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Homemade Pasta with a Butternut Squash Cream Sauce

Chicago, I’ve gotta tell you: you’re not looking good these days. Whatever this is, this post-winter, pre-spring thing, is not working for you. It’s brown on top of brown on top of brown. The snow has melted away and all that’s left is dead grass, dead bushes, dead leaves. The geese are back, but they’re brown. The el platforms, the particular color of Chicago brick, the dirty freeway cement, even the pond on campus–brown.

Exhibit A:

So, I’m waiting eagerly for spring. And I even miss winter a little. And I’m sick. I know, I know, I’m a big gripefest over here.

What’s better to soothe the inner griper than carbs? I had a carbfest on Saturday and made fresh pasta, an onion-apple tart, and homemade bread. All with the help of the lovely Maggie. She studies medieval Italian lit, so I knew, even though a novice, she’d have pasta-making in her bones.

My first attempt at fresh pasta a few weeks ago was a complete failure, but this time we pulled it off beautifully. We made reams and reams of the stuff and topped it off with a butternut squash cream sauce.

Took more time than just boiling a package of pastasciutta, but man was it worth it.

Pasta Fresca
from The Art of Simple Food by Alice Waters

2 c. flour
2 eggs
2 egg yolks
probably: water
definitely: a pasta machine

Add the flour to a large bowl and create a well in the middle. Add the eggs and yolks to the well. With a fork, scramble the eggs with the flour until you have an even consistency. We also added maybe 1/2 a c. of water to the mix because it started out much too dry. Use your discretion. What you want to achieve is a dough that holds itself together but is not too sticky.

Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest for an hour.

Divide the dough in half and feed it through the lowest setting on your pasta maker. Once you feed it through, you will have a long, flat rectangle. Fold it in thirds and feed it through again on the low setting.

Set the maker to the next lowest setting and repeat these steps until you have reached the desired consistency (pretty thin, but not so much so that it falls apart). Switch attachments to the tagliatelle setting and send the dough through to cut it into pasta. Lay flat and let rest.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta for 3 to 6 minutes, until it floats to the top and is cooked through.

Butternut Squash Cream Sauce

olive oil
4 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 large butternut squash, peeled and diced into chunks
salt and pepper
nutmeg
1/2 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1 c. cashews, finely chopped (unsalted)
3–4 sprigs of thyme
1 c. heavy cream
1/4 c. Parmesan cheese, finely grated

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Arrange the butternut squash on a cookie sheet and drizzle with olive oil until covered. Sprinkle salt, pepper, and nutmeg, and toss to coat. Bake until tender, about 35 minutes.

Heat a large pan over medium and add oil. Saute onions and garlic until translucent, about 4 minutes, then add the cashews and saute a few minutes more, being careful that they don’t burn. Add the roasted squash, the thyme, and the cream and bring it to a boil, then lower to simmer. Stir in the cheese and simmer for a few minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Panini Press Files: Spicy Labor(less) Day Sandwich

Lessons learned yesterday:

1. Sandwiches are infinitely better when you call them panini and squish them between two hotplates.
2. It is impossible not to buy cheese from the cute cheese vendor at the farmers’ market.
3. Always listen to a lady who insists you buy these certain wonderful cucumbers. Any lady who cares that much about you or about cucumbers won’t steer you wrong.
4. Horseradish cheese and jalapeno jelly are a win-win combo.

The morning’s weather in Chicago was perfect yesterday. Breezy and sunny and mild. It was a lovely morning to walk around the farmers’ market, even though summer is clearly on its way out. The peppers and the eggplant were nearly past their prime. There were more apples than anything, and even a small batch of winter squash.

I came home and cobbled together this sandwich, er, panino. I have more elaborate recipes to share with you, but it’s Labor Day weekend, and I’m sure that you are as little interested in laboring this weekend as I, even if cooking is among the more pleasurable labors known to man (or, me). So, here’s an ode to feeding yourself creatively, deliciously, and laborlessly on this holiday. Everything but the avocado in this concoction is a farmers’ market item: wheat bread, horseradish cheddar, cucumber, and a fantastic sweet jalapeno jelly that I bought at a farmers’ market in Oakland a few weeks ago. It’s kind of like ketchup doing kung fu. You could use Mae Ploy sweet chili sauce as a substitute.

Spicy Labor(less) Day Sandwich
2 slices wheat bread
1/2 avocado
salt and pepper
6-8 thin slices of cucumber
1 slice horseradish cheddar
1 tsp. jalapeno jelly
optional: sliced peperoncini

Preaheat your panini press and brush some olive oil on it. If you don’t have one, preheat a cast iron skillet over medium with some butter, as you would for a grilled cheese.

Spread the jelly on one side of the bread and smoosh the avocado into a layer on the other side. You’ll want a nice ripe one in order to do this. Sprinkle a bit of salt and pepper over the avocado. Add the sliced cheese and slices of cucumber, and peperoncini if using. Close the sandwich and pop in the panini press or pan. Grill until the cheese is melted and both sides of the bread are a nice golden brown color.

Serve warm. Then do no more labor for the day. Except maybe for dinner.

Lemon Shallot Vinaigrette

Here is the lemon-shallot vinaigrette recipe from Melissa via Real Simple. It was a really bright and light dressing for the salad we made, which consisted of wild arugula, radishes, and sugar snap peas, aka farmer’s market manna. Note that the shallots are of the Ambition varietal! How could we pass them up? Even the honey in our incarnation of this recipe came from the market.

Lemon-Shallot Vinaigrette

1/4 c. olive oil
1/4 c. fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons honey
1 shallot, finely chopped
kosher salt and black pepper

1. In a small bowl or jar, whisk or shake together the oil, lemon juice, honey, shallot, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper.