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Sunday, September 18, 2016


The arrival of early autumn grapes transports me back to our western Kentucky farm and memories of the grapevines my grandmother grew along the whitewashed wooden fences surrounding her country garden. I loved those grapevines. Gnarled into twisted knots over years of growth, they eventually became part of the fencing, adding another barrier to keep the critters at bay. During the early season, after the leaves unfurled, tiny taut grapes popped from the vines. The young unripened grapes packed a whopping sour punch that only a mischievous transplanted farm boy could love. Bitter, tart, and (technically) off limits, the green grapes were my secret summertime afternoon snack. The original Sour Patch Kids. Nature's candy. I adored and devoured them at any chance. In time, as summer slipped into fall, the grapes slowly ripened into musty blueish-purple concord grapes filled with large crunchy seeds clinging to messy wet pulp. Covered with windswept powdery garden dirt, they were too much work for an undercover grape thief. By then, it was my grandmother's turn with the grapes. With little fanfare, she'd gather what the scavengers hadn't seized to put up unheralded pint jars of jelly and jam to overwinter in the dark dank cellar.

Nowadays, when local grapes quietly sneak into our farmers market and the blistering heat of summer gives way to cooler temperatures, I feel the same gentle shift in seasons from my childhood days on the farm.

Butternut Squash Ravioli with Roasted Mars Grapes, Gorgonzola, and Brown Butter.
While the flavor profile of  butternut squash ravioli splashed with sage-infused brown butter might be the usual route, I took a little detour.

I carefully split two smallish 1 pound Pulaski County butternut squash in half, scooped out the seeds,
rubbed them with olive oil, seasoned them salt and pepper, and placed them cut side down onto a parchment paper lined sheet pan.

After thinly slicing 3 medium sized Casey County red onions, I feathered them into a glass mixing bowl along with 1 pint Woodford County seedless purple Mars grapes. I drizzled everything with olive oil before adding salt and pepper. After  scattering the grapes and onions around the butternut squash, I slid the sheet pan into a preheated 400 degree oven for 40 minutes, turning the, grapes, and onions half way through.

When the onions caramelized and the grapes were on the brink of collapse, I pulled everything from the oven to rest

I scooped the cooled softened squash flesh into a food processor (about 1 1/2 cups), added 1/2 cup mascarpone cheese, 1/3 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese, 3 ounces creamy gorgonzola cheese, 1/3 of the roasted red onions, salt, and pepper. After blending the mix until velvety smooth, I set it aside to cool.

I typically roll with a delicate egg based pasta dough, but went with a sturdier combination of
semolina flour, 00 flour, and eggs for structure.

I spooned 1 cup semolina flour into the bowl of a food processor, added 1/3 cups 00 flour (bread flour would have been fine) 2 large eggs, 1 tablespoon olive oil, and salt. With the motor running, I drizzled about 1 tablespoon ice water into the mix and let it rip until it formed a ball around the blade. After scooping the dough out onto a floured board, I kneaded the dough for a few minutes, wrapped it in plastic wrap, and set it aside to rest for 10 minutes.

I cut the dough into 4 pieces and covered them with a clean dish towel. Working with 1 quarter at a time, I flattened the dough with the palm of my hand until it was about 1/2' thick and fed it through the widest setting of a pasta machine  4 times, folding it in half after each pass. When the dough was smooth and pliable, I passed it through the rollers while decreasing the setting after each pass. Stopping shy of the last setting, I placed the pasta onto floured parchment paper and repeated the process with the remaining dough until I had 4 very long pasta sheets. I trimmed them up, and squared them off, covered them with a dish towel, and poured myself a glass of wine.

The fun part.
With the pasta dough on deck, I spooned dollops of the butternut squash filling down the center of half the pasta sheets, brushed an egg wash between the dollops, draped the remaining pasta sheets over the bottom layers, carefully pressed out any air pockets, cut the filled pasta with a round ravioli stamp, and set them aside.

After a quick rest, I dropped the ravioli into a large  pot of salted boiling water, let them rip until they floated to the top, and scooped them out onto a dish towel to drain.

Brown Butter.
Quick fire. Less is more. Brown butter can turn ugly in the blink of an eye. After melting 1/2 cup unsalted butter in a heavy saucepan, I cranked the heat to medium high, let the butter foam up, settle down, and pulled it from the heat.

I nestled the ravioli into puddles of the toasted brown butter, drizzled a bit more over the top, and tucked the reserved roasted grapes to the side before finishing with crumbled gorgonzola cheese, caramelized onions, fresh lemon thyme, and swirls of roasted grape jus.

Simple flavors.