Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Gifts that Keep on Giving

It’s so exciting in the height of the harvest season when you pile up your winter squash and dream of how well-stocked you’ll be for nutritious, high WFQ* meals in the dark days when there will be little or nothing that is fresh and locally produced.

You make and freeze bags of Roasted Winter Squash Puree with an old fashioned sense of preserving the bounty and “putting up” for the winter. You’re thrilled by the Christmas gift of a chest freezer from your parents that just fits in your apartment but makes this all so much easier.

At least I do all these things. And in the last week of January, I finally admit that I’m getting a little (just a little) tired of eating squash. This recipe, however, is one of our favorites. It’s just some flavored-up squash puree poured over hot pasta and topped with a blue cheese sauce.

I was probably pretty skeptical when I saw the combination of sweet squash and blue cheese in a recipe, but I have since become quite converted. The sharpness of the cheese cuts through the sweetness of the squash, which can be downright cloying, let’s admit it here and now. While these two flavors go well together, neither is hidden in this dish (the way I try to hide beets in other dishes), so if you don’t like squash or you don’t like blue cheese, you probably won’t like this dish. Save your spaghetti for another sauce.

I like sage with squash, so used it here, but you could use other herbs if you like. I also have been known to add a pinch of crushed red pepper to the squash for some extra kick. Adding a little white wine or broth to the squash as it heats up, then cooking until it is pretty much evaporated adds some nice flavor as well. I happened to be without either of those this time, and the dish was just fine.

There are a few parts to this recipe, but you can give each your undivided attention. Just keep whatever you’ve finished warm until it’s time to put everything together. I’ve made this recipe enough times to be quite familiar with it and I tend to play dueling burners, getting everything done without much incident.

Well, my new little freezer is going to keep gifting me with squash puree for a little while yet, so next time you see me, don’t be surprised if I appear a little more orange than you remembered.

Pasta with Squash Puree and Blue Cheese Sauce Recipe
This makes two fairly large servings. I believe it could be doubled fairly easily if you wish to serve more.

6 ounces dry spaghetti or other pasta of your choice

For the Squash Topping
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ cup finely chopped onion
½ teaspoon salt, divided
2 garlic cloves, minced
2-3 minced fresh or crumbled dry sage leaves
1 cup Roasted Winter Squash Puree or canned or frozen squash puree
2 tablespoons dry white wine or broth (optional)

For the Blue Cheese Sauce
1 tablespoon butter
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
½ cup milk
¼ teaspoon salt
pinch black pepper
2 heaping tablespoons crumbled blue cheese

fresh herbs for garnish (optional)

1. Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente (just a bit firm to the bite). Drain and keep warm.

2. To prepare the squash: heat the olive oil in a medium-size skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and ¼ teaspoon salt. Cook until the onion is tender and just beginning to brown, about 8-10 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the 2 minced garlic cloves and sage and cook 1 minute, stirring frequently.

3. Add the squash puree and wine or broth if using. Mix thoroughly with the ingredients in the pan and cook until heated through and any liquid had mostly evaporated. Keep warm.

4. To prepare the blue cheese sauce: melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add the 1 minced garlic clove and cook about 30 seconds. Add the flour and whisk to blend it well with the butter without any lumps. Cook for about 1 minute, whisking frequently.

5. Gradually whisk in the milk. Cook, stirring frequently, over medium-low heat until the sauce begins to boil. Boil and stir about 1 minute, or until the sauce thickens. Remove from the heat and stir in the ¼ teaspoon salt, pepper and crumbled blue cheese. Keep warm.

6. To serve: place half the pasta on each of two plates. Spoon half the squash mixture over the pasta. Top with half the blue cheese sauce. Garnish with chopped fresh herbs, such as parsley, sage or chives if desired.

Makes 2-3 main dish servings. Could also make 4-6 side dish servings.

*WFQ = Whole Food Quotient

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