In an effort to eat more healthfully, we’ve tried to cut back on processed carbs and saturated fats. Most nights a few locally grown vegetables, a chicken breast and salad constitute dinner with very few sightings of steak, potatoes, bread or white rice. I don’t generally miss those white calories, but lately I’ve had a genuine craving for pasta.
There’s one specific noodle that I find particularly tempting. It’s a little hollow corkscrew shape called cellentani. Barilla makes it so it should be easy for you to find. It has the most seductive spring and chewy bite… I just can’t get enough of it.
While I’m in confessional mode, I might as well admit that I’m losing the battle with sausage as well. Especially Lou’s, a local Sicilian sausage with just a hint of heat, roasted red peppers and fennel.
Now, in my mind, cravings are the human body’s way of telling us what it needs. Obviously, I’m running short on carbs and fat so in an effort to bring my body and mind in sync, I recently decided to make a meal of pasta, sausage, butternut squash and sage. My in-laws had recently gifted us with a few butternut squash from their garden and my sage bush outside was still holding on to plenty of leaves. It doesn’t get much more local or seasonal than that.
And did you know that butternut squash is good for you? It’s full of vitamin C.
There are so many interesting and healthful ways to eat it. There’s soup (with cream), a filling for ravioli (with cheese), casseroles (with cream), gratins (with cheese and cream) or just split a squash lengthwise and roast it in the oven for about 45 minutes (with butter and brown sugar). Tasty options, all.
Did I mention that butternut squash is full of beta carotene? It helps maintain eyes, skin and a healthy immune system. So, not only is this meal local and seasonal but healthy as well. Right?
Feeling better about my choices, I tossed half the cubed squash with olive oil, salt and pepper and roasted it in a hot oven until browned and tender. Then I sautéed a leek and a clove of garlic in butter before adding the remaining diced squash and chicken stock. When tender, I whizzed it up in the food processor with a touch of cream. Once the al dente pasta was sauced and tossed with the browned sausage and roasted butternut I topped each serving with a few fried sage leaves, a drizzle of the sage butter and a whisper of shaved Parmesan.
As I set the mounded plates of hot pasta on the table I informed my husband that butternut squash is a good source of fiber and full of anti-oxidants.
I must admit, it was so delicious. Not like health food at all.
Kitchen Counter Point: Peeling and dicing a hard skinned squash is easy if you do it in sections. First, using your largest sharpest knife, cut the squash in half lengthwise. If the knife becomes stuck halfway through the squash, just pound the squash on the cutting board once or twice until the knife cuts through and is free. Scoop out the seeds with a large spoon and discard them. Cut the halved squash into quarters. This makes it easier to peel with a paring knife. Once peeled, cut the squash into 1/2-inch slices and then cut them down into 1/2-inch dice. Pretty easy, really.
1 large butternut squash, about 4 pounds
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided use
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided use
1 medium leek
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups chicken broth, plus more if needed
Pinch freshly ground nutmeg
Pinch cayenne pepper
1/4 cup heavy cream, more if desired
3/4 lb freshly made sausage of your choice
1 lb cellentani noodles or other corkscrew pasta such as rotini
16 whole sage leaves
Parmesan cheese for grating
Preheat oven to 400ºF.
Bring a large pot of water, about 1 gallon, to a boil over high heat.
Follow the directions for the squash in the Kitchen Counter Point. Dump half the squash onto a sheet pan and toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread the squash out in an even layer and roast in the preheated oven for about 25 minutes or until lightly browned and tender.
While the squash cooks, cut the leek in half lengthwise and wash it under running cold water to remove any grit. Cut away and discard the dark green leaves and thinly slice the white and light green parts. Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat and add 2 tablespoons of the butter. When the butter is hot add the leek and salt. Sauté the leek for about 3 minutes or until tender. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute or until fragrant. Add the remaining squash, 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste and broth and lower the heat to a simmer for about 10 minutes or until the squash is tender. You may have to add more broth as the vegetables cook. There should be about 1/3 cup broth in the pan when the vegetables are tender. Process the mixture in a food processor or blender (be careful it’s hot) until smooth. Return the sauce to the pan and add the nutmeg, cayenne and cream. Reheat and taste for seasoning adding more broth or cream if the sauce is too thick. Keep hot.
Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and cook the sausage in the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Break it up into chunks and cook for about 5 minutes or until no longer pink. Drain and set aside.
In a small fry pan, add the remaining 3 tablespoons butter and heat over medium heat. When the butter is sizzling add the sage leaves and cook them for 1 minute on each side or until crispy. Transfer them as they are cooked to a paper towel lined plate. The butter in the pan will brown lightly. Remove it from the heat if it begins to darken too much. Keep warm.
Add about 1 tablespoon of salt to the boiling water and add the pasta. Cook for about 8 minutes and check it for doneness. It will need another minute or two, but should still have a nice bite and no flabbiness. Drain the pasta well and add it to the squash sauce along with the browned sausage and roasted squash. Toss to coat the pasta with the sauce. Mound the pasta onto heated shallow bowls and top each portion with a few fried sage leaves, a drizzle of the browned sage butter and a grating of Parmesan. Serve very hot.