Creamy Butternut Squash Pasta with Chicken

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Well, we’re in the midst of the winter doldrums now. The holidays are in our rearview mirror. The last of the cookies have been eaten, the cork put back in the champagne bottle (for now, anyway.) There’s not a whole lot to look forward to this time of year. It’s dark when I leave the house in the morning and it’s dark when I arrive home in the evening. Oh, and I’ve spent the past two weeks battling the most brutal cold that will. not. leave. The one redeeming quality of this time of year is that it is the perfect occasion for cozy, hearty meals. So, how about some creamy, decadent comfort food to warm our bellies and our souls?

creamy-butternut-squash-pasta-with-chickenThis creamy butternut squash pasta is a real treat. Butternut squash is roasted with shallots and sage until sweet and fragrant. While the squash roasts, boil some water and cook your pasta of choice. I chose rigatoni so that there would be plenty of nooks and crannies for the delightfully sweet and savory sauce to hide. The squash and aromatics are pureed until smooth with rich, creamy mascarpone cheese and some starchy pasta cooking water. Toss the sauce with the pasta and parmesan cheese and this is a divine winter meal. I served it with thinly sliced chicken, to make a full meal. However, this would also make a stellar side to roast beef or pork. Or skip the protein and dive headfirst into a luscious, creamy bowl of carbs and take advantage of the other redeeming quality of winter- bathing suit season is far away 🙂 Enjoy!

creamy-butternut-squash-pasta-with-chicken

Creamy Butternut Squash Pasta with Chicken

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium butternut squash (1.5-2lbs), peeled, seeded and cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 2 shallots, quartered
  • 2 Tbsp chopped fresh sage, plus more for garnish
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup mascarpone cheese
  • 1 lb pasta (I used rigatoni)
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese
  • 2 chicken breasts, grilled and thinly sliced (optional)

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 450. Toss squash, shallots and sage in bowl. Drizzle with olive oil, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper and mix to coat. Spread ingredients into single layer on rimmed baking sheet. Roast 20-25 minutes,until squash is tender.

While squash is roasting, bring a pot of water to a boil and cook pasta to al dente according to package directions. Reserve 1 cup of starchy pasta water before draining pasta. Set pasta aside.

Transfer squash, shallots and sage into bowl of food processor. Puree until smooth. Add mascarpone and 1/2 cup reserved pasta water and puree again until well combined. Add additional water as necessary to ensure consistency of sauce will coat pasta easily.

Combine pasta and sauce in the pasta pot. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste. Stir in parmesan cheese. Transfer to serving bowl and garnish with fresh sage. Serve with grilled chicken, if desired.

Serves 4

Grandma Pisani’s Pasta Fagioli

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My grandma’s recipe for pasta fagioli departs from the typical soup version of the dish. Instead this is a hearty pasta dish, quick and economical enough to make on a weeknight when the pantry is bare. Grandma’s pasta fagioli is the definition of comfort food: warm, delicious and packed with love and happy memories. 

My love for cooking started in my Grandma Pisani’s kitchen. She has a tiny stool that says “Happiness is Retirement”, or something to that effect. When I was a little girl, Grandma would pull the stool up to the counter and patiently walk me through the steps of her recipes. She started with the  quick and simple ones, keeping in mind my small hands and attention span. Scrambled eggs, or “eggies”, as we called them, were an early favorite. As the years progressed, we moved on to grilled cheese and pan fried sausages, to cookies and Christmas kolachi. Grandma let me taste each ingredient, so I knew the difference between butter and oleo (margarine), between provolone and cheddar. The dishes we made were never complicated or fancy but were always delicious and full of her boundless love. They are the recipes I turn to when I’m feeling blue, homesick or under the weather. On a dreary Sunday afternoon, nothing makes me happier than making a big batch of meatballs and sauce, Grandma-style. The savory aroma and divine taste evaporate all of the years and miles and place me right back in Grandma’s kitchen, where nothing very wrong could ever happen and all problems could be cured with a cookie, a cup of tea and a hug.

Fortunately, not all of Grandma’s greatest hits are weekend-only affairs. This pasta fagioli is a perfect example. Lightning quick and made entirely of pantry staples, this is a busy weeknight’s saving grace. The entire dish is done in the time it takes the water to boil and pasta to cook. Chopping a little garlic is the extent of the culinary skill needed to pull this one off. Saute the garlic in some olive oil flavored with a pinch of red pepper flakes and Italian seasoning. Add some tomato sauce and red beans (red because my Dad and uncles used to pick the beans out- lunatics!- so Grandma used red beans to make this task easy for them) and simmer while the pasta finishes. Reserve some pasta water, drain pasta and toss in the sauce. Add pasta water as needed to loosen the sauce so it coats the pasta. Season with salt and pepper, sprinkle on some shredded Parmesan and dinner is on the table. This is humble, good food, perfect to warm bellies and souls as the cold months approach.

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Grandma with all of her grandchildren ❤

As is typical for a family recipe, there are a million stories and memories associated with this pasta fagioli. When my parents started dating, my dad brought my mom to dinner at Grandma’s house unannounced one evening. It was the first time my mom was meeting my dad’s family and Grandma was less than thrilled with her lack of notice. She had made this pasta fagioli and homemade pizza(!) and was embarrassed at the modest dinner she had prepared. Of course, my mom was floored by the delicious home cooked meal she was served and has raved about the pasta fagioli ever since. Which just goes to show, simple can be best and Grandma knows what she’s doing. Love you, Grandma!!!

grandma-pisanis-pasta-fagioli

Grandma Pisani’s Pasta Fagioli

This pasta fagioli is a hearty and economical pasta dish. The sauce just lightly coats the pasta. If you prefer a more saucy pasta, you may increase the amount of tomato sauce in the recipe by 1.5 to 2x the amount called for. 

Ingredients:

  • 3 cups ditalini pasta
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 cloves chopped garlic
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp Italian seasoning
  • 1 15 oz. can tomato sauce
  • 1 15 oz. can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
  • salt and pepper

Instructions:

Bring large pot of water to a boil. Season water generously with salt. Add pasta and cook until al dente, about 8 minutes.

While pasta is cooking, heat olive oil over medium heat in large skillet or saucepan. Add garlic and cook about 30 seconds. Add red pepper flakes and Italian seasoning and cook another 30 seconds. Reduce heat to medium-low and add tomato sauce and kidney beans. Season sauce with salt and pepper. Simmer sauce gently until pasta is done.

Once pasta is done, reserve 1 cup of pasta water and then drain pasta. Add pasta to sauce and toss to coat. Add reserved pasta water as necessary to ensure sauce evenly coats pasta. Taste and season again with salt and pepper. Top with Parmesan cheese and serve.

Serves 4-6.

Tortellini Rosa

Tortellini Rosa 1Well, hello from the other side of Labor Day weekend! I hope you were able to have some fun and relax. Are you all hot-dogged and hamburgered out? Summer is, unofficially at least, over and we’re back to school, schedules and busy weeknights. Quick and easy recipes are a necessity. This time of year, if you don’t have a plan for dinner, you’re looking at PB&J or Cheerios. Luckily you do not need a lot of time or energy to get this tasty and satisfying Tortellini Rosa on the table. Getting back into the swing of things can be a real drag, so cheese and carbs are here to help.

This dish is inspired by a former favorite at a neighborhood restaurant that’s since been taken off the menu. Fortunately it is easy to recreate and I think my version is even better than the original (though I may be biased.) Cheesy tortellini are combined with 1/2 cup each of Italian pantry staples: black olives, artichokes and roasted red peppers. Pancetta adds meaty richness and blue cheese adds a decadent tang. Add spinach for some healthy greens. Everything is mixed into a slightly spicy and super easy creamy tomato sauce. I use a full teaspoon of red pepper flakes. Between the cream and the cheesy tortellini, there is plenty of richness in the dish to balance it out. If you’re heat shy, you can scale back to 1/2 a teaspoon. Dinner will be on the table within 30 minutes and you’ll only have a skillet and stockpot to clean up afterwards. So you can move on to whatever else your evening has in store, whether it be soccer practice of a Netflix binge. I’ll cross my fingers that it’s the latter.

Tortellini Rosa 2

Tortellini Rosa

Ingredients:

  • 12 oz dried tortellini (I used Barilla Collezione Cheese and Spinach Tortellini)
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 oz pancetta, diced
  • 1 small yellow onion, diced
  • 1 garlic clove, smashed and roughly chopped
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup artichoke hearts, chopped
  • 1/2 cup roasted red peppers, chopped
  • 1/2 cup black olives, chopped
  • 2 cups spinach, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
  • 1/4 cup basil, chopped
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Instructions:

In large stock pot, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Once boiling, salt the water and add tortellini. Cook tortellini 2 minutes short of cooking time on package. Drain.

While tortellini is cooking, prepare the sauce. Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium high heat. When oil shimmers, add pancetta and cook until crisp. Remove pancetta from skillet and pour fat from skillet, reserving 1 1/2 tablespoons.

Return skillet to heat and add reserved fat. Add onion and cook 2-3 minutes, until translucent. Add red pepper flakes and garlic and cook 3o seconds, until fragrant. Add wine to skillet and reduce for about 2 minutes. Add tomatoes and water to skillet and cook until sauce has thickened, about 3-4 minutes. Add artichokes, roasted red peppers, olives and spinach. Cook until spinach has wilted, about 2 minutes.

Add tortellini to skillet once it is ready. Cook tortellini in the sauce for about 2 minutes. Turn off the heat and add  heavy cream, stirring to combine. Add pancetta and blue cheese to skillet. Taste for seasoning, add salt and pepper to your preference. Sprinkle basil over skillet and serve.

Serves 4

Olive Bar Pasta Salad

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My grandpa was a quiet man of simple tastes with a heart of gold. He was content to let my grandma, our family’s social butterfly and current queen bee at her assisted living home, do all the talking. During family gatherings, he would sit in the midst of the chaos created by his large family and calmly observe, the eye at the center of the Pisani storm. He noticed things about us that we didn’t realize. We would later hear from my grandma what he thought of a new haircut or boyfriend. He loved to be the center of attention, though he would never seek the spotlight. When he turned 90, all five of his sons gathered from across the country to celebrate. I remember as we sat at his 90th birthday dinner, how the happiness and pride he felt at being celebrated by his family shone through his smile. As was his way, he didn’t need to put it into words.

When it came to food and drink, Grandpa knew what he liked. Peanut brittle, red meat and his daily chili dog and beer from his club. The free lollipops from the bank that I’m pretty sure were meant for little kids. Like any true Italian, he loved his wine. At family dinners, a wine bottle somehow always came to rest near his spot. If my grandma caught him lifting the bottle to go in for a refill, he would defend himself by saying “I’m just reading the label!” Sure…me too, Grandpa, me too. He also loved olives from the olive bar at the grocery store. Any time we went to visit, my dad would bring a container of olives for Grandpa to enjoy. I’m pretty sure this Olive Bar Pasta Salad recipe would be a hit with him.

This pasta salad is a perfect summer potluck dish. You can pick up everything you need from the olive bar at the grocery store, meaning it comes together in a flash. Briny olives, creamy mozzarella and whatever other goodies you choose. I added artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, marinated mushrooms and roasted red peppers. I also added in a diced cucumber for its’ crisp texture and freshness.The dressing is an update on the typical mayo-heavy pasta salad dressing, brightened up with white balsamic vinegar. And the end result? Divine. I’ve been sneaking bites of it every time I go into the fridge.

I’ll enjoy my next helping with a glass of wine to toast my grandpa.Then I’ll “read the label” and go back for more.IMG_6124 (1)

Olive Bar Pasta Salad

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb dried pasta (I used Girelle– Farfalle, Orchiette or Rotini would also work well)
  • 3.5-4 cups assorted olives, tomatoes, artichokes, peppers, etc. from grocery store olive bar
  • 8 oz. mini fresh mozzarella balls (you can also use the mozzarella in the olive bar)
  • 1 large cucumber, seeded and coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 c. chopped basil leaves
  • White Balsamic Pasta Salad Dressing:
    • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
    • 1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
    • 2 Tbsp mayonaise (I used light)
    • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
    • 4 roasted garlic cloves- from olive bar
    • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
    • 1/4 tsp oregano
    • 2 tsp honey
    • black pepper, to taste

Instructions:

Cook pasta in boiling water, 1-2 minutes longer than package directions. Pasta should not be al dente. Drain pasta and rinse under cold running water until cool.

While pasta is cooking, chop olive bar ingredients. If mozzarella balls are on the large side, cut them in half. Place olive bar ingredients, cheese and chopped cucumber in large bowl.

In small bowl, whisk dressing ingredients together until smooth.

When pasta is cool, add to large bowl with olive bar ingredients, cheese and cucumber. Toss with dressing until well incorporated. Add chopped basil. Chill at least 2-3 hours before serving.

Serves 8-10 as a side.

To serve as a main course, you could add chickpeas, grilled chicken or grilled shrimp.

Diane and Grandpa

Love you, Grandpa.