Trying to get back into the swing of Meat-free Mondays and not wanting to rush out to the market on a holiday Monday when I had A. and Fe. to myself, I accidentally threw together a truly stellar pasta dish for dinner. I say accidentally, because the process was so haphazard and really just the result of rooting through the pantry and fridge.
Sometimes the planets align and flavors magically cooperate and you manage to unexpectedly delight yourself. You must know what I mean. You actually surprise yourself.
I wasn't expecting anything special, so I didn't bother taking a picture until the next day when Fe. and I were eating the pasta cold for lunch.
The crisper had just been replenished by the Silver Lake Farms C.S.A. I had a fat butternut squash begging to be used and a vibrant bunch of purple kale whispering sweet nothings in my ear. I knew that's where I would start. This weeks haul also included a heap of onions and a fragrant bunch of cilantro. In the pantry garlic, raisins and pine nuts are always standing at the ready.
The final ingredient that really transformed this dish was the half preserved lemon that I pulled from the large jar that is tucked in the back corner of my refrigerator. I threw that batch together during the summer. I'll share my recipe with you soon -- I promise -- when I write about spinach later in the week. Everyone should keep a stash of preserved lemons in their kitchen. They make almost everything taste better -- more exotic and more delicious.
I sliced several onions and cloves of garlic and cooked them for only a brief time before tossing in the purple kale. The kale was so young and lovely. It lent a sweet and mildly bitter, vegetal taste to the dish. Adding crushed red pepper would have been a good idea, but I intended to share this with Fe. and he is not quite there yet with the spicy food.
I used Mark Bittman's recipe for glazed butternut squash with garlic. I almost always roast butternut squash, so this was something of a revelation for me. You can prepare it on the stove in about 20 minutes! I tossed this into the pasta at the end.
The Trader Joe's organic raisins are so soft, they needed no plumping. I gave the pine nuts a little toast in a diminutive, yet heavy pan, and threw them along with the raisins into the sauté pan.
It was all there. Sweetness from the squash, raisins and onions, pine nuttiness, pungency from the garlic and kale, sauciness from the pasta water and olive oil, the salty, tangy mystery of the preserved lemon, and an herbaceous kick from a handful of chopped cilantro.
A short tubby pasta was needed and fusilli was what was in the pasta drawer. I had wanted Pecorino Romano to shave over, but all that was left was Parmigiano Reggiano, so we went with that. Although, quite frankly the cheese was really unnecessary.
This isn't much of a recipe, more a suggestion of flavors that go really really well together. All of the amounts are variable, depending on what is on hand. You could certainly use chard in lieu of kale or acorn squash instead of butternut. Although, who wants to mess with acorn, when butternut is so much easier to manage? Hazelnuts would be equally tasty, if not more so.
Fusilli with Butternut Squash, Purple Kale, and Preserved Lemon
For Mark Bittman's butternut squash:
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 pound or so butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
1/4 cup stock or water
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Put the oil and garlic in a large skillet with a tight-fitting lid over medium heat, (no need to cover at this point). When the garlic starts to turn golden, after approximately 2 minutes, add the squash and stock and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover, and turn the heat to low. Cook, stirring once or twice, until the squash is tender, about 15 minutes. Don't over-cook it. You don't want it to fall apart!
Uncover the pan and turn the heat up to medium-high. Cook, shaking the pan every so often and stirring even less, until the liquid is gone and the squash starts to brown, 5 to 10 minutes. Lower the heat and cook until the squash is as brown and crispy as you like. For this application, I didn't let the squash crisp up much at all.
For the pasta:
1/3 pound fusilli pasta (or more depending on your favored pasta to vegetable ratio)
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 large onion, sliced, not too thinly
2 or 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 medium bunch purple kale, washed, stemmed, and roughly chopped
1/4 cup water or stock
1/4 cup raisins, plumped or not
A very scant 1/4 cup pine nuts -- maybe just an 1/8 cup, toasted
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 preserved lemon, flesh removed and discarded, peel finely chopped
1 batch of the aforementioned butternut squash
1 cup reserved pasta cooking water
A handful or two cilantro, roughly chopped
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Cook the fusilli. Drain when al dente.
Heat the oil in a large heavy skillet. Add the onions and garlic, and cook, stirring frequently, until just beginning to turn translucent. Add the kale and stir well. Add the water or stock and cover, until just wilted, about 5 minutes. If your kale is older and thicker, you may need to cook it longer and you may need to add additional stock or water. Uncover and add the pine nuts and raisins. Season with salt and pepper. Add the preserved lemon, stirring. Stir in the butternut squash. Fold in the cooked fusilli. Pour in a little pasta cooking water if the pasta needs a bit of saucing up. Drizzle additional olive oil on as you see fit. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro and serve.
Serves approximately 3 plus a little one