Pairing flavours (and wine)

Sometimes ideas for dishes take a while to “brew”.  So it was with last week’s butternut ravioli with burnt sage butter.  Having spent five years at boarding school where Sunday lunch was, without fail, roast chicken with sage and onion stuffing, sage and I were seriously overdone – for about thirty years.  Not long after I started cooking for The Husband, I discovered that he had a similar aversion:  his Mama had only ever stuffed (up) her chicken the same way.  A good start:  at least one thing in common!

There is something quite different about the flavour of dried herbs:  generally they lose most, if not all their flavour.  Sage, it seems (to me, anyway), is the proverbial exception to prove the rule, and all those packaged stuffings just taste of sage and little else.  Not difficult to avoid, as I think I’ve mentioned before!

With this in mind, I surprised myself when, about five years ago, on a business trip, and in a lovely little trattoria in Grahamstown (also where I grew up and the home of my alma mater), I selected a dish that came with sage butter – the archetypal gnocchi. I was sold, and ever since then I’ve been intending “do” something with sage.  Fresh sage.

Having discovered that making ravioli wasn’t so difficult, I began cogitating its next stuffing and accompaniment.  I decided to experiment with the herb that I had so long spurned:  sage – with butternut.  I figured that pairing those flavours would provide an interesting contrast.

I’ve also been striving to grow it and discovered, in addition to moving towns during the gestation of these ideas, and having to start a new herb garden, sage is not easy to grow.  It can be sickly and temperamental.  I’m now on my second bush (in this garden); so far, it seems to be surviving if not quite thriving.

Sage2014

Roasted Butternut Ravioli with Burnt Sage Butter*

For the filling, dice and roast about a quarter of a butternut squash (it takes about 20 minutes to half an hour).  Allow it to cool.  You could, of course, simply boil the squash, but roasting caramelises the natural sugars and intensifies the flavour.

Roughly chop a shallot or the equivalent amount of onion (red or white – I used red).  Puree these two ingredients and then stir in two to three tablespoons of finely grated sharp, hard cheese.  Season to taste.

Because Parmesan is so expensive in South Africa, and often difficult to find where we live, I used a local, artisanal cheese:  a mature Boerenkaas (Gouda), and which I also sell at the McGregor Market.

Roll out the pasta (recipe here), and using a large biscuit/cookie cutter, mark out the ravioli circles and plonk about a teaspoon of the filling into each circle.

RoastButtNutRavStuffing

Before carefully placing the top layer of pasta over the dollops, paint around them with glue – either egg, milk or water – so that the ravioli are sealed.  Press around each ball of stuffing and then cut out with the cookie cutter.  Flour each flying saucer so that it doesn’t stick to its siblings and place on a cloth and then into the fridge until you are ready to cook them (they will keep a couple of days that way or can be frozen until you need them).  RavioliUFOs

While the ravioli are cooking (they take 8 – 10 minutes in well-salted water at a rolling boil), prepare the butter:  about 50 – 100g (2 – 4 tbsps) of butter and 8 to 10 sage leaves. Place the butter in a large frying pan and melt;  allow it to foam and brown.  Then add the sage leaves.  They’ll immediately crisp up.  Remove them (gently or else they’ll break up) and set aside on absorbent paper.

A word to the wise about cooking these f…g saucers:  don’t use your usual pasta-claw-thingy unless you want to stab at least one of the space ships.  The consequence is empty, floppy, round shipwrecks …. and a piddly butternut soup that’s good for neither man nor beast.

Turn off the pan before the butter burns too much.  Transfer the ravioli from the boiling water with a slotted spoon into the frying pan and swirl around to coat in the burnt butter.  Serve on hot plates and garnish with the crisp sage leaves and grated Parmesan.BNutSageRavioliNov2015

But then, there’s more:

We drink wine every evening and during the week, it’s usually a local Sauvignon blanc for me, and a dry red blend for The Husband, and because it’s a kind of working supper, not much heed is paid to whether the wine suits the food.  We just eat and drink.  Not this time, I decided.  As I was contemplating the flavours in this dish and whether or not the experiment would work, I thought that perhaps The Husband should raid our vast wine collection for a better wine that would, in all likelihood pair well with this flavour profile.  An afterthought, yes, but if the food was a disaster, the wine wouldn’t be!

I decreed that a chardonnay might work well.  Now it’s confession time:  for years I was an “ABC girl” – not only did chardonnays not like me, but I didn’t enjoy having to chomp my way through an entire oak forest, let alone just the barrel.  However, as fashions and wine styles have changed, with chardonnays now made in second, third or even fourth-fill barrels, and in stainless steel tanks, I’m finding I am enjoying (and drinking) them more often.  And they seem to be tolerating me better, too….

The Husband returned from investigating our vast wine collection brandishing a bottle of  Tribute Thin Lizzy Chardonnay 2015 from local boutique winery, Wolfkloof.

WKloofTLizzyRavioliNov2015

Well, you’ve probably twigged by now, that unlike on this occasion, this experiment was a raging success.

The carnivore Husband’s verdict, “You can do that again!”

The ultimate seal of approval in The Sandbag House.

*the quantities are rough and made ten flying saucers – sufficient for two as a main meal with a green salad

Post Script:  This is a rather cheeky entry in the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge, hosted by blog pal The Drunken Cyclist as I’m most definitely not a wine authority;  I just drink and enjoy the stuff.  The decision to enter was only taken when I came up with the title for this post, promised a while ago, and I realised that it reflected the theme for #MWWC21….

MWWwine-stain1-3

© Fiona’s Favourites 2015


16 thoughts on “Pairing flavours (and wine)

  1. I’m impressed that you made your ravioli as I’m keenly aware how much time it takes. I always keep my fingers crossed that I’ve sealed it well enough for it not to come apart when it cooks.

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    1. Thank you! The Husband did make a remark to the effect of “all that work” and all we did was eat it! I’ve learned that in addition to the glue, one needs to get rid of the air otherwise they can explode. So far I’ve only had one casualty per batch.

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  2. These look fabulous and do-able. I have sage in my garden (it was quite easy to grow in my climate and the plant is about the size of small car. That said, it might be a while before I find the time to fiddle with all the components. Thanks for a great recipe.

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    1. Ravioli is a whole lot more doable than I imagined. It does take time, though. But then what doesn’t. I’m envious of your sage…

      My cooking and fiddling about is a little curtailed at the moment: just returned from a business trip and am off again on Sunday for virtually the entire week….Sigh…

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  3. Sounds delicious! I love fresh sage. It grows easily in my area in Pennsylvania. As a matter of fact, it’s still doing well even though it’s been in the 50’s during the day and 20’s at night. Maybe it’s the cooler temperature? I applaud you for venturing out of your comfort zone and trying a wine you normally won’t drink. Sometimes it works!

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