Spaghetti With Grated Summer Squash and Classic Fresh Pesto Sauce

pasta final

I’ve had a printout of a recipe for Classic Fresh Pesto Sauce on my kitchen counter for over a week now. Every morning when I come in from the garden I think to myself, I should have cut basil so I could make pesto but, then I think about the weather forecast and how hot it will be and fixing pasta which was the whole reason I was going to make the pesto, doesn’t sound like a great idea anymore.

But finally, the weather has cooled down and we’re enjoying temps in the 50s overnight and into the mid 80s during the day. Beautiful weather. Weather that makes me feel like cooking pasta. So this morning I gathered pesto ingredients; fresh basil, parsley and oregano and took them to the kitchen along with some summer squash and cherry tomatoes that were ready to pick. Today I would make pasta with the Classic Fresh Pesto Sauce for lunch.

pasta, squash & pestoWith no real recipe in mind but the pesto sauce I decided that I would cook up some brown rice spaghetti and toss it with uncooked, shredded summer squash and the pesto. The final touches would be halved cherry tomatoes from my garden, shredded parmesan cheese and ground pepper.

I have to say I think the squash idea turned out great. If you didn’t see me put it in the dish you wouldn’t even know it was in there. The taste of the raw squash is very mild, so when you add the pesto and toss the mixture the squash just blends in.

roasted garlicThe pesto sauce recipe I used is from Renee’s Garden Blog, June-2013 and it’s one that will become a standard for me. I did change one thing from the original recipe, instead of adding fresh garlic as noted in the recipe, I added a whole head of roasted garlic. Roasted garlic is one of the staples I try to keep in the refrigerator. Its is easy to make, has a more mellow taste than the raw. To make roasted garlic you start with whole fresh heads. Cut the tops off of each head and place in foil, pour olive oil over the heads just so it seeps down amongst the cloves, you won’t need a lot, maybe a tablespoon or less per head depending on head size. Seal the packet tightly then roast in a 350° oven for about an hour or until the garlic is soft to the touch. Let the packet cool, then refrigerate. It’s that simple. To use just squeeze the cloves from the head if you’re using the whole thing.  If you want to extract just a few cloves, I find a fork or the tip of a knife works well for scooping them out.  If you’ve never tried roasted garlic in pesto or other sauces give it a try you just might find that you like it as much as I do.

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Pasta L’Estate (Summer Pasta)

Normally I don’t eat a lot of pasta during the summer months. It can be too filling and many days it’s just too hot to cook. But, there is one summer pasta I do fix, Pasta L’Estate, or summer pasta. It’s very much like something I tried at a restaurant once. Ever since then I have been trying to recreate it and have tried on my own and through various recipes. The closest thing I have found is a recipe from The Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook, although you will see I’ve even modified it a little. It’s a wonderful dish for those hot summer evenings.

A quick trip to my garden brought a harvest of Sweet 100’s and lush basil. It was time to fix summer pasta. The recipe description says “We invented this pasta to preserve our favorite pesto flavors without having to put everything in the processor. A happy result with lots of texture and pizzazz.” I would agree. The only thing to keep in mind is that it takes at least 3 hrs or so to mingle the flavors in the sauce. Allowing less time will greatly compromise the flavor and that’s what sauce is all about, the flavor.

L’Estate

Serves 4

2 cups fresh basil leaves cut into ¼ inch strips

5 oz Parmesan cheese, cut into tiny squares

¾ cup pine nuts (pignoli), lightly toasted*

6 cloves garlic, crushed

1/2 cup best quality olive oil

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1-pound linguine (I prefer spaghetti or buccatini)

Cherry tomato halves or tomato wedges

Combine the basil, Parmesan, pine nuts, and garlic in a medium-sized bowl. Pour the olive oil over all. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Let stand at room temperature for 3 hours.

Cook the linguine in boiling salted water until tender but still firm. Drain and toss immediately with the sauce. Place on a large serving platter and arrange the tomatoes around the edge. (I toss the tomatoes with the sauce. I have also marinated, cherry or chopped, tomatoes in the sauce and liked the outcome.)

*Toast pine nuts in a skillet over very low heat, shaking the pan frequently, until evenly golden, about 2 minutes.

Pick up some fresh tomatoes, basil, garlic and maybe even some pine nuts at your farmers’ market this weekend. Some markets may even have cheese and fresh pasta for sale.

Spaghetti Squash

I cooked up a nice little spaghetti squash yesterday. Beautiful, isn’t it? It was easy to fix. I just cut it in half, well that wasn’t as easy as it could have been, scooped out the seeds, place the squash cut side down in a baking dish, added about an inch of water, covered the dish with foil and popped it into a 350° oven for about an hour and a half. Guess this could take two hrs or so if the squash was a large one. You can tell if it’s done if it’s soft to the touch or it’s easily pierced with a fork. Great, I said to myself, now I have this lovely squash all ready to go. How do I want to eat it tonight? I took the easy way out.

I heated up a very nice little marinara sauce I had in my pantry, spooned it over the squash and topped it with some nice shaved parmesan cheese. A little salad on the side and I had a very nice little dinner. If you don’t want to eat a vegetarian version, add some browned ground turkey, ground beef or some sausage to the sauce. I really wanted to throw in some sauteed Crimini mushrooms but I had used all I had, and they were sold out when I hit the market on Sunday. That happens when you go later in the morning. So next time I fix this version, I’ll add sauteed mushrooms and perhaps a nice little bit of sauteed chard too. All in all it was an easy, satisfying, and tasty dinner.

Since I still had enough squash left over for at least a couple more meals, I decided to check out other ways to serve spaghetti squash. After about an hour of surfing around and reading recipes, I came across one that was very close a recipe I use for rice, and I thought that it sounded pretty good. The other factors in my choice were that I had fresh sage in the garden and pine nuts in the freezer. Wa la, lunch today. For this version, I toasted the pine nuts in a dry fry pan until they were golden. I always add more than I need because I have a habit of tasting these lovely little nuts while I’m cooking them. After the nuts are toasted I remove them from the pan and add a little olive oil, a pat of butter, and the sage leaves. Then I sauté that mixture until the leaves are crisp. Crush the leaves in the oil mixture, and then pour it over the warmed squash. Top off with the pine nuts and there you have it. This version was very yummy.

I still have enough squash for one more meal and I will share with you how that will be fixed as soon as my sister sends me the details, or the recipe, for the version she cooked yesterday.

More to come . . . .

Put spaghetti squash on your Farmers’ Market shopping list, and maybe some Crimini mushrooms too. If you live in the Southwest you’ll also be able to buy pine nuts at your local Farmers’ Market.

What To Buy This Weekend At The Farmers Market: Winter Squash

Winter squashWinter squash, abundant fall through late winter, is one of my favorite winter vegetables. I can remember my mom buying those really big, pink-skinned, banana squash. Sometimes she would cut it into chunks  and bake it or, sometimes she would peel it, cut it into chunks and steam it till soft, then mash it with some butter. I remember it tasted so good. When my son was a baby squash was one of the first vegetables I introduced him to and when I my first grand child came along I introduced it to him too.

Throughout the years I have experimented with different ways to prepare winter squash. I’ve tried it in soups, rice dishes, pasta dishes, and baked items I’ve baked it, steamed it, sauteed it and mashed it. Last year’s, favorite preparation was to peel it, cut it in small sized chunks, toss it with olive oil, fresh thyme, salt and pepper and bake till it’s just starting to caramelize. The leftovers were wonderful incorporated into rice or pasta dishes.

Winter squash is good for you too. It rivals cabbage, carrots, potatoes and spinach in its nutritional value and it is a good source of complex carbohydrates and fiber and is very high in beta carotene, the source of vitamin A.

Not only is it good tasting, easy to incorporate into a wide variety of recipes and highly nutritious, winter squash are beautiful in their colors, textures and shapes. Last year I had a fall party and used various sized squashes and small pumpkins as a table centerpiece. When the party was over I moved them out to the garage. I had read somewhere that you could store them for months in this way if you just placed them on some newspaper on the floor. It worked just fine. Sure was great to have such a nice selection of winter squash right outside the kitchen door.

All this writing about winter squash this morning got me in the mood to look through my old cookbook collection for something new and different to do with squash. Here’s what I came up with.

Glazed Winter Squash with Pine Nuts

¾ cup pine nuts

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 ½ cups chopped yellow onion

2 teaspoons minced or pressed garlic

4 pounds winter squash, peeled, cleaned and cut into slices 1/8” thick

2 cups heavy (whipping) cream

2 cups light cream or half and half

1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme, or ¼ teaspoon crumbled dried thyme

½ teaspoon ground coriander

¼ teaspoon ground mace

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

½ cup freshly grated dry Monterey Jack or Parmesan cheese

Place pine nuts in a small dry skillet over medium heat and cook, stirring frequently, until lightly toasted, about 5 minutes. Pour onto a plate to cool.

Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a sauté pan or skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until very soft and golden, about 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic and sauté 1 minute longer. Remove from the heat and reserve.

Preheat an oven to 425 F.

Combine the squash, heavy cream, light cream or half and half, thyme, coriander, and mace in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until the squash is tender and has absorbed most of the liquid, about 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Toss squash mixture with the reserved onion and transfer to a highly greased 8 by 12 inch baking dish. Sprinkle with the cheese and dot with the remaining 4 tablespoons butter. Bake for 10 minutes, then sprinkle with the toasted pine nuts. Continue baking until the top is lightly browned, about 5 minutes longer. Serve immediately.

Serves 10 to 12

From James McNair’s Squash Cookbook

Chronicle Books 1989


Pick up these ingredients at your local Farmers Market:

• 4lbs winter squash (Buttercup, Butternut, Hubbard, Marina di Chioggia or Musquee de Provence would be good choices)

• 2 yellow onions

• fresh thyme

• dry Monterey Jack cheese (some Farmers Markets will have this)

• and if you’re in New Mexico you’ll be able to find pine nuts at the Farmers Market