pasta inventiva

Toussaint (día de los Muertos, All Saints' day) is a holiday in France. So most everyone is off from work today, and as I write this post the Parisian streets, normally whistling with spinning tires, are quiet, night is falling. A celebration and remembrance of what has passed, left us, cycled on...

I've spent the day recreating a recipe a friend from Italy concocted—to the rave applause of a group of serious food-loving friends—and shared with me, describing its makings over coffee in a Parisian cafe some weeks ago. His recipe was fish based, and I told him I'd stir up a vegetable version of it. I'm quite pleased with the end results and thought I'd share it with you.

It does call for those large hollow tubes of a pasta, paccheri—the more artisanal the better. And his idea was to make a very concentrated broth and cook the pasta in a reduced amount, turning the cooking liquid into a lovely creamy sauce at the end and infusing the pasta with its richness.

The "baby" Tuscan kale and Swiss chard and beet greens... I lovingly harvested them from the little vegetable plot I'm lucky enough to be able to seed and tend to in the nearby community garden... So here's my autumn vegetable rendition "pasta inventiva." Hope the recipe is coherent. If not, don't hesitate...

 And here's hoping for a YES win on Prop 37 in CA !


broth :300 gr | 10.5 oz leeks thinly sliced (keep only the tender inner green tops)
300 gr | 10.5 oz carrots, very thinly sliced
150 gr |  5.5 oz red onion, peeled and quartered
100 gr | 3.5 oz celery thickly sliced (along with just a couple inner leaves)
1,2 kg | 2lbs7oz butternut squash, cut into large pieces (skin and seeds included)
2 large garlic cloves, peeled, cut in half, the sprout removed
45 gr | 1.5 oz kombu
2 fresh bay leaves
3 sprigs fresh thyme
5 sprigs flat parsley
Pinch peperoncini (red pepper flakes)
Tiny handful black peppercorns
Unrefined coarse sea salt

garnish :
200 gr | 7 oz paccheri pasta
8 1/2-inch thick slices of butternut squash
150 gr |  5.5 oz red onion, very thinly sliced lengthwise
20 - 25 smallish Tuscan kale leaves, (or a mixture of kale, Swiss chard, beet greens - the smaller the better)
4 generous sprigs fresh sage (baby leaves), cut off any tough stem but try to keep the sprig intact
Zest of 2 lemons (make sure to zest lightly so as to not get any of the white pith)
Generous pinch wild fennel seeds (optional)
Extra virgin olive oil
Unrefined seas salt and freshly ground pepper
Parmigiano Reggiano shavings

for the broth :
|||   Put the cut vegetables, garlic, bay leaves, thyme, parsley, peperoncini and peppercorns. Add enough water to just cover. (This should be a very rich broth, so not too much water). Bring the covered pot to a boil. Add the kombu and a generous pinch of coarse sea salt and cook uncovered just under a simmer for 30 - 45 minutes, until the vegetables are quite soft. Strain immediately, pressing the vegetables against the side of the strainer to recuperate all the liquid. Strain again through a fine-sieve strainer to remove any floating particles. Rinse your pan and return the broth.

note: Cooking at a higher heat, for over 1 hour will turn your broth bitter. On an un-wasteful note: You can pass the cooked stock vegetables through a food mill, add a bit of water or leftover broth, unrefined sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste, and heat in a saucepan. Served with a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and maybe a few shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano — it makes for a great quick soup.  

for the garnish :
||  Place the lemon zest in a small bowl and drizzle with olive oil to generously cover. Place in the oven for a minute to warm the oil then let infuse in a warm spot. Here is where you add the fennel seeds if using. Just before using season with sea salt to taste.

|||  Preheat the oven to 220 ˚C | 400 ˚C. Lightly brush both sides of the butternut slices with olive oil. Bake in a single layer in a thick baking dish on the middle rack for approx 20 - 30 minutes, until browning and giving yet a tiny bit of resistance when pierced with a knife. Immediately season with sea salt.
|||  In a separate baking dish, lightly toss the onion slices with olive oil. Arrange toward the center of the dish and bake in the oven until
nicely browned and turning crunchy, approx 15 minutes. Stir them from time to time and keep them away from the edges of the dish (the edges cook faster). Immediately season with sea salt.

|||   Cut off the very end of the kale ribs. If you can find no small kale leaves, cut larger ones in half or more and remove the tougher part of the rib. If using Swiss chard and beet leaves, cut off only the ends of the ribs and keep the rest if not tough, and if large cut in half, as well.

|||  10 minutes before the squash is cooked, bring the broth to a boil. Add a generous pinch of coarse sea salt and a few generous drizzles of olive oil. Add the pasta and toss to coat with the broth. Cover and cook until nicely al dente (check the cooking instructions on the package). It will seem like you're short on broth, not to worry though you do have to stir from time to time so the pasta does not stick to the bottom of the pan. At the end of the cooking time you should have a nice creamy sauce.

 |||  Just before the pasta is cooked, toss the greens and sage generously with water then cook covered in a large skillet over medium heat until just wilted, 2 - 3 minutes. Add a drizzle or two of water if needed. Immediately season with sea salt. Give a couple three generous drizzles of olive oil and a few squeezes of juice from one of your zested lemons.Gently toss.

||| Remove the paccheri, 6 or 7 at a time with a slotted spoon and place on each plate. To the side place a portion of the wilted greens and on top a couple slices of butternut. Top with the onion crisps. Drizzle a tablespoon or two of the lemon olive oil over the squash. Reduce the sauce over high heat for a quick minute if it seems a bit runny; it should be creamy. Generously drizzle the sauce over the paccheri. Garnish with a few shavings of Parmigiano. Give a couple twists of the pepper grinder to the plate and... bon appetit !

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