Halloween Pasta

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Singing For Our Supper

I belong to a small folk music group (four people, not especially small folks) that’s been playing in various farmer’s markets over the summer, busking for donations for the local foodbanks. Last week, we played for a good crowd at the Poulsbo (Washington) Farmer’s Market, enjoying the sunbursts and driving off the threatening rain by singing ‘Keep On The Sunny Side of Life’ and ‘You Are My Sunshine’ with surprising success. Afterward, we celebrated by having a late lunch/early supper at MorMor’s, a very pleasant local restaurant where we spent several hours savoring delicious food.

Several of us ordered a pumpkin pasta dish that I was able to replicate here at home. My recipe is a bit saucier than MorMor’s, but similar in spirit and flavors. Lively with garlic and olives, woodsy with mushrooms, crunchy with almonds, and rich with cream, the tender chunks of sweet pumpkin are perfectly balanced by tubular rigatoni or by hand-cut fresh noodles. The orange pumpkin and the kalamata olives give this recipe a Halloween palette that’s quite pretty–if you really wanted to take it over the top, use squid-ink pasta for a truly black-and-orange color scheme.

Lacking pumpkin, you could equally well use winter squash or even chunks of sweet potato or yam. I added a bit of marsala for extra depth of flavor, and I used a lot more pepper, so season to suit your own taste. Bon appetite!

Pumpkin Pasta With Olives, Mushrooms & Marsala

1 tablespoon virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 white or yellow onion
1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives, chopped
2 cups peeled and diced (1/2 inch) pumpkin, winter squash, or sweet potatoes
2 cups sliced portobello or crimini mushrooms
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup heavy cream (organic tastes best)
1-2 tablespoons dry marsala
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup pecorino or asiago cheese, coarsely grated
2 tablespoons roasted almonds, chopped
6-8 ounces fresh or 16 ounces dried pasta (rigatoni, papardelle, etc)

In a wide, shallow pan, melt butter in oil over medium high heat. Add garlic and cook to the fragrance point (about 1 minute). Add onion and olives and cook until barely tender (4-5 minutes). Add the pumpkin or squash, stir to coat, cover pan and cook over medium heat until barely tender (6-8 minutes). Add the mushrooms and half the salt, cover pan and cook until soft (8-10 minutes). Reduce heat to low, add cream and heat through. Season to taste with marsala, pepper, and remaining salt and serve over hot, drained pasta, garnished with grated cheese and almonds. Serves 4-6.

About Cooking Pasta

I learned to cook pasta in Italy, where the idea of putting hot pasta under cold water to stop the cooking process would be viewed as utter sacrilege. Please don’t do that. Also, when you drain hot pasta, save about a cup of the hot cooking water; it often comes in handy to thin the sauce (when a creamy sauce is too thick, it won’t coat each strand of pasta properly). Here’s a general rule for cooking perfect pasta:

Use a large pan, filled at least 2/3 full of water, using at least a gallon of water for a pound of pasta. Salt generously–a teaspoon is not too much (many Italian cooks use a tablespoon). When the water has come to a rolling boil, add the pasta and stir gently to separate the pieces. I usually fill my electric tea kettle and bring it to the boil as well so I can add extra boiling water if needed. Never add cooler water to cooking pasta!

Start tasting fresh pasta as soon as it starts to float–often 3-4 minutes will be plenty. Dried pasta cooking times depend on many factors (like size, shape, density) but as a rule, start tasting after 6-7 minutes for homestyle dried noodles and 8-10 minutes for dried pastas. When it is done to your taste, drain it, reserving some of the cooking water, and set the colander over a pan of hot water. If you are not ready to serve the pasta immediately, drizzle on a little olive oil to keep it from clumping (you really do want to serve it as fast as possible, though).

Delicate Dressings For Tender Greens

We are reveling in lovely salads of mixed greens harvested daily from our garden of pots on the deck. However, I recently used a honey-mustard dressing I quite like and felt that their crisp textures and distinct yet delicate flavors were overwhelmed by the thick, intense dressing. Now I prefer to dress autumn greens with small amounts of light, fresh tasting dressings that allow all the flavors to be appreciated. Here are some new favorites:

Raw Kale Salad With Arugula And Mustard Greens

2 cups curly blue kale, torn in small pieces
2 cups red, green, and yellow lettuce, torn in small pieces
1 cup Wild Sylvetta arugula, torn in small pieces
1/4 cup Ruby Streaks mustard greens
1 Honeycrisp apple, chopped
2 tablespoons Autumn Dressing

Combine all ingredients, toss gently but thoroughly, let stand 20 minutes before eating (this “cooks” the kale a bit). Serves 2-4.

Autumn Dressing

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon maple syrup
1/4 teaspoon Bragg Liquid Aminos or soy sauce
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients and shake well to emulsify. Refrigerate leftovers for up to a week. Makes about 1/3 cup.

Arugula Dressing

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup arugula, torn in pieces
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon honey

In a food processor, combine all ingredients and puree to emulsify. Refrigerate leftovers for up to a week. Makes about 1/2 cup.

A Delicate Dressing

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons rice vinegar
1/4 teaspoon ponzu soy sauce (or any)
2 teaspoons flaked nutritional yeast
freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients and shake well to emulsify. Refrigerate leftovers for up to a week. Makes about 1/3 cup.

Pea Pesto With Wild Arugula & Ruby Red Mustard Greens

Some of our favorite salad greens are slender Wild Sylvetta arugula, with slim, peppery foliage, and Ruby Streaks mustard greens, with burgundy red, thready leaves (both are available from Log House Plants). I add them generously to sandwiches as well as green salads, and use them as tasty garnishes for creamy pastas or soups. Both are also lovely on a baked potato (think chives) or scattered over roasted roots of all kinds.

If you love the flavors as we do, consider using them in this spunky raw pea pesto, which is fabulous over hot pasta or rice. Drop a spoonful into tomato or squash soup, add a bit to a simple vinaigrette, or use it as a spread for smoked salmon sandwiches.

Pea and Walnut Pesto

2 cups raw peas (frozen work fine, especially Cascade Baby Peas)
1/2 cup Ruby Streaks mustard greens (or any)
1/2 cup Wild Sylvetta arugula (or any)
1/2 cup walnut pieces
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/2 cup coarsely grated Romano or Asiago cheese
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 freshly ground black pepper

In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, grind the peas, mustard greens, arugula, walnuts, and garlic to a coarse paste. Add the cheese, then drizzle in oil to the desired consistency and season to taste with salt and pepper. Makes about 2 cups.

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