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Photo Credit: Scott Figatner 

Originally published in The GW Hatchet

A fall-themed potluck is always fulfilling. Perhaps, it’s the anticipation of brisk air, amber leaves, cups of tea and pajama pants. Most of all, it’s the beauty of preparing a meal with your friends, eating and drinking until you wonder why your jeans always shrink so erratically. I made pappardelle, thick pasta ribbons, with a rich sauce of butternut squash and sage, topped with dollops of ricotta cheese and candied pecans. Warm and hearty, it’s the perfect dish to fuel yourself during the fall… or at the very least until dessert.

 

Ingredients: 

  • 1 medium-size butternut squash
  • Olive oil
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 3-4 tablespoons butter
  • Sage leaves, chopped
  • Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
  • Apple juice or water
  • Honey
  • Pappardelle pasta
  • Pecans
  • Sugar
  • Ricotta cheese

Directions:

1. Preheat the oven to 400°

2. Peel the squash, cut it in half and remove the pulp and seeds with a spoon. Wash and dry the seeds and reserve. Chop the squash into 1-inch pieces. Coat lightly in olive oil, sprinkle with salt and spread evenly on a foil-lined baking sheet. Cook for 20-30 minutes, turning once, or until fork tender.

3. In a blender or food processor, purée the squash with a drizzle of olive oil until smooth. In a pan, sauté the garlic and shallots in butter and add the purée. Add the sage, the parmesan cheese and salt, thinning it out to the desired consistency with either apple juice or water. Add a drizzle of honey until it’s just a tad sweet.

4. Put a liberally-salted pot of water up to boil. Lightly coat the seeds with olive oil and sprinkle generously with salt. Roast until browned and audibly crunchy (cooks excuse to taste one).

5. When the water is boiling, add the pasta and cook for 6-8 minutes or until al dente. Strain and add to the sauce, readjusting sauce consistency.

6. For the candied pecans, simply pan cook them with butter, salt and loads of sugar. They do burn easily. Cool and reserve outside the pan.

7. Top the pasta with the candied pecans, toasted squash seeds, clumps of ricotta cheese and more sage.

 

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My below-par photography skills will no longer be featured on this blog. Since Jordan Emont is not with me this week, you’ll have to imagine the appearance. Even though a picture says a thousand words, this dish will leave you speechless. The bechamel allows my sauce to be thick and rich without being heavy and fattening. Subtly sweet Marsala wine offsets lemony thyme which is a perfect counterpoint to the woodsy flavor of mushrooms. I loaded the dish with spinach and onions and roasted grapes give a surprise of texture and sweetness.

Ingredients:

  • Onions
  • Olive oil
  • Garlic cloves
  • Salt, pepper
  • Mushrooms (I used brown baby bella)
  • Thyme
  • Rosemary
  • Marsala wine/Beef broth opt.
  • Spinach/Arugula
  • Milk (I used 2%)
  • Butter (I used unsalted)
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Red grapes
  • Pecans
  • Lemons
  • Fresh parsley
  • Penne pasta

Sauté onions in a large pan with olive oil, adding garlic after a few minutes. Salting is important here or your onions will stubbornly resist softening. Add the mushrooms when the onions are translucent. Be generous with thyme leaves and chopped rosemary. Salt and pepper here as well.

Add Marsala wine—the real stuff, not the sweetened kind with barely any alcohol. Beef broth wouldn’t hurt too although I didn’t use it. You can choose to make this dish with spinach or arugula. Spinach should be added here, but arugula should be added  à la minute.

Bechamel: In a sauce pot, heat milk until it starts to boil. In a sauté pan, melt about a half stick of butter and whisk in plenty of butter. Whisk until you have a slightly brown color (this will add an extra dimension of nutty flavor). Slowly whisk in the scalding milk, while keeping the heat up. Just troubleshoot until you reach a very thick sauce. I added a handful of parmesan cheese and a splash of heavy cream. Hey, we’re being much healthier with the milk-based sauce. Keep in mind that it will thin out when mixed with the marsala, which is the next step.

Roast some halved red grapes in a hot oven with some pecans or walnuts. The nuts are done when they are fragrant and crisp. The grapes should still have they’re texture. Add lemon juice and chopped parsley.

Mix with penne pasta or whatever you prefer.

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No meat in the house! We did have spinach and ricotta cheese, the main ingredients in my ravioli. I immediately regretted making the dish. I have no mixer or pasta maker, so I had to make everything by hand. Soon enough, the dough was crumbly, the counter tops were cakes with wet, sticky dough, and my shirt was coated in flour. Eventually, I tamed the dough and made the ravioli. I’ll admit that I will never make ravioli again without a pasta maker.

Dough Ingredients (1 dough ball):

I made two dough balls. I suggest not making one big batch because the dough is easier to work with cold.

  • 2.5 cups flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 teaspoons water
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Dough Preparation:

I made mine in an unconventional way, but I found that it worked the best. Whisk all except the flour in a large mixing bowl and slowly add flour. Switch to a mixing spoon and continue until a dough ball forms that is not sticky. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 10 minutes.

Filling ingredients:

  • Two handfuls of spinach chopped into very small pieces
  • A few roasted red peppers minced
  • About 1 cup of ricotta cheese
  • A tablespoon or so of pesto
  • sprinkle of parmesan, salt, and pepper.
  • lemon wedge

1. Sauté spinach in EVOO with salt and pepper. Mix in the ricotta and other ingredients. Squeeze in the lemon wedge.

2. Flour the counter-top, the dough, and the rolling pin. Roll the dough thin and cut 1.5-2 inch squares. Roll the squares even thinner.

3. Use a melon-baller to place a ball of filling in the center of a square. Dip your finger in water and apply around the filling to create sealing agent.

4. Place another square over the filling, press the sides down, and reinforce by making pleats with a fork. Then cut away the extra dough. If you have a zig-zag cutter, use that. Flour the bottoms and place on a baking sheet, covered in paper towels. Refrigerate until dinner time. Boil in salted water until edges are tender (5-6 minutes).

Sauce Ingredients:

  • pesto sauce (1/3)
  • cream
  • butter
  • flour

Make a roux in a pan by heating and whisking butter and flour. Add milk and bring to a boil. Add pesto to taste. The sauce should have a green tint because it is mostly cream. Add salt and pepper or even parmesan. Understand that this is labor intensive without the proper equipment. I have a newfound respect for old-fashioned italian mothers; hours of work consumed in minutes.

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I whipped this dish up in about twenty minutes for my family. I had to go to bartending class, so I ate it later on. Gnocchi are small italian dumplings made with potatoes; some people don’t even classify it as pasta. Catherine De Medici brought spinach to France and, to honor her italian heritage, decided to call any pasta dish containing spinach, Florentine. Don’t let its difficult pronunciation stop you from ordering the dish. It can be pronounced Nah-kee and Nyah-kee (Don’t worry, I’ve been pronouncing it wrong too!)

Ingredients:

  • 2 17.5 oz gnocchi
  • 1-2 garlic cloves (depending on size)
  • Extra-virgin olive oil (maybe two tablespoons)
  • 1/2 bag of spinach (baby spinach is a good substitute)
  • 1/2 large white onion
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • white wine
  • 1/2 jar of tomato sauce (I just poured until it looked good)
  • 1/4 lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon tomato paste (comes in a tube or can)
  • Some type of cream (I used half and half)
  • 2 teaspoons parmesan
  • fresh basil
  • 1/2 large tomato
  • garlic powder, oregano, salt, pepper

1. Sauté minced or pressed garlic and diced onion in the oil over medium-high heat. Season with salt and pepper.

2. When the onions finish sweating (become translucent), add the spinach (roughly chop if the leaves are large). S and P.

3. Add the butter for richness and a couple “glugs” of white wine. After fully incorporating the tomato paste, add the tomato sauce and the chopped tomatoes.

4. Simmer and season with garlic powder and oregano. Add at least two splashes of cream. The color should be a little lighter, yet should still look like a marinara sauce.

5. Squeeze the lemon, sprinkle with parmesan, and add a generous handful of basil leaves, chopped.

2. Boil the gnocchi for about 2 minutes, strain well, and mix with the sauce.

7. Top with shredded mozzarella cheese and bake. My parents just melted the cheese in the microwave. I have no problem with that. If you choose to bake it, all you have to do is melt the cheese.

I love this dish because one of my favorite things is spinach. Gnocchi have a luxurious, soft texture and the sauce is a little more than your average marinara, yet is not to heavy.

P.S. There’s no mozzarella cheese added in the picture.

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Baked Ziti Penne is a great hearty pasta dish that needs no accompaniment. Okay, maybe garlic bread.

Cook time: 10 minutes for marinara/ 45 minutes in the oven

Ingredients:

  • 5 ounces of baby bella mushrooms (half a 10 ounce container)
  • 1 zucchini chopped chopped (small pieces)
  • 1 large stalk of broccoli
  • 1/2 a white onion diced
  • 1 cups spinach or two handfuls
  • handful of grape tomatoes cut in halves or thirds
  • 1/2 lemon
  • fresh parsley, fresh basil, oregano, garlic powder, 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 jar marinara (I used fire roasted tomato and cabernet sauvignon flavored)
  • 1-2 teaspoons of tomato paste
  • some red wine of choice (I used cabernet sauvignon to emphasize the flavor in the sauce)
  • 1 pound of fresh mozzarella shredded with grater
  • 1 pound whole milk ricotta (use skim milk ricotta if you want less fat)

What do I do first?:

1. Boil broccoli florets for 4 minutes. Drain and shock in cold ice water. Sauté the zucchini over medium-high heat (I used a wok) in Extra-virgin olive oil. Add salt and pepper.

2. After 2 minutes, chop the broccoli and add it too. Salt and pepper. Squeeze the juice of half a lemon.

3. After 1 minute, add the onions and minced or pressed garlic. S and P. Add fresh chopped parsley.

4. After two minutes, add the mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes, oregano, a pinch of garlic powder, salt, and pepper.

5. Add splash of red wine like cabernet sauvignon. Simmer with the marinara sauce. Add some tomato paste to enhance the tomato flavor. Finish with chopped basil. You can stack and roll the leaves. Then cut thin strips for a chiffonade. This would be a wonderful marinara sauce all by itself.

6. Boil penne or ziti (1 cup per person). This recipe will serve 6 people.  Strain well, mix with the sauce, and add the ricotta and 2/3 of the mozzarella. When checking for consistency, keep in mind that some sauce will evaporate and soak into the pasta. Flatten in a buttered casserole dish, cover with foil, and place in a 350° oven for 10 minutes.

7. Conceal with mozzarella cheese and cover with foil. Cook for 20 more minutes. Remove the foil, drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and sprinkle with more basil. Finish uncovered for 15 minutes. If you want, you can also top with parmesan cheese or even use it in the filling.

Experiment with this dish. Try any vegetable you have on hand. If you have eggplant, throw it in. Instead of spending on extra pasta, use what you have on hand and splurge on better ingredients. Use leftover  mozzarella and ricotta for a lasagna or make home-made ravioli with ricotta and spinach. This dish could definitely be made ahead of time; you just finish it in the oven. Feel free to not include ingredients or add them. My final suggestion is to find someone to shred the  mozzarella cheese for you.

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