During these cool autumn days that are a harbinger of the winter months to come I begin to crave the comfort foods of my childhood, My thoughts turn to soup suppers, stews, beans and, most importantly, pasta! Since my mother was of Italian descent pastas played a large part in our diet. Mom rarely used recipes, and then only for dishes that were new to her. Her family had been in the restaurant business in Palermo, Sicily and upon coming to America they continued to do what they did best. Food and cooking was in their blood. In fact, when my cousin Joe DiMaggio retired from baseball, he turned to the restaurant business in partnership with two of his brothers. My father’s family was orginally from the Azores, an achipelago 1000 miles west of Portugal in the Atlantic. Their diet was centered around hearty dishes that fueled them for the arduous life of farmers and dairymen. Mom managed to synthesize these two cuisines to produce a hybrid that reflected the robust character of the Portuguese and the refinement of the Italian.
When harvest time came and there were thirty to forty extra mouths to feed she undauntingly prepared wonderful meals that kept us fit and content. On Saturdays the Italian women in our area would gather at different farms to prepare pasta for the coming week. Since I had contracted theumatic fever at an early age I spent much time in the kitchen and was the only child to attend these pasta marathons. There were no machines. All the pasta was kneaded and rolled out by women whose arms would make our governor Arnold Schwarzenegger weep with envy!
The real treat was lunch on pasta making day. While the noodles dried on clotheslines in the summer, or indoors on wooden clothes drying racks in the winter, we supped on the fruits of our labors. Each hostess always prepared a sublime sauce that complemented the pasta, incorporating seasonal vegetables and/or leftovers. That is the real secret of Italian cooking. Leftovers were always planned for, and often the second time around surpassed the original presentation in flavor and complexity.
The following is a recipe that we enjoy and hope you will too!
Penne with Pumpkin Sauce
-serves two generously-
I use either leftover chicken meat or chopped Polish sausage, (kielbasa) for this recipe. If using the sausage, saute it with the onion. Otherwise add the cooked chicken along with the pumpkin and cream. Canned pumpkin is fine, but either roasted fresh pumpkin puree or butternut squash is also excellent in this dish. If you choose to use roasted pumpkin puree I’ve including the directions for preparation and roasting:
1 medium white onion, chopped
1/2 large red bell pepper, finely diced
3 large garlic cloves, finely minced
6 oz chopped Polish sausage OR 6 oz chopped left-over chicken,bones and skin removed
While you are prepping the vegetables place a large pot of water over high heat, for the pasta, bringing it to a boil. Add salt (2 tablespoons), returning the water to a boil in preparation for the addition of the pasta. In the meantime, heat a 12-inch saute pan over moderate heat and melt:
3 T unsalted sweet butter
When the butter is melted add the chopped onion, minced bell pepper and minced garlic. If using sausage, add now. Saute the onion mixture until it is translucent. Stir in:
1/2 C pumpkin puree (see above note)
1 C chicken broth (preferably low sodium)
2 tsp poultry seasoning
1/2 C heavy cream
freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
salt and ground white pepper, to taste
Note: If you are using chicken, add it now!
6 oz penne or penne rigate
At this point drop the pasta into the boiling salted water. While the pasta is cooking reduce the sauce until thickened, stirring frequently (8 – 10 minutes).
Drain the pasta, which should, at this point, be al dente, reserving approximately 1 cup of pasta cooking water. Divide the pasta evenly between the warmed bowls. If you find that your sauce has thickened too much dilute with some of the reserved pasta water, stirring until desired consistency has been reached. Nap the pasta with the sauce and garnish with:
3 T freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
2 tsp minced fresh parsley
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
Feast with both your eyes and your palate… Bon Appetit!
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
I small pumpkin (I chose a Cannonball variety)
extra virgin olive oil
Cut the pumpkin in half lengthwise, removing the seeds and trimming the ends:
Place on a baking sheet and drizzle with several turns of the extra virgin olive oil. Using a brush, coat the surfaces well with the oil and roast until done, approximately 1 hour:
When done, the flesh will be knife tender. Allow to cool to the touch. Remove the flesh from the skin with a spoon, placing the flesh in a food processor. Process until smooth and creamy. Yield will be approximately 2 cups of puree. Reserve remaining puree for use in a steamed pudding, pumpkin yeast rolls… or another meal of this exquisite dish!
Chef’s Note: Pumpkin can be roasted cut side up or cut side down. If you roast it cut side up the flesh will be a bit drier than if it is roasted cut side down. Squash or pumpkin roasted cut side down will produce a wonderful caramelized sweetness from the golden flesh browned in the roasting pan. Add any caramelized bits to your food processor when ready to puree! Pumpkin or squash roasted cut side up will be delicious as well and will reach a wonderful consistency quite nicely with the addition of a splash or two of chicken stock.
Copyright 2009 Via Aurea Designs, Inc., All Rights Reserved