaurant used garlic oil, but I found I didn’t have any when I decided to make the dish. I have no regrets.)
For the pasta
150 grams all purpose flour
150 grams “00” flour
150 grams butternut squash puree*
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
Pinch of salt
For the ricotta:
3 cups whole milk
Juice of 2 lemons
Pinch of salt
For the oil:
1/2 cup olive oil
1 large shallot, sliced thinly into half-moons
1 sprig rosemary, leaves plucked from the stem
1 sprig sage, leaves plucked from the stem
Make the pasta. I work right on my kitchen counter, making a floury mess that’s easily cleaned up with a sturdy bench scraper. Or work right inside a large bowl, keeping the flour contained, until the dough has come together. Either way works. Whisk together the two flours and make a well. Add the squash puree and the olive oil to the center of the well and sprinkle with a little salt. Use a fork to draw the flour into the squash puree and combine. Use a bench scraper and your hands to gather the messy squash and flour mixture and begin to press it away, fold and turn, then repeat. Continue to do this for a few minutes as the dough comes together. It will look as though it’s impossible, and then it will happen. Have faith. When the dough is smooth, create a firm ball and wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Let the dough rest for 20 to 30 minutes while making the other elements.
Make the ricotta. Add the milk to a small saucepan over medium high heat. Heat to 190F; small bubbles will form along the edges of the pan and steam will rise. Do not boil. Remove the pan from the heat and add the lemon juice. Stir and cover for 15 minutes. Line a colander with cheesecloth or a thin, well-worn tea towel and place over a large bowl. Spoon the ricotta curds into the colander and then slowly pour whatever liquid remains in the pan through the cheesecloth, capturing all the bits of cheese in the cloth and letting the whey drip through. Let the cheese drain another 15 minutes or so, while making the remaining elements for the dish. Scrape the cheese from the cloth into a small bowl; there will be 1/3 to 1/2 cup. Add a pinch of salt and use a whisk to whip the ricotta until fluffy. Set aside.
Make the shallot oil. Line a dinner plate with two pieces of paper towel. Add the oil to a small saucepan and warm over medium high heat until just shimmering. Add the shallots and cook quickly until lightly browned. If they are too dark, they will be bitter, so watch them like a hawk. Use a spider or a slotted spoon to remove the shallots to the paper towel-lined plate. Add the sage and rosemary leaves and cook quickly until just fried and not burned. This takes about 10 seconds. Use a spider or slotted spoon to remove the herbs to the plate. Set the oil aside.
Get a big pot of water boiling. Salt it well. Use a pasta maker or a rolling pin and roll out, then cut, the squash pasta into medium noodles, tagliatelle-size. When all the pasta has been rolled out, have all the ingredients close by and drop the noodles into the boiling salted water. They will take about 3 minutes to cook. Remove them quickly (they will get soggy really fast!) and twirl a serving onto each plate. Divide the hot, flavored oil between the four plates, then swipe the ricotta on the side. Scatter the fried scallions and herbs on the top.
I know this seems like a project, but I managed to do it all in an hour. I had the cooked squash already in the refrigerator.
*Steam the squash in the microwave. Cut it into a few big pieces, leave the peel on, put a 1/4 cup of water in the bottom of a microwaveable dish, add the squash, cover, and steam for 14 minutes on high. Remove the peel, mash the squash, and store in the refrigerator for this ans so many other recipes!