It is pumpkin season on the North Fork, a time when weekend gridlock on the roads makes it seem like Manhattan and every sort of pumpkin fills the farm stands.
Families come out to pick the perfect pumpkin and foodies go for the cheese pumpkin and the Jack B Little. But alongside all those colorful pumpkins we always find the lowly butternut squash. People don’t make jack-o’-lanterns from it and they don’t pick it out of the fields. What they do is use it for cooking. It has a firm texture that is not stringy and a sweet, earthy flavor that, combined with sage, is the very essence of fall. Here are some classic ways to enjoy this common fall vegetable:
BUTTERNUT SQUASH RISOTTO
Cut the ends off 1 medium-sized butternut squash. Stand it on end and, with a sharp paring knife, peel off the skin, cutting down and away from you. (If desired, you can use a vegetable peeler.) While it is still standing, cut it in half with a large chef’s knife, then scrape out the seeds with a spoon. Spray the squash with no-stick and place it on a hot char-grill. When grill marks form, turn the squash, place it on the cooler side of the grill and cover.
Cook for about 30 minutes until it is fully cooked but still fi rm.
Meanwhile, heat a large saucepan and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Stir in a chopped onion and 2 minced cloves of garlic. When soft, stir in 1 cup arborio rice and cook for 2 minutes. Pour in 1 cup white wine and let it reduce until very little is left. Keeping the heat medium high, add 3 cups hot chicken stock, 1 ladle at a time, stirring with a wooden spoon. As the rice becomes tender, stir in 12 leaves of fresh sage, chopped, and 1 teaspoon each of salt and pepper.
Chop the cooked squash coarsely with a chef’s knife and stir it into the risotto. Check for seasoning and serve with grilled salmon or other fish.
BUTTERNUT SQUASH RAVIOLI WITH SAGE PASTA
Peel 1 medium-sized butternut squash and cut it into 2-inch cubes.
Toss these with 1 tablespoon olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place the cubes of squash on a foil-lined sheet pan and roast for 30 minutes in a 375-degree oven.
While this is cooking, heat a sauté pan and add 2 tablespoons butter. Add to this 1/4 cup minced shallots and 1 teaspoon minced garlic.
Purée the cooked butternut squash in a food processor and add to the sauté pan. Let it cook at medium heat for 5 minutes or until it becomes slightly dry. Stir in 1/4 cup heavy cream and cook another 3 minutes.
Remove from the heat and stir in 1/2 cup grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Transfer mixture to a bowl and refrigerate.
To make the pasta, place a soup pot on the stove and bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. Add 1 package of baby spinach and 1/2 cup fresh sage leaves. Blanch for 2 minutes and drain. Squeeze as much water out of the spinach/sage mixture as you can, chop coarsely and set aside.
Combine 3 cups fl our and the spinach mixture in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until flour turns green. (Work in batches if your processor is small.) Season with 1 teaspoon coarse salt and add 4 eggs, one at a time, pulsing until combined.
With the food processor running, add 1/4 cup of olive oil. Remove dough to a floured surface.
Knead the dough with your hands for about 5 minutes till smooth. Cut the dough into 6 pieces and set aside.
Run each piece through a pasta roller (or by hand, using a rolling pin) so that you have thin 3-inch-wide strips. Cut these strips into squares and place 2 teaspoons of the cooled squash filling in the center of each square. Brush the edges with water and fold over the pasta to make a triangle, pressing the edges with a dinner fork to seal.
When all the raviolis are filled, put them on a parchment-lined tray and place them in the freezer before cooking. (They will be easy to handle this way).
At service time, bring 3 quarts of water to a boil and add the ravioli. Let them cook about 5 minutes or until they rise to the top of the pot. (You should have about 2 dozen ravioli.)
SOUBISE SAUCE FOR SAGE RAVIOLI
Heat a large sauté pan and add 2 tablespoons butter. Dice 2 large Spanish onions and add them to the pan along with 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage. Cook slowly until onions are soft, about 20 minutes.
Purée the onion mixture in a food processor and set aside. Heat 2 cups milk in a saucepan and season with 1 bay leaf, a pinch of nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste.
In a separate pan, melt 2 tablespoons butter and stir in 3 tablespoons flour to make a roux. Whisk this into the milk mixture and simmer until it thickens. Stir in the puréed onions and taste for seasoning. Spoon the sauce onto a plate and place the ravioli on top.
FARFALLE WITH BUTTERNUT SQUASH, SAGE, MUSHROOMS AND PINE NUTS
Cut a medium-sized butternut squash into 1-inch cubes and toss with 1 chopped shallot, 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 2 tablespoons chopped sage, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Place this mixture on a foil lined sheet pan and roast for 25 minutes at 375 degrees.
Add 1/2 cup pine nuts to a small casserole and toast them in the same oven for 15 minutes.
Cut into quarters 1 package of shiitake mushrooms and 1 package of cremini mushrooms. Sauté them in 2 tablespoons butter in a large sauté pan and remove.
Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil and cook 1 package of farfalle al dente.
Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in alarge sauté pan and add 12 leaves of sage. Remove the sage as it gets crisp and add the squash mixture, the mushrooms and the cooked pasta. Stir in the pine nuts, the crisp sage leaves and 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese.
If desired, grill 1 pound of fresh sea scallops and serve with the pasta.
John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. Email: