Butternut Squash Pasta with Goat Cheese and Toasted Sage Pecans

I spend more time than the average person thinking about food, I’m almost certain of it.  Before falling asleep and upon waking, I’m deciding what breakfast is going to be.  At school, at work, while making other food, I’m concocting dinner ideas, sometimes pondering ways to eek out a meal from the few things I’ve got left lying around the fridge when grocery shopping hasn’t happened for a while, other times staring at a lone butternut squash from the CSA box, trying to think of a novel way to use all that remains of our 20-week adventure of eating local produce.

I wanted to honor this beautiful squash, this bright orange beauty that turned dewy and permeated the kitchen with a sweet, musky scent as soon as I sliced it open.  So I invented something, though I’m sure the flavors have met before in other kitchen.  It’s something I’d call comfort food – like macaroni and cheese, but better.  I scribbled the game plan on an index card and got to work.

This is the kind of food we want to fill our bellies with when the weather gets feisty.  It’s pasta that has lots going on (which I love since I get bored easily when eating a lot of the same thing.)  It’s goat-cheese creamy, pecan crunchy, sage earthy, nutmeg spicy and butternut sweet, and a little nutty thanks to the addition of brown butter which in my opinion really put it over the edge of awesome.  To counter the richness of the dish, serve it with an easy mixed green salad and some pear slices.

Butternut squash and goat cheese pasta with toasted sage pecans

Prep: 35 mins   Cooking time:  a hour or so

Serves 4, probably with some leftovers

Roasted squash:

1 butternut squash, halved with seeds scooped out

2 tablespoons coconut oil or butter

1 teaspoon coarse salt

½ teaspoon grated nutmeg

Pasta

8 oz (1/2 package) whole wheat linguini noodles

1 cup pasta water, reserved

3 tablespoons butter

1 small onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

3-4 leaves sage, en chiffonade

½ cup pecans, chopped

¾ cup crumbled goat cheese

freshly grated nutmeg

salt and pepper to taste

Method

Pre-heat oven to 475° F.

Place squash halves skin side down on a foil-lined baking sheet.

Rub squash flesh (inside part) with coconut oil or butter; you want a nice even layer of fat.

Sprinkle squash liberally with coarse salt and grated nutmeg.

Place squash (on baking sheet) into the pre-heated oven and roast until you can easily poke a fork through the thickest part of the squash’s flesh, (but squash is somewhat firm, not mushy) about 30-40 minutes.

Allow squash to cool.

Remove skin from squash. It should peel off pretty easily, but you may need to slice some off with your knife too.

Dice squash into ½ inch cubes and store in fridge until you’re ready to prepare the meal.  (I made my squash in the morning, went about my day, and then prepared this dish that evening for dinner.)

Boil a large pot of salted water for pasta.

Once water is boiling, add half a package (8 oz) whole wheat linguini noodles.

While pasta cooks melt 3 tablespoons butter in a skillet over low heat.  Continue to cook butter very slowly until it takes on a nutty, almost sweet smell.

Add the garlic and onion to browned butter and turn up heat slightly to sauté the alliums for about 5 minutes under tender and slightly brown.

Add nutmeg, salt and pepper to skillet, allowing spices to toast for a minute.

Add sage and pecans, and a drizzle of olive oil if things are getting dry.  Stir and cook for about 3 minutes, until sage is wilted and nuts are toasted and shiny.

When pasta is al dente, remove from heat and drain, reserving a cup of the pasta water.

Return pasta to pot and add cubed squash, goat cheese and half the pasta water.  Turn on heat to medium low and stir to combine.

Add the pecan and sage mixture from skillet into pasta pot, making sure to get all the butter and browned bits using a spatula.  Add remaining pasta water as needed and stir to combine.

Taste for salt and adjust as needed.

Top each serving with a few whole pecans and a bit of goat cheese.   Enjoy!

Blissin’ out on Baked Oatmal

We’re hurdling toward the end of autumn.  I’m waist-deep in my new schooling, a couple of part-time jobs, and the joys of being a new wife. There aren’t many mornings when I’ve got time to concoct more than a couple fried eggs or a bowl of jam-swirled yogurt for breakfast.  Gone are the summer days when I would rise without an alarm clock, wander into the kitchen and get creative with my day’s first meal.   My camera is filled with photos of breakfasts past: French toast topped with smashed raspberries and basil, buckwheat waffles with sloppy strawberries sunk down in their squares, and cinnamon swirled baked oatmeal…

Oh, the baked oatmeal.

It’s the breakfast that keeps on giving.  You enjoy it once, arguably at its best right from the oven, and then it tamely sits in your fridge and offers itself as an after workout snack, a midnight treat, or an on-the-fly breakfast throughout the week.

Make it on Sunday evening, when it starts to get dark way too early.  It’s just the right time for comforting wafts of vanilla and cinnamon to rush to in and let you know that you’ll make it through another week.  That the holidays will be delightful, not stressful.  That shorter days mean longer nights to cuddle with loved ones and sip spiked eggnog and watch Office reruns. That sounds about right.

As I mention below, any kind of fruit will work in this forgiving dish.  Just make sure if you’re using frozen berries that you let them thaw (or microwave them if you’re impatient like me), and then drain off some of the juice.  Pear and apple would be really nice right around this time.  You could also dream of the tropics while tossing in pineapple chunks and dried mango.  Happy weekend!

Baked Oatmeal

Prep: 20 min     Bake time: 35-40 min

Serves 8- 10… or 1 or 2 for a week or so

Dry ingredients

2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

½ cup raw pecans, roughly chopped

½ cup raw walnuts, roughly chopped

1 tsp aluminum-free baking powder

¼ tsp salt

1 tsp cinnamon

¼ tsp nutmeg

¼ cup raw cane sugar

¼ cup dried unsweetened shredded coconut

Wet ingredients:

1 ½ cups milk, any variety

½ cup whole milk yogurt

1 cage-free egg

2 tsp vanilla extract

1 ½ tbsp butter or coconut oil, melted

¼ cup maple syrup

Mix-ins and Toppings

2 bananas, sliced crosswise into ¼ in thick rounds

3/4 cup fruit of choice – I used frozen blue, black, and raspberries

Flax and/or sunflower seeds and more dried coconut for sprinkling

1 ½ tbsp more butter or coconut oil, melted

Method

Preheat the oven to 375°F with a rack in the top third of the oven. Generously butter or coconut oil the inside of an 8-inch square glass baking dish.

In a medium bowl, mix together the dry ingredients.

In another medium bowl, thoroughly whisk together the wet ingredients.

Line the bottom of the greased baking dish with banana slices. Top bananas with ½ cup of the fruit.

Pour the dry ingredients over the fruit, and then slowly drizzle the wet ingredients over the dry ones.

Smack the dish on each side a few times so milk mixture seeps down to the bottom and gets in all the oat-y crannies.

Scatter remaining fruit on top, then sprinkle with flax seeds, sunflower seeds and coconut.  For an extra sparkle, finish with a few pinches of coarse sugar.

Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until the top is gorgeously golden and the oatmeal has set. Remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes. Drizzle the remaining melted butter on the top and serve with a side of additional maple syrup and milk.