So yeah, I have a food and entertaining blog which means I cook a lot. I also like to experiment, so that keeps me in the kitchen cooking things up. But I fully realize that not everyone has time to dedicate to home cooked meals all the time. Indeed, it does take time and energy. For some, making a meal at home can be as much of a treat as going out to dinner. It just depends on your perspective. Sometimes going out is the salvation and sometimes vice a versa. And so it was a couple of weeks ago when I was down visiting my dear friends Emily and Lorne. Emily had just watched some videos about grilling and she was excited to test drive some ideas. The goal was to grill and fill the dinner table with a variety of selections, from cauliflower to sweet potato slabs to hamburgers. It was a delicious meal, with the best part being that everyone got involved in either cutting, flipping or tending to the grill. Plus the big treat; eating a healthy, good meal at home. And as any good 'vice versa' goes, the next evening was dinner out. They took the family, and me, for a delicious dinner at restaurant near their home in Maryland. Two treats; one in, one out, two different ways.
On our restaurant adventure, Emily made a healthy but yummy choice of roasted butternut squash soup and salad. As did Lorne, who ordered a seared scallop dish. The boys had chicken dishes and grilled pizza. I, on the other hand, went for the full indulgence of a Butternut Squash Pasta dish. Decadent and delicious is the only way to describe this piece d'resistance.
There were so many layers of earthy flavors in this dish, all co-mingling in luscious harmony. I can still taste it. So why not try to bring that harmony back.
It was Sunday again. Boy, do the weeks fly by fast. And Sundays have traditionally signified pasta feasting day. So it goes to stand that was what I would make. With the taste of that pasta still lingering in my mind and on my palate, I ventured to recreate it for JuanCarlos.
I do warn you that this dish is going to take a few more steps than my own recipes. I am usually a firm believer in simple preparation, few but fresh ingredients and not too fussy. But this pasta was so good that I'm willing to go the extra yards.
The restaurant offered it with bucatini, which I'm sure would have been amazing, but since I am gluten free they served me a spaghetti option fitting that need. The flavor combos were bold. Spice roasted butternut squash purée as the base. Pasta tossed with pumpkin seed pesto chive oil, wild mushrooms and wilted spinach topped with garlic confit. Oh, if only I had thought up this medley to take credit. But alas, I did not. I can only try to figure out what they did and remake to indulge once again.
Here goes. Stick with me. It will be worth it.
For Roasted Butternut Squash
1 butternut squash (8 c cubed), roasted
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1/2 t nutmeg
1/4 c olive oil
For Garlic Confit
1 head garlic cloves (approx. 11 large cloves)
2/3 c olive oil
For Spinach & Mushrooms
5-6 c wild mushrooms (Cremini, Shiitake, Oyster, Japanese Brown Beech)
8 c baby spinach
Magic 3 (Olive Oil, salt, pepper)
8 c basil leaves, loosely packed
1/2 c pumpkin seeds, roasted (reserve some to garnish)
1/2 c Parmesan cheese
1-2 garlic cloves
1 1/4 c olive oil
salt, pepper to taste
1 lb pasta (I use Tinkyada brown rice linguine)
Parmesan cheese shavings (optional)
Before I embark on instructions. A quick note about multitasking. I may not highlight this point in each post I write but it's always there. It's the art of preparing items in a order so that food is cooking, marinating, chilling, etc while you are tackling another task. This recipe will definitely call for some serious multitasking.
In this recipe there are two parts that will need up to an hour of cooking time. Those are the roasted butternut squash and the garlic confit. So we will start there. (Confit just means poaching in oil slowly, slowly, slowly. Did I say it takes time? Yes, slowly. And don't let the fancy name freak you out. This method is beyond super easy.)
Peel, remove seeds and cube the butternut squash. (You can wash and dry the seeds, then roast them for snacking... or toss them out.)
Coat the squash with oil, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Then roast at 400 degrees for 45 min to hour, until very soft and mashable.
Once you have the butternut squash in the oven, start on the garlic confit.
Peel garlic cloves and leave whole. In a small saucepan, add garlic and enough olive oil to cover.
Over low heat, poach for one hour.
While the oven is still on with the squash roasting away, place the pumpkin seeds on a separate baking sheet, roast for 7-10 minutes, or just until lightly toasted. Set aside to cool.
The next ingredient to tackle, and in order of length of cooking time is the mushrooms. Clean and cut them into bite sized pieces. Sauté them in oil, seasoning with salt and pepper. The key to cooking mushrooms is not fussing with them. Once you place them in the pan don't touch them. Let them get a good sear on them then you can turn them over. Allow them to cook and get crispy.
Put the pasta water up to boil. While the water is going and the mushrooms are cooking move onto making the pesto.
In a food processor, combine basil, pumpkin seeds, garlic and pulse until a fine chop. Then add in parmesan cheese and oil. (The restaurant version called for chive oil, but I didn't feel it was necessary to tack on another item.) Pulse until well blended and season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove and clean the processor, as you will need it to purée the squash.
Once the mushrooms are done, remove and use the same pan to wilt the baby spinach, add a bit of oil to help wilt the leaves.
By this time, the garlic should be done. The butternut squash should be roasted and ready to purée. But before that it's time to put the pasta in to cook. Place the squash cubes in the processor and plus until smooth. You may need to add some oil if too thick.
Now with all the ingredients roasted, sautéd and mixed you are ready to compose the final dish. Drain the pasta and reserve some of the water.
In a bowl combine the pasta and pesto together until coated. Then mix in the mushrooms, spinach and garlic and gently toss together. Spread the roasted purée on the bottom of each plate and then pile the pasta on top. Finish with some roasted pumpkin seeds, shaved Parmesan cheese and a drizzle of the garlic oil and a clove or two.
I know this sounds like more work than my usual recipes. That's because it's not my recipe. But honestly, once and while it's nice to spend a bit more time creating a dish that warms your belly and your soul. It's perfect for a Sunday when you might have a bit more time to spare. And to give you some incentive to take this dish on, increase the ingredients amount. Since you are taking the time to make each of these items for this one dish, why not make a bit more and use the extra butternut squash, spinach, mushrooms in dishes for the remainder of week. You can use the squash to make a soup. Use the spinach and mushrooms to make a frittata or quiche or as side dishes for chicken. Cook once, eat twice or thrice.
As I mentioned, I use the brown rice pasta for mine but made JC's with regular wheat penne pasta. He really enjoyed this dish but in all fairness, he thought the butternut squash was too sweet for his palate. I thought it gave just the right amount to counter all the other intense flavors.
Please give this one a try. I can't take credit for any part of this dish other than tasting it and attempting to recreate it to share with you. It's nice to share.
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