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Creamy Acorn Squash Pasta

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I admit it; I was pretty doubtful about this recipe the first time I tried it. I had some acorn squash from my Bountiful Basket order and I wanted to do something more interesting with it than roasting with brown sugar and maple syrup, so I turned to Pinterest, as usual. I found some interesting recipes, but since I’m a sucker for pasta dishes, I was drawn to Healthy Happy Life’s recipe for Acorn Squash Vegan Alfredo Sauce. Well, I’m not vegan, but the idea of making pasta sauce from squash sounded fun, so after careful consideration, I decided to give it whirl. I viewed it as an experimental recipe, fully prepared to go to plan B if it didn’t work out. (In our house, plan B is cereal for me and frozen burger patty for the Hubs).

The first issue I had with the recipe was that it calls for nutritional yeast flakes. I have no idea what that ingredient is, so I wasn’t sure what to sub for it. In reading through some of the comments on the post, I learned that cheese might be a good substitute, so I decided to try using some Parmesan and asiago cheese, since that’s what I had on hand. I only had vanilla flavored soy milk and worried that the vanilla flavor wouldn’t go well with the savory flavor of the sauce, so I used skim milk instead. Otherwise, I made a few other minor adjustments and the results were truly surprising. It was creamy and it didn’t taste odd – or squashy. The flavors are deep in their Italian savory roots. It’s not sweet, like you might think, either. I added some cooked chicken breast to the dish, mostly because I was afraid that the Hubs would reject a meatless meal – especially when he found out that the main ingredient was squash.

When the Hubs arrived home for dinner, I nonchalantly served up the squash pasta and commenced eating my own, waiting for his reaction. He started eating without asking questions and then said the magic words: “This is really good.” I asked him if he knew what it was. Then he gave me that look – the one that says, “Oh Lord, what has she fed me this time?” I told him the sauce was made from acorn squash and he was pretty surprised and said he really liked it.

BUT, the real test came later when a family friend’s 18 year old son dropped by and we offered him dinner, but didn’t tell him what it was, other than pasta. He ate two plates before we told him he was eating squash sauce with the pasta. Didn’t faze him. Kids: you never know.

I was happy to receive a couple of acorn squash in my Bountiful Basket again recently so I could try this recipe again. Here’s how I made it, but play with the ingredients to suit your own tastes:

Creamy Acorn Squash Pasta

Servings: 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 whole acorn squash
  • 1/2 cup fresh chopped parsley
  • 1/4 cup fresh chopped basil (I used some frozen I had from the garden)
  • 3/4 cup skim milk
  • 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese (or Asiago, etc.)
  • 3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp dijon mustard (I used the whole wheat variety, but recommend the smoother kind)
  • 2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2-3 cloves minced garlic
  • 2 Tbsp Italian seasonings
  • 1 Tbsp maple syrup (use the good stuff)
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes (or less to taste)
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 box penne pasta
  • Optional: protein such as diced cooked chicken or cooked shrimp (this time I used some chicken sausage, sliced)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Slice squash in half, horizontally. Place cut side down in a baking dish. Add about an inch of water to the pan. Roast for about an hour, but check for doneness at 45 minutes. The skin peels away easily when it’s done. Allow squash to cool enough to handle.
  3. Set salted pasta water to boil. Cook pasta to al dente. (I also added my sliced chicken sausage to the pot while pasta was cooking). Reserve a cup of pasta water when you drain the pasta, to add to the sauce to thin, as needed.
  4. While pasta cooks, remove squash skin and seeds, then place the pulp in the food processor. Add remaining ingredients and blend until all ingredients are creamy. Taste and adjust spices to taste. If you need to thin it, add some pasta water a little at a time and blend then check consistency.
  5. Toss pasta with sauce. Serve immediately.

Notes for next time:

The first time I made this, I used both parm and asiago cheese and I liked that better than just the parm. Another thought – to make a little more creamier, I think I might add a little Greek yogurt next time. I love shrimp, so I would add some cooked shrimp instead of chicken, but the Hubs doesn’t love shrimp (well, he doesn’t love shrimp touching anything other than deep frying batter and cocktail sauce). Instead of protein, you could also up the veg quotient with some steamed broccoli or some sautéed bell pepper or zucchini. The apple cider vinegar creates a nice tang in the background, but I almost tried some red wine vinegar, instead. I think it goes with Italian better. Finally, I want to add some caramelized onions to the mixture for a little more savoriness.

Try this! I bet, like me, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much you love it and how different it tastes than you expect.

For my other squash pins see my Squash Board on Pinterest.

Related posts: Roasted Eggplant and Tomato Pasta


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Roasted Eggplant and Tomato Pasta – the BEST pasta you’ll ever eat

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I’ve been telling you that I would share my all time favorite pasta and today is the day! This stuff is like crack for me and I don’t care if you think you don’t like eggplant or have never tried eggplant, just trust me: this is the most sumptuous dish I have come across in a very long time (and I surf Pinterest multiple times a day and I cook every day!).

Before we go any further, let’s give credit where it’s due. I only slightly adapted my version from Alexandra’s Kitchen (her recipes are gorgeous, go see them) and she borrowed it from the classic Chez Panisse VegetablesWhile I usually fiddle with recipes to suit my own tastes, this one required almost no modifications.

Next, let’s address the eggplant issue. I know, most people don’t get giddy over it, but they should! I didn’t plan to grow it in my garden this year, but I had some free space and the local nursery had some plants on sale, so I bought three eggplant plants. I had no idea how beautiful the plants would be…or how prolific. The joke about how everyone leaves zucchini on your porch or in your car at this time of year could apply to eggplant if more people grew it. I had beautiful, shiny purple orbs coming out of my ears, so I went a-searchin for some recipes and I was so lucky to find this one!

The beautiful silvery green plant makes these sweet little purple flowers

Then the flowers start making baby eggplant

Then we have beautiful purple fruit!

If you don’t have eggplant in your garden (and you probably don’t), you can find it at the farmer’s markets at this time of year and your local CSA or Bountiful Baskets may be including it in their distribution. You know that the eggplant is ready to eat when the skin is shiny and fairly firm (with some give), but not hard. Bigger is not better as they can get bitter if they’re too big.

Here’s how to make it:

Since eggplant can be bitter, we need to do a little prep work. I found that my super fresh from the garden eggplants were not bitter, but if you’re not sure, it’s best to go ahead and do this step. Remove the skin and slice the eggplant into planks about 1/2″ think. Lay on a double layered paper towel or kitchen towel and generously salt both sides. I am no chemistry buff, but apparently this helps leech out the bitterness. Leave them sitting for about 15 minutes, then flip. You’ll see moisture leaking out – that’s the bitterness. Leave another 15 minutes, then wipe off as much salt as possible. Some say to rinse and dry, but I think the residual moisture will impede the roasting process we’re about to use.

Salt both sides, then lay out to rest for 30 minutes, flipping halfway through.

Next, dice it up, and throw it on a baking sheet – NO olive oil this time – and roast at 400 degrees for 20-30 minutes, until softened and golden brown. Some people think that cooked eggplant is slimy. Complete MYTH. Let it cool and taste it now. Nothing slimy about it, right?

Roast diced eggplant at 400 for 20-30 minutes until tender and golden brown.

At this point, you have a choice to make. It’s about the tomatoes. Alexandra’s recipe calls for two cups of tomato sauce. When I made it the first time, I didn’t have any sauce and I was feeling a little lazy and didn’t want to make any (and I won’t buy it), so I dug around in the cupboard and found a can of fire-roasted diced tomatoes and used that for the sauce (adding a dollop of pesto). You can do the same and it will be amazing – I fell in love with it this way. BUT, if you want to go more homegrown, and use up some of those cherry tomatoes, go ahead and make a pan of roasted cherry tomatoes at the same time the eggplant is roasting. Beware, people may knock on your door, fork in hand, because they will smell all of this deliciousness wafting from the windows.

Caramelize an onion while the eggplant (and tomatoes, if you choose) roasts.

Meanwhile, caramelize an onion (see why I dedicated a whole post to caramelizing onions? We keep needing them!).

While the onions, eggplant and tomatoes are doing their thing, mince a couple of cloves of garlic. When the onions are ready, add the garlic and saute a minute, then deglaze the pan with a glug of vinegar – I used a red wine vinegar as I didn’t have a sherry vinegar as the original calls for. Next, add the canned or oven roasted tomatoes, the tomato paste, the roasted eggplant and a little bit of red pepper flakes. Stir and simmer on low.

Add garlic, vinegar and tomatoes to the pan.

Add the roasted eggplant to the pan and simmer. See those beautiful colors?

At this point, if you haven’t already done so, you can put the pasta on to boil until al dente. I used Barilla Plus penne, but you can use whatever type of pasta you have on hand.

Boil the pasta to al dente

I like to let the sauce simmer for a bit so all of the flavors can meld, but you can simmer as long or as short as you have time for. I have actually turned it off, covered it and left it sitting for up to an hour at this point. Be sure to grab a few forkfuls to test, though. A few minutes before I’m ready to serve, I chop up a handful of fresh basil and add to pan. I’ve learned it’s better to wait until later in the cooking process to add the fresh spices.

Chop a handful of fresh basil and add to the pan a few minutes before serving

After adding basil, simmer a few more minutes and drain the pasta, reserving about 1/2 cup of the pasta water. It’s so pretty and smells sooo luscious!

Finally, drain the pasta, reserving about 1/2 cup of the water in case the sauce needs to be a little more saucy. Add the pasta to the pan, fold in gently and serve immediately, or let it sit for a few minutes so the pasta soaks in some of the sauce. If your sauce is too thick for your taste, add the reserved pasta water, in small amounts until you reach the desired consistency. Serve and garnish with some grated Parmesan or Romano cheese, if desired.

The first time I served this, the Hubs asked if it had meat in it. No. He sighed…a meatless meal. Again. Then he dug in and devoured two helpings. In fact, we ate ALL OF IT that night. We stopped short of licking the pan. If you’re leery about eggplant, it’s ok. It doesn’t taste eggplanty at all. It’s just thick and rich and binds all of the other yummies together. I swear, if you make this for your next dinner party, you will be the next Martha Stewart Rachael Ray of the neighborhood!

Roasted Eggplant & Tomato Pasta

Servings: 4

Ingredients:

  • 1-2 large eggplant, peeled and diced
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
  • a handful basil, chopped finely
  • 1 regular-sized can fire-roasted diced tomatoes (+ dollop of pesto) –OR– 1 recipe roasted cherry tomatoes
  • 2 dollops (about half a can) tomato paste (freeze the rest in ice cube trays for later)
  • 2 cups pasta (penne, or whatever you have on hand)
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Olive oil
  • 1 glug of red wine vinegar (I have also used red wine)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Parmesan or Romano cheese (optional)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400.
  2. Peel and slice eggplant into 1/2″ planks. Salt generously on both sides, then lay out on towels to drain for 30 minutes, flipping halfway through. If your eggplant is garden fresh, you should be safe to skip this step.
  3. If using the roasted cherry tomato recipe, prepare tomatoes while eggplant is draining.
  4. Wipe the salt off the sliced eggplant, then dice. Place on un-greased baking pan. Roast for 20-30 minutes until tender and golden brown.  If roasting tomatoes, place in oven at the same time as eggplant. They should finish about the same time.
  5. While eggplant and tomatoes roast, caramelize onions in a large, deep saute pan. The onions, tomatoes and eggplant should all be ready about the same time.
  6. When onions are caramelized, add garlic and saute for a minute before deglazing by splashing the vinegar or wine into the pan.
  7. Add tomatoes (canned or roasted) and paste to pan and simmer for a few minutes on low-medium heat.
  8. Fold in roasted eggplant and red pepper flakes. Salt and pepper to taste. Continue to simmer on a low heat.
  9. Put pasta on to boil. Cook until al dente, drain, reserving about 1/2 cup of the pasta water.
  10. Chop the basil and add to sauce a few minutes before serving.
  11. Add pasta to sauce, stir gently. Add reserved pasta water a spoonful at a time, to create a saucier sauce, if desired. Let simmer on low for a few minutes or serve.
  12. Garnish with Parmesan or Romano cheese, if desired.

Notes for next time: Honestly, this is one recipe that I plan to leave alone. I’m always tempted to add more ingredients – like I think it might be nice to add some zucchini to this (since we have plenty), but I am going to refrain and not mess with success since this is so perfect, as is. The Hubs loved it just as much when I made it again and thinks we should grow even more eggplant next year. Since I’m still drowning in the eggplant harvest, I wonder if I could make this sauce and then freeze it. I have baked and frozen some eggplant for winter use, but hadn’t though of freezing it. Might give that a whirl!

Please go get some eggplant and make this and then leave a comment about how much you loved it! 🙂

Related Posts:

For more eggplant recipes, see my Eggplant Board on Pinterest.