When Life Gives You Pumpkins...


Photo by Margaret Tung

To try pumpkin ravioli with browned butter ginger sauce, click here.
For more dishes that use pumpkin as an ingredient, click here.

One of the best dishes I've ever had was pumpkin ravioli from Cucina di Pesce, in New York City's East Village. The pasta was the perfect thickness. It was elastic without being rubbery and ideally sized to wrap around the medallion of harvest-fresh pumpkin filling, which was hearty as cheese ravioli. I barely remember the sauce, but only because my teeth, tongue, and mind chewed the ravioli together, focusing on its texture and the bright, sweet flavor of its pumpkin innards. The sauce was a bit like the bride and groom on top of a wedding cake: necessary decoration with an undeniable contextual presence, but ultimately not part of the food party on my plate.

Two weekends ago, my residential college held its annual Harvest Festival, replete with delicious fall foods: apple cider, chai tea, pumpkin pie, apple pie, kettle corn, and caramel apples. My heart raced at the sight of 20 or 30 pumpkins in the dining hall, my mouth started watering, and my mind wandered back to that plate of pumpkin ravioli, that moment of tasty bliss. And that's when I knew. I could have that ravioli again. I could recreate it, invite my friends over for dinner, and have the best deja vu ever. I planned the ingredients for the filling. I scoured the Internet for tips on how to make the best ravioli shells. After a brief shopping trip, I was ready.

When you're not an expert at something, or even when you are an expert at a recipe, impatience is your enemy. It leads to rash decisions.

I turned my "spunky" Pandora station up on high, pulled the recipe up for pasta dough on my computer, and set to work. I grabbed a sheet pan, since my college kitchen is a little want for table space, and dumped my measured mound of flour onto it. Then, as advised by several sources and videos that claimed the authentic way to make pasta dough was to make a volcano out of the pasta mound and crack the eggs right into the center of it, beat the eggs with extra virgin olive oil and salt, and then slowly incorporate the sides of the flour mound into it, I did precisely that.

But unlike the chef whose nice, slow, expert gestures of swirling the eggy center caught and incorporated pockets of flour into the liquid mixture at a gradual pace, I grew impatient. And when you're not an expert at something, or even when you are an expert at a recipe, impatience is your enemy. It leads to rash decisions. After I had swirled about half the flour into it, I thought that I could just start incorporating larger amounts of it faster, and I accidentally broke one side of the volcano of flour so that the thick, liquid egg and flour mixture began to flow out of the broken dam.

Covered in flecks of flour and a good deal of amateur chef's despair, I almost gave up. But I had friends I'd promised to feed and a stupid sense of resolve that takes over whenever I'm faced with a difficult situation. And so I attempted to sweet-talk my gestating pasta-mound, "No, stop that, come back! Please? Okay, I'll rebuild the flour wall, as long as you just stop running...okay, that's not working, how about I just throw all of the flour into the center and mix you together, that ok?" Of course, talking to it resulted in nothing more than a verbalization of plan B. I threw it all in, and began to think of it as just any other dough. Once I managed to gather it into a ball, my kneader's intuition kicked in, and I stretched and rolled it like nobody's business. I set it aside and let it rest before I attempted to conquer the next big step.

It's no secret that rolling out ravioli dough is part talent, part Italian grandmother's expertise. Most chefs and home cooks today who make pasta use a handy dandy pasta maker or cranker. You crank the dough through a press, adjust the lever of the contraption to a thinner setting, and pass it through again and again, until it's thin enough that you can almost see through it.

Yep, thin enough that you can almost see through it, because once it hits the boiling water, it'll thicken. Unarmed with a pasta-making machine, unschooled in the art of making pasta, and completely untalented in the bicep department, I was the greenhorn, too stubborn to give in to making ravioli with wonton wrappers.

And so, I did the only thing I could. I borrowed a rolling pin, sucked in my breath, spread some flour out onto the table and exhaled. Then, the rolling pin, driven by the brute force of my puny arms, met with the dough. I rolled and rolled; the pin rotated endlessly like tires on a cross-country drive. I felt like I'd finished a workout and a half by the time the dough was thin enough. But it was worth it. Labor and effort really are evident in good food. At least, that's what my friends said when they scarfed down the ravioli. I thought they tasted pretty good for a first try as well.