Wednesday, October 17, 2007

An Orange Dinner

I started this blog mainly because I decided it was time to stop being a foodie who really doesn't know how to cook. Thanks to hours spent in front of The Food Network and a shelf filled with Jeffrey Steingarten, Amanda Hesser, Calvin Trillin, Mark Bittman, and six Best of Food Writing volumes, I can tell you how important it is to properly season your food and use quality unsalted butter and olive oil and shop locally and organically. I have snippets of tips and tricks knocking around my head and have been too chicken to really give it a go. You see, I don't much like attempting things I won't be super at from the get-go. Which is lame. And so unless Jeff has cooked one of his wonderful dinners, it's been takeout or dining out pretty much every night for my past four years in New York. Ugh, I'm such a cliché–"Oh, me I'm just a gal in the city! Nothing to see here but a jar of mustard and some wilted lettuce!" My years in Boston weren't much better—there were some pots of lentil stew my roommate Jamie and I mixed up and maybe a few sauteed chicken and veggie mishmashes, but those were few and far between. That's what Anna's Taqueria was for.

I think I truly won't be able to appreciate the nuances of food until I really know the finesse that goes into preparing it. I want to speak and write intelligently about dining, to be able to recognize the separate ingredients in the dishes I love so much. And ultimately (this I know will take a while), I want to stop being a slave to a written recipe. Is it possible for my timid soul to stop being afraid of making a mistake? Now, if a recipe calls for 1/3 cup grated cheese, you better believe I'm grating and measuring my parmesan to the exact top of the cup. Seasoned cooks would slap me if they had to cook with me. (I know I try Jeff's patience, and he's only seen me try a few times.) I want to learn to relax. And even further down the line, I want to feel comfortable enough to invent.

Tonight, I got inspired by the butternut squashes I've seen popping up in markets since the beginning of October. Even though that bite isn't quite in the air yet (and thank goodness; I want to wear flip flops and skirts forever and ever), those gourds are piling up, reminding us that it should be fall. I found this recipe on Epicurious and was daydreaming about it all day. Bright orange squash, like candy, slipping over and between thick flat noodles. And butter, glorious butter to bind it all together in a slippery-sweet sauce.

I overcooked the noodles a bit (grr–I couldn't find my favorite, pappardelle, so I had to settle for fettucine) and I made a hell of a mess, but it came out quite tasty. I added onions to the recipe, because some commenters thought the recipe was a tad bland. And it was a good idea! Score one for improvisation!

Dessert was our beloved Ciao Bella mango sorbet dotted with pearly pomegranate seeds. Check it out up there–isn't that just so pretty?

Pappardelle with Squash, Mushrooms, and Spinach


  • 12 ounces pappardelle or fettuccine pasta

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, divided

  • 3 cups 1/2-inch cubes butternut squash (from 1-pound squash)

  • 8 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms, stemmed, caps sliced

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage

  • 1 5- to 6-ounce package baby spinach

  • 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided

Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking liquid.

Meanwhile, melt 1/4 cup butter in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add squash and cook until almost tender, stirring often, about 6 minutes. Add mushrooms, sage, and remaining 1/4 cup butter; sauté until mushrooms are soft and squash is tender, about 8 minutes. Add spinach; stir until wilted, about 2 minutes. Stir in 1/2 cup cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Add pasta to sauce in skillet. Toss to coat, adding pasta cooking liquid by 1/4 cupfuls if dry. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup cheese.

No comments: