I used to wait for it every fall. That day when Free State’s menu would change over, and the Butternut Squash Ravioli would smile up at me from the seasonal specials list.
If you’ve lived in Lawrence for awhile and you’ve never had it, raise your hand please. Now, you people with your hands up, tell me, why do you hate unicorns?
No, seriously. Because, evidently, not enough people were ordering it so it’s been removed from the menu for a few years now.
Several weeks ago, when the first yellowed leaf floated down onto my lawn, I got to missing it enough that I started imagining how I could re-create it. Sweet, squash-filled ravioli topped with herb-infused cream sauce. A spoonful of arugula pesto and a handful of bright, dried cranberries on top. A crusty chunk of Wheatfield’s bread to soak up every last drop on the plate.
As I let my imagination run, however, I realized I suddenly wasn’t seeing a pasta dish anymore. No, instead, a pizza was beginning to take shape — the perfect fall pizza, in fact. I headed to the kitchen to experiment, and the result is below.
I will warn you, it’s not a pizza for a busy Monday night. This is a chilly-Saturday, cook-for-several-hours, full-on project. But especially if you love fall food, it’s worth every minute!
“Butternut Squash Ravioli” Pizza
For the squash topping
1 squash (butternut, acorn, small pumpkin or similar)
1 tablespoon butter
About 1/4 cup milk
Several grates of nutmeg
A few tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
For the cheese
2/3 cup ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
1 small bunch of thyme
For the arugula pesto
1 handful arugula
3 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
About 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
One pizza dough of your choice (I like Mark Bittman’s recipe)
Extra-virgin olive oil (for greasing the pan)
1/2 large onion
About 6 slices of thinly sliced pancetta, chopped into thick ribbons
About 2 tablespoons dried cranberries
Salt and pepper
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Cut the acorn squash into about 2-inch chunks. Toss in enough olive oil to coat and roast for 45 minutes to 1 hour, stirring a few times while roasting. You’ll know the squash is done when it starts to get nicely browned and is easily pierced with a fork. When you pull out the squash, increase the oven temperature to 425 degrees.
Meanwhile, slice half an onion and put it in a skillet on low heat. Let the onion cook like that — low and slow — until it’s caramelized and crispy. It usually takes me about 30 minutes. When the onions are done, set them aside. Using the same pan, turn up the heat just a bit and cook the pancetta until it’s crispy. Again, set aside.
When the squash is finished, remove as much of the skin as possible and put the flesh in a food processor. Add several generous grates of nutmeg, salt and pepper to taste, and 1 tablespoon of butter. Start the food processor, and slowly drizzle in the milk until the squash is the consistency of stiff mashed potatoes. You may need more or less milk, depending on the size of the squash. Set aside.
Using a fork and a small bowl, mix the ricotta, Parmesan and thyme.
Now it’s time to roll out your pizza dough. Place it on an oiled baking sheet, and spread a thin layer of the squash puree over the top. (You will probably have more squash than you need. I suggest mixing it with plain noodles, topping with an extra dollop of ricotta, and eating it for leftovers the next day.)
Next, dab on the ricotta mixture, and sprinkle on the onions and pancetta. Bake the pizza for about 10 minutes, or until it gets crispy on the edges. I like to finish mine with about 2 minutes under the broiler to make the cheese form a delicious, browned crust.
While the pizza is baking, wash out the food processor. Add the arugula, pumpkin seeds, garlic, about a teaspoon of salt, and just enough olive oil to make it all come together. When the pizza is finished, drizzle the arugula pesto over the top. Sprinkle on the cranberries and tuck in!