Pasta with Roasted Butternut Squash Purée - A Recreation

 

 

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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.

The line up: Spinach, wild mushrooms, butternut squash, basil, garlic, pumpkin seeds, cinnamon, nutmeg, parmesan cheese, and pasta.

The line up: Spinach, wild mushrooms, butternut squash, basil, garlic, pumpkin seeds, cinnamon, nutmeg, parmesan cheese, and pasta.

Ingredients

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)

For Pesto
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.)

Instructions

Peel, remove seeds and cube the butternut squash.  (You can wash and dry the seeds, then roast them for snacking... or toss them out.)

Carefully peel the hard skin off the squash.  I find that a knife works best.

Carefully peel the hard skin off the squash.  I find that a knife works best.

Coat the squash with oil, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.   Then roast at 400 degrees for 45 min to hour, until very soft and mashable.

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Once you have the butternut squash in the oven, start on the garlic confit.

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Peel garlic cloves and leave whole. In a small saucepan, add garlic and enough olive oil to cover.

Olive oil's golden goodness poured lovingly over garlic cloves.

Olive oil's golden goodness poured lovingly over garlic cloves.

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.

Pumpkin seeds add great texture to the pesto.

Pumpkin seeds add great texture to the pesto.

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.  

I used a mixture of cremini, shitake, oyster and Japanese Brown Beech mushrooms.  Use whatever ones you like.

I used a mixture of cremini, shitake, oyster and Japanese Brown Beech mushrooms.  Use whatever ones you like.

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.

Pesto goodness in the making.

Pesto goodness in the making.

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.

Spinach just needs to be wilted over low heat.

Spinach just needs to be wilted over low heat.

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.

Roasted chunks of sweetness

Roasted chunks of sweetness

Roasted Butternut Squash Purée

Roasted Butternut Squash Purée

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.

All the work is done.  All the ingredients are ready.

All the work is done.  All the ingredients are ready.

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.

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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.

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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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Luscious Butternut Cream Crostini with Roasted Walnuts & Honey

Let's state the obvious. We throw a lot of parties.  Entertaining fools;  we love to do it. (Alright maybe me a tad more than JC).  Whether the scale is big or an intimate gathering, you always need good nibbles. And the small bites you offer should be tasty and as exciting to you as they are to your guests. Which is why I'm constantly toying around with ideas in the ongoing quest for a tasty appetizer. 

I'm like everyone else, I have some fan favorites,  and will admit that I recycle them for certain events.  Heck, why not?  If something works then play that tune again and again. But I have flavor curiosity syndrome. so I am forever surfing my brain, and my palate for new bites.  Throw in the fact that I just like to experiment and thus the parade of apps.  (By the way, I am trying to get that syndrome classified as an official disorder. I think there might be some benefits to that.)

Usually when I come up with an idea, I don't pre-test.  I just take the plunge and serve it up to our guests before ever trying it myself.  Bold and brazen, that would be me. Yet on the occasions when I have an idea but don't have a planned party I become impatient and make a batch to test on friends and family.  So the irony didn't escape me when this particular recipe idea popped into my head at the exact same time that we had 5 weeks of revolving door guests in our home. That's right, captive prisoners, yet our sightseeing schedules left us with no time for food experimentation.  Much like a lyric from Alanis Morisette's song Ironic, "It's like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife".  A perfectly good crop of guinea pigs gone to waste. So, I cooked up a different plan for testing this recipe.  

Because no parties were in the sight, the next soonest taste tester opportunity was our plans to meet up with family at a restaurant in the Bronx.  My plot: bring little samples in tupperware and hand them out prior to entering the restaurant. This is my interpretation of an amuse bouche.  Appetizer BEFORE the appetizer.  (The real meaning of amuse bouche is a bit of food served before the meal to stimulate the appetite.  To amuse your mouth. I think mine did just that.)

First off, Juan Carlos thought I was nuts, (as he often does), and I thought my idea would be met with surprised faces and thoughts of, “who brings appetizers to a restaurant and requests that they be gobbled up like contraband in a dark alley?”  However, as I passed out my little samples, they were happy to oblige. I just love these people!  Once they popped these fluffy bites into their mouths, they didn’t care where they were eating them. 

Tom, one of my biggest fans, ready for his part.

Tom, one of my biggest fans, ready for his part.

Therese testing the pear, gluten free version. Thanks!

Therese testing the pear, gluten free version. Thanks!

Aunt Rosie, being a good sport

Aunt Rosie, being a good sport

Although this experiment went well, I have enhanced the original idea.  Plus I highly recommend serving them at home on a proper platter to your guests.  (Clandestinely handing them out from a plastic container on a Bronx street corner should be your last resort.)
 

Ingredients

1.5 c butternut squash, roasted
1/2 cup ricotta
1/3 c walnuts, roasted
1/3 c pumpkin seeds, roasted
1/8 tsp nutmeg
3 good pinches red pepper flakes
1.5 t salt
1/8 tsp pepper
Parmesan shards
honey, to drizzle
French baguette, sliced
Pear (I used a Red Anjou)
 

Instructions

Place the two halves of butternut squash on a roasting pan and season with salt, pepper and olive oil.  Roast at 375 degrees until fork tender (about 45 min).  Let cool.

Then scoop out the soft squash and put into a food processor.  Add the salt, pepper, red pepper, nutmeg and blend until smooth.  Add the ricotta cheese and blend until combined.

Roasted and ready for becoming a rich creamy delight.

Roasted and ready for becoming a rich creamy delight.

Walnuts
Pumpkin seeds

In a saucepan on the stovetop or in a baking sheet the oven, lightly toast the walnuts and the pumpkin seeds to release their oils and fragrance.  Roughly chop them, keeping them separate.

Place the bread slices on a sheet pan and lightly toast one side, then turn and place the parmesan shards on the other side and toast until slightly melted.

Meanwhile, stir the pumpkin seeds into the butternut/ricotta mixture.  Once the crostini are ready, spoon on the butternut cream mixture, sprinkle the chopped walnuts and drizzle with honey. Serve on your prettiest plate.

If you recall, I don't eat bread.  Neither does my cousin, Therese, who was among the original taste testers. So I needed to come up with delivery vehicle that we both could consume and not feel cheated.  I hate feeling cheated.  Enter the pear for a gluten free version of this app.

Use a nice, thick slice.  We both loved the crisp, freshness of the pear against the creamy, sweetness of the butternut squash, ricotta and honey.  Not only did we not feel cheated, but we felt we had the better version. Shh!

I was really happy with how this ultimately turned out. The folks who had the crostini version liked the crunch of the bread against the creaminess of the butternut squash/ricotta mixture.  Therese and I loved how the pear worked with these flavors.   True confessions, and in authentic something from nothing style, I don't always know all the ingredients up front that will end up in a recipe.  Case in point here, as there was no red pepper in the set up photo. The addition of red pepper flakes came upon tasting it and realizing that the squash and ricotta are quite mild and were desperately calling out for a punch.  AND when I needed to bring an appetizer to a dinner party this past week I decided to make this.  In recreating it I added the pumpkin seeds for addition texture and parmesan for additional saltiness. Neither of which was in the original version. See how it works, my friends. You keep creating, improving and stirring it with more love each time.  

As I suggested earlier, instead of serving this in a back alley, bringing it to a friend's dinner party and serving it on a proper platter, well... It goes without saying that this was an infinitely much better locale!

As I suggested earlier, instead of serving this in a back alley, bringing it to a friend's dinner party and serving it on a proper platter, well... It goes without saying that this was an infinitely much better locale!