Cheese Tortellini with Roasted Butternut Squash Alfredo

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It’s fall and time to “Pumpkin spice all the things!” No, this isn’t made with pumpkin, but it could be. All you would need to do is substitute pumpkin for the butternut squash. These flavors work well together to create a delicious and comforting autumn meal. Here’s what I did:

Ingredients

Kosher salt
18 ounce package cheese tortellini
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 small shallot, finely chopped
1 cup pureed roasted butternut squash (recipe follows)
Freshly grated nutmeg
1 ¼ cups heavy cream
¼ cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese, plus more for topping
Freshly ground pepper
Chopped fresh parsley

Directions

Cook tortellini according to product’s directions.

Meanwhile, heat the butter in a medium sized sauce pan over medium-high heat. Add the shallot and cook, stirring, about two or three minutes until slightly soft. Stir in the butternut squash and nutmeg and cook an additional minute or two. Stir in the cream and bring to a low boil. Reduce the heat to medium low and simmer about 5 minutes, frequently stirring, until slightly thickened. Stir in the cheese and cook a minute or two longer until thick. Season with salt and pepper.

Divide the tortellini among pasta bowls and top with parsley and shredded Parmesan cheese.

Roasting the Butternut Squash
Preheat oven to 375° F. Slice squash length wise in half and scoop out seeds. Rub walnut oil over cut side of squash and place face up on baking sheet. You may also use olive oil if you prefer. Season with kosher salt, fresh ground pepper, and fresh ground nutmeg. Roast until squash is fork tender, approximately 45-60 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool. The tough, outer skin of the squash should easy peel off after the squash has cooled slightly. Use blender, food processor, or stick blender to puree squash.

Spinach Angel Hair Pasta with Walnut-Arugula Pesto

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Pesto doesn’t have to be made from basil. Pesto is a generic Italian term for making something by pounding. The ancient Romans also ate a dish called moretum; a type of herb cheese spread eaten with bread. It was typically made with herbs, fresh cheese, salt, oil and some vinegar along with different kinds of nuts which were sometimes added. The contents were crushed together with a mortar and pestle. It is only natural that these two dishes, so closely related, would get the names moretum and pesto.

Tonight I made a pesto using walnuts and arugula. Although arugula is not a herb like basil, its color and unique peppery flavor make a great substitute. Here’s what I did:

Ingredients

2 small garlic cloves
3 ounces walnut pieces (about ¾ cup), toasted and cooled
4 ounces arugula, trimmed and roughly chopped
½ teaspoon coarse salt
1 ounce Parmesan cheese, finely grated (about 1/3 cup)
1 pound spinach linguine
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil plus extra if needed
Freshly ground pepper

Directions

Pulse garlic until very finely chopped. Add walnut pieces, arugula, Parmesan and process until a coarse paste forms. Drizzle olive oil into mixture while processing. Additional olive oil can be added if the mixture is too clumpy. It is always better to use less olive oil as it is easy to add but very difficult to remove. Transfer to a serving bowl. Stir in the salt and set aside. Even more olive oil can be added if you feel the mixture is too dry. This can be made up to an hour ahead of time. Do not chill; keep at room temperature.

 

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add angel hair and cook until al dente according to package instructions, about 6 to 8 minutes. Drain in a colander, and immediately add to bowl with walnut-arugula mixture. Drizzle with the oil, and season with pepper. Toss thoroughly until coated evenly. Serve immediately.

Spaghetti alla Carbonara

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Spaghetti alla Carbonara is another dish who’s origin is quite muddled. One story has the dish originating with Italian coal miners. There may be some truth as the Italian word carbonara means coal burner. Another story says the dish originated during World War II when the Italian people were given bacon and eggs from the US soldiers. This story holds merit as the recipe doesn’t appear in Italian cookbooks until after WWII.

Regardless of origin, this dish is one you will want to make again and again.

Ingredients

4 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
4 oz. thinly sliced guanciale or pancetta cut into ½” pieces
2 tsp. freshly cracked black pepper, plus more to taste
1 ¾ cups finely grated Parmesan
1 egg plus 3 yolks
Kosher salt, to taste
1 lb. spaghetti

Instructions

Heat oil in a 10″ skillet over medium heat. Add guanciale or pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, 6–8 minutes. Add pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, 2 minutes more. Blend together the egg and yolks with 1 and ½ cup of Parmesan; set aside. Transfer guanciale/pancetta  mixture to a large bowl and let cool slightly, you do not want the oil to begin cooking the eggs; add the Parmesan and egg and yolks mixture and stir to combine; set aside.

Meanwhile, bring a 6-qt. pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta; cook until al dente, 8–10 minutes. Reserve 1 cup water; drain pasta and transfer it to guanciale mixture. Toss, adding pasta water a little at a time to make a creamy sauce. (You may not need the whole cup of water.) Season with salt and pepper; serve with remaining Parmesan.

A Different Flavor of Pesto — Linguine with Walnut Pesto

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Most people think of a green sauce made primarily of basil when they hear the term pesto. Pesto is a generic Italian term for anything that is made by pounding and hence pesto can be made from a wide variety of base ingredients. Another favorite of mine that I may have to blog about at a later date is red pesto made with a base of sun-dried tomatoes. Here is a very simple, very tasty pesto made with a base of walnuts.

Ingredients

½ cup walnut pieces
4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
½ tsp fine sea salt
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp walnut oil (or extra-virgin olive oil if walnut oil is not available)
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving
1 cup whole cow’s milk ricotta cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
1 lb dried linguine

Directions

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil.

While the water is heating, put the walnuts, garlic, and salt in a food processor and process to a coarse paste. With the motor running, dribble in the olive oil and walnut oil and process just until combined. Transfer the puree to a bowl and stir in the parsley, Parmigiano, and ricotta. Add a few grinds of pepper and stir the mixture until it is well combined and creamy.

Add the pasta to the boiling water, stir to separate the noodles, and cook according to the manufacturer’s instructions until al dente. Drain the pasta in a colander set in the sink, reserving about 1 cup of the cooking water. Return the pasta to the pot and spoon in about three-fourths of the pesto. Add a little of the cooking water and toss until the pasta is evenly coated with the sauce.

Transfer the dressed pasta to warmed shallow individual bowls, top with a dollop of remaining pesto and sprinkle a little Parmigiano and black pepper over each serving. Serve immediately.

Not your mother’s eggplant Parmesan

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I remember the first time I ever had eggplant. It was at my Aunt Bertha’s. I was probably about seven at the time and I really wasn’t too impressed with the idea of eating this purple oblong thing. That is until I tried it. It was surprisingly good.

Tonight I made Eggplant Parmesan; a ubiquitous use of eggplant. It was a toss-up between that or ratatouille and I figured the former would be a little more successful.

Susan claims this was the best eggplant Parmesan she has ever eaten.

Here is what I did:

Eggplant Parmesan

Ingredients

2 medium eggplants
1 cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
1 cup Panko bread crumbs
¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper
½ cup plus 3 tablespoons olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
1 cup shredded provolone cheese

Directions

1. BREAD EGGPLANT. Cut two ¾-inch planks lengthwise from center of each eggplant and cut remaining eggplant into ½-inch dice. Place flour in shallow dish. Beat eggs in second shallow dish. Combine bread crumbs, ¼ cup Parmesan, ¼ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper in third shallow dish. One at a time, coat eggplant slices lightly with flour, dip them in egg, and dredge in bread-crumb mixture, pressing to adhere. Transfer to wire rack set inside rimmed baking sheet and let sit 5 minutes.

2. COOK EGGPLANT. Adjust oven rack to upper-middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees. Heat ½ cup oil in large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Cook eggplant slices until lightly browned, about 1 minute per side. Transfer to wire rack set inside baking sheet and bake until eggplant is tender and deep golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes.

3. MAKE SAUCE. Meanwhile, pour off oil and wipe out skillet with paper towels. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in empty skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add chopped eggplant and ¼ teaspoon salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Stir in remaining oil, garlic, and pepper flakes and cook until fragrant, about 30 -seconds. Add tomatoes and reduce heat to medium. Simmer until eggplant is tender and sauce is thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir in basil and season with salt and pepper; cover and keep warm.

4. ASSEMBLE. Combine remaining Parmesan and provolone in medium bowl. Top browned eggplant slices with cheese mixture and bake until cheese is melted, about 3 minutes. Transfer half of sauce to platter and top with eggplant slices. Spoon remaining sauce over eggplant. You may also serve with a thin spaghetti. If you do, plate spaghetti and then top with sauce, eggplant slices and remaining sauce.