Happy Halloween and a Seasonal Favorite: Pumpkin Pasta

I have been looking forward to today’s lunch out with my friend all week. As a mom who stays home most days, it is pretty easy to get cabin fever. I spend a lot of time at parks trying to make other mom friends. This video perfectly describes me most days.

Having lunch out with twin toddlers can be hectic, but it is good for the soul. The best part, hands down, is not having to clean the floor. This may sound silly, but cleaning the floor is my own personal torture. It is the ultimate Sisyphean task, since you clean it up just to have it get completely trashed again in a matter of hours.

Of course, JJ woke up from his nap with a fever, so I had to cancel lunch. I felt like a kid who had just found out Santa was not real – totally heartbroken.

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The only good thing about sick kids is that they are super cuddly.

The good news is that I knew tonight’s dinner would cheer me up. Pumpkin pasta is an October tradition in the Buckley household. It seems like a strange blend of flavors, but it is autumn in a bowl.  This recipe is adapted from 30 Minute Meals by Rachel Ray, a gift I got upon graduating from college. At the time I thought I would hate the cookbook, but I there are actually quite a few great go-to recipes that I’ve found in it.

Pumpkin Pasta with Sausage

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon
  • 1 pound bulk sweet Italian sausage
  • 1 pound mushrooms, can be white, shitake, or Portobello. Or a mix.
  • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 4 to 6 sprigs sage leaves, cut into thin strips
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 14 oz can canned pumpkin (NOT pumpkin pie mix)
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg, ground or freshly grated
  • Coarse salt and black pepper
  • 1 pound Penne Rigate, cooked to al dente
  • Romano or Parmigiano, for garnish
  • Chives for garnish (optional)
  1. Boil water in a large pot, get the pasta cooking.
  2. Heat a deep skillet over medium high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pan and brown the sausage in it. Transfer sausage to paper towel lined plate.
  3. Cook mushrooms, garlic, and onion with a small pat of butter (because why not?) until onions are tender
  4.  Return sausage to the pan.
  5. Add wine to the pan. Reduce wine by half, about 5 minutes.
  6. Add sage, stock and pumpkin and stir to combine, stirring sauce until it comes to a bubble. Reduce heat, simmer mixture 10 minutes to thicken, stirring occasionally.
  7. Season the sauce with the cinnamon and nutmeg, and salt and pepper, to taste. S
  8. Return drained pasta to the pot you cooked it in. Pour the sausage pumpkin sauce over pasta. Combine sauce and pasta and toss over low heat for 1 minute. Garnish the pasta with lots of shaved cheese and sage leaves.
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This is what love and coziness tastes like.

The Verdict:

You know how taste can evoke such powerful memories? The taste of this pasta brings me back 7 years to when my husband (then boyfriend) and I were first living together in a spacious but old apartment in DC. We made this pasta for our little family, which at the time consisted of the two of us and our bachelor third roommate. Making this always makes me thankful for my close family and dear friends. It is always good to end the day on a happy note!

Have a fun and festive Halloween, everyone!

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Happy Halloween!

Frost Living: Kale, Mushroom and Pancetta Pasta.

Every so often when I was little, my mom would leave home for a few weeks to visit her parents and brother in Germany.  My mom is a trained chef, and for almost every single night of my childhood, my mom filled our home with the smell of onions, garlic and a well seasoned sauce.  We were beyond lucky to not only be fed a home cooked meal almost every night, but be to be fed an unbelievable home cooked meal almost every night.

So for those two weeks or so a year, my dad would be in charge.  And there is nothing my dad loves more than a good opportunity to empty the fridge/freezer.  Every time my mom would leave, we would live almost exclusively off of the contents of our freezer, which my mother kept well stocked (chicken breasts, half off! ground beef, buy one get one!).  “Time to live off the frost of the land,” he would announce.  First, we’d go through the frozen meats and vegetables, sometimes the chicken stock.  And then, by the time my mom got back, we’d be into the frozen pizzas, chicken nuggets, and ice cream.

I may be an adult now, but I still love a good “frost living” dinner.  Tonight was no exception.  After coming back from the Cape earlier today, we had no energy to grocery shop or even plan.  Tonight’s dinner brought to you exclusively from ingredients we already had on hand.

“Frost Living” Pasta

  • pancetta, diced
  • olive oil
  • mushrooms, sliced
  • red onion, sliced
  • garlic, minced
  • greens (leftover kale and bitter green mix – leftover from the pie earlier this week)
  • chicken broth
  • white wine
  • spices: garlic salt, salt, crushed red pepper, ground black pepper, ground mustard
  • pasta
  • cheese (we used cubed fontina)

1. Get a pot of water boiling; cook pasta according to directions.  Drain.

2. In the meantime, heat olive oil in a large saute pan.  Once heated, toss in the onion and heat until translucent.  Throw in a handful of diced pancetta.  Pour in a few turns of white wine, let it cook down for a bit before tossing in the garlic and a few sprinkles of each of the spices listed (minus the salt, which I like to save for last so as not to oversalt, and so as not to draw too much water out of the mushrooms).

3. Toss in the mushrooms – the more, the better, as mushrooms will cook down a whole lot.  Let them cook down a bit before mixing in the greens -again, the more, the better.  Add in some chicken broth to add a little bit of salted flavor; add in salt and pepper; let it all cook down and meld together.

4. Toss with pasta, add in some extra cheese, and enjoy.

The Verdict:

This is a go-to.  It’s always dependent on what we have in the fridge/freezer, and no pasta is ever the same.  But it’s almost always comfort in a bowl.  Key to this dish is the crushed red pepper – adds just the right amount of heat.

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not pictured: all the melted cheese.

Crockpotin’ Sunday: Polenta and Swiss Chard.

My husband was the first person to introduce me to the magic of the crockpot, and it is a staple tool in our house.  We had a crockpot before we had cutlery (er…silverware).  The crockpot also has its downfalls – lots of recipes can turn into long-simmered mush with indiscriminate flavor.  One of the best crockpot recipe books I’ve found is Williams Sonoma’s The New Slow Cooker.  I received this as a bridal shower gift, and despite the Washington, DC summer heat, its pages already feature cooking stains.

A Sunday at home means a more leisurely meal, and unlike work days, I can tinker around with recipes in the 3-4 hour timeframe, as opposed to the 7-9.    This Sunday’s plan was Polenta and Swiss Chard.  As it turns out, neither Trader Joe’s nor Safeway carry ground polenta, and not so much on the Swiss Chard, either.  New plan: Risotto with Bitter Greens.

Risotto

  • 3 3/4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 1/4 cups Arborio rice
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup white wine
  • garlic
  • chopped onion
  • salt, pepper
  • parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 block fontina cheese, cut into blocks

Sticking all the ingredients (minus the cheese!) in the crockpot, I set it on high for 2.5 hours and let it go, stirring a few times.  It was done at about 2 hours…and a little salty, even for my taste.  I added some water to dilute the salt taste, folded in the cheese and topped with the Swiss Chard/Bitter Greens, below.

Swiss Chard (aka Bitter Greens)

  • full bag of greens
  • cherry tomatoes
  • garlic
  • olive oil
  • chopped onion

After heating the olive oil and sauteeing the onions, I added the fresh ingredients and let them cook down.  Served over the risotto.

The Verdict: 

Not a meal to make if your pants are feeling a little tight – that risotto sits in your stomach (and the cheese doesn’t help).  The risotto comes out a little gummy, and there is far more risotto than vegetables.  A good meal from the lunch leftover perspective.  All in all, something to tweak for the future.