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butternut orecchiette with arugula + fishing


I read a passage in a book about arugula recently. It wasn’t a food-focused/cooking book. It was a novel, actually. The narrator of the moment is enjoying a bowl of pasta after being welcomed into an old friends home with some abounding and uneasy circumstances. He enjoys a bit of the dish, goes into a second helping, and the process of flavour/societal recognition begins: “…it had olives and some sort of salad green in it. Yes, arugula: he was safely back in the bosom of the gentry.”

I had a tiny laugh. I also felt like a piece of shit. The implications of yuppie-dom glaring from the page. My mind went to the organic arugula on the top shelf of my own fridge.

I generally dismiss most artisanal/gourmet foods as frivolous kitchen fodder, things that take up space and generally come in tiny/way too festered packaging. Gourmet food shops are a source of annoyance for me, watching people examine and buy small-batch jams, grinders, artisanal waffle mixes and ceramic crocks of herbes de Provence–things no one needs, thought-to-be foodie merit badges, the like. I will clarify that my annoyance lies with the thought that these items are somehow necessary/worth the money; not the consumer as a human being. I like people, seriously, I do.

Despite the presence of some semi-unusual ingredients that I sometimes call for here (‘sup extra virgin coconut oil and smoked paprika!), I’ve always enjoyed more down-to-earth food on the whole: things that are good in nature, made better by a bit of salt and some ability in the kitchen. My grandmother has always liked arugula and bitter/peppery greens. This fondness has worked its way down to my tastes over time. So having grown up with it, it’s carried the connotation of home-y/grandmotherly food. Greens have been a humble and easy thing, there on the plate just when you need them with a sprinkle of chili flakes; not some upper class bullshit thing to feel shameful about.

There are different lives, different approaches to nourishment and the thoughts that surround. Our world is vast and complex with many extremes; this is certain with food also, a necessary across all walks.

Accessibility with food is more widely discussed from a socio-economical perspective–perhaps a lower income neighbourhood with poor fresh food accessibility will see higher rates of type 2 diabetes in teenagers for example. Knowledge and development of skills is a more sensibly approached facet of the accessibility issue to me. It is a pursuit that requires time, certainly, but the reward is so great. The “teach a person to fish…” route. That’s the amazing thing about the computer age: every bit of knowledge is there for the taking. From guides to starting tomato seedlings at home to practical advice on how to serve them once they come into full, gorgeous ripeness (a heavy sprinkle of salt, maybe a chopped herb, some kind of soft cheese and good, toasty bread–just sayin’), there is a resource available to anyone.

So I guess that’s why I’m here? In some teeny way, I’m trying to teach a few people how to fish. Which is to say that I’m trying to teach you how to make a delicious and easy pasta with some humble squash and the noble greens of today’s discussion. There’s toasty nuts, pecorino, garlic, thyme and my favourite pasta shape: orecchiette. It’s not always the most practical shape choice, but it translates to “little ear” and that is just too sweet to pass on for me. It all comes together pretty easily once the squash is roasted, which is exactly what I was aiming for. Shall we go fishing?

butternut orecchiette with arugula and pine nuts
serves: 4
notes: If you don’t have a blender/food processor for the sauce-pureeing step, just mash the squash and garlic up with a potato masher and the stock in the saute pan. Switch to a whisk to get it real smooth if you like.

sauce:
1 small butternut squash, halved lengthwise
1 tbsp grape seed oil
salt and pepper
handful of thyme sprigs (optional)
2 tbsp olive oil (or more grape seed or whatever you like)
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
2 sprigs of thyme, leaves removed and chopped
chili flakes (optional)
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1 cup vegetable stock

pasta:
2 cups dried orecchiette (or other small pasta)
1.5 cups cooked chickpeas
big handful (1/2 cup) grated pecorino, or parmeggiano or grana podano etc.
2 big handfuls of washed arugula
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Scatter the handful of thyme sprigs across the paper. Rub the halves of squash with the grapeseed oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and lay face down on the thyme sprigs. Place squash in the oven and roast until very tender, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool.

Once you can handle the squash, scoop the cooked flesh from the skins into a bowl, discarding the thyme sprigs. Set aside.

In a large soup pot, heat the remaining 2 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, thyme and chili flakes, stirring constantly until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the roasted squash and stir it all up, mashing the squash down into the sautéing aromatics. Add the lemon juice and the vegetable stock, stir until roughly combined and remove from the heat. Puree the squash and garlic mixture in a blender or food processor, adding more liquid if necessary.

Return the squash sauce to the soup pot over medium heat. Season with a fat pinch of salt and lots of pepper at this point.

Cook pasta according to package directions. Reserve 1/4 cup of cooking water before draining.

Once squash sauce is simmering, add cooked pasta, chickpeas, pecorino, arugula and pine nuts, reserving a bit of each for garnish if you like. Add some of the pasta water of you want to loosen the mixture up a bit. Serve hot.

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jaime @ sweet road02/11/2012 - 1:24 pm

I love how the shape of orecchiette holds thick sauces and chunky ingredients so well.

Eileen02/11/2012 - 2:09 pm

Butternut squash and arugula sound like a perfect combination for fall! This pasta looks so good–super warming and hearty, and yet full of vegetable goodness. :)

Adrienne02/11/2012 - 2:42 pm

I have to admit, I’m an orecchiette virgin, BUT I’ve been intrigued by it for some time. I’m a lover of everything else in this dish, so this confirms I must purchase soon :)

Veronica02/11/2012 - 5:52 pm

YUM…unfortunately i have everything BUT the arugula on me. any recommendations for other greens i can substitute it with?

Kris02/11/2012 - 7:28 pm

You’re speaking my language! I was just dreaming about making a pasta with a squash-based sauce. I’m so looking forward to making this. P.S Gorgeous photos btw.

Kasey02/11/2012 - 7:47 pm

Great post, lady! I sometimes find myself engrossed in shelves of pricey gourmet foods – it’s hard not to! But when it comes down to it, these things make up a very small arsenal of pantry items I actually use. Like you, I rely on a lot of what the good earth gives us, and a handful of go-to spices and oils (though, I find the array of spices, grains, oils, nuts, and sweeteners to be like my little collection of fashion jewelery…it can play things up and make flavors you wouldn’t otherwise expect). Either way, I think the most important thing when it comes to food is that it’s nutritious, minimally processed or not at all, and good for the environment.

sara02/11/2012 - 9:28 pm

we were on the same pasta page! This looks SO good. For hormonal reasons (TMI for a blog comment?) my appetite is kind of sky rocketing, and creamy pasta and pizza is what I am craving lately. Maybe it’s the chill that’s just creeping into so cal. I hope I don’t make a habit of it, but as a lady who typically eats giant salads, these warm dishes are so great! I can’t wait to try yours. Beautiful photos as well, my friend.

Ashlae02/11/2012 - 10:27 pm

Oh lady! This dish is so great. I’ve been craving pasta and other heavy foods a lot lately (uhh, totally unlike me), and I’ve got a butternut squash just begging to be used. (I type this as I’m devouring a giant ass salad – but an hour ago I was eating through a bag of sea salt sweet potato chips.)

Also, there are bearded men swimming on my bookshelf. And they keep asking me to join them. ;)

victoria03/11/2012 - 10:18 am

I agree with you about the importance of teaching people how to create good food that is good for you. I live in downtown KCMO, and many of the children and teenagers here suffer from obesity, diabetes, and being overdeveloped from hormones in their processed food. I’m glad there are community gardens and others who want to help low-income people learn to garden and create good food for themselves!

Kathryn03/11/2012 - 1:19 pm

This post really resonated with me Laura, it’s so easy to get caught up in trying to look trendy or cool and follow the latest food fad. At the end of the day though, I know that all I really want to eat is simple food. Simple ingredients, simply cooked. It’s all you really need. Love this pasta and I love how you do teach us all to fish.

Hannah04/11/2012 - 12:26 am

Laura – this is so good, the recipe and the thinking behind it. Winter squash is here – my favorite time of year – and this is a perfect way to use it. Can’t wait to try it.

What makes food “fancy” is a complicated question – where and how and when and why we purchase things is complicated too. I am a simple food lover, and we avoid all processed food, and I am always surprised when people perceive our farmer’s market habit as a food-snob one. I am glad that you are here, showing us all how accessible and satisfying simply preparing our food can be – not to be fancy, but to be real. Thank you.

Amy04/11/2012 - 12:35 pm

Oh wow, I just stubmled on your blog and I am loving it to pieces! Your recipes are exactly the type that I cook, but offer new inspiration and combinations such as this wonderful pasta dish that I will prepare tonight.

I love your analogy of teaching people to fish – it is so true! I also often find blogs a source of inspiration to keep cooking wonderful healthy meals when all around me people eat unhealthy and view cooking as a waste of time. So thank you!

Alexandria05/11/2012 - 10:17 pm

stumbled across this recipe on pinterest and tried it out this evening. so glad i did. it’s wonderful :) thank you! i’ll def be perusing your blog for more yummy recipes.

Table for one, please |06/11/2012 - 5:29 pm

[...] Thorisson. This week I’ve found a couple more and some wonderful recipes on them; The First Mess, with a fantastic roasted butternut and rocket orecciette, and Palate/Palette/Plate, with an [...]

Kelsey07/11/2012 - 4:39 pm

Keep teaching them to fish, my love. You’re doing such a great job. xo

Megan Gordon08/11/2012 - 3:43 am

Ahh! Beautiful post. And beautiful recipe. As a maker of artisan foods (I have a small granola co. called Marge), I actually hear you loud and clear! I get so tired of “handcrafted,” “artisan” and “small-batch” on everything that I’ve started to slowly rewrite our copy, so we’re not all becoming one big ol’ cliche. Thanks for the thoughtful post, as always. ~m

Kathryne09/11/2012 - 10:05 am

Good grief, Laura, these photos are phenomenal! This is precisely the kind of hot meal I’ve been craving lately. I didn’t grow up eating arugula, but I totally freaked out the first time I tasted locally grown arugula. So peppery and flavorful, I eat plain, undressed leaves like I’m eating potato chips. I am SO with you on accessibility and uppity ingredients. I refuse to use ingredients that are only available in fancy gourmet shops and get supremely annoyed by things like the word “foodie”, edible flowers as garnish on food blog plates (seems gimmicky) and overly priced, well-designed packages of preservative-laden pancake mix. C’mon!

Helen11/11/2012 - 1:41 am

Thank you so much for this fantastic post! I think that the groundswell of home cooking has unfortunately swayed towards the ridiculous – it’s now all about the most exotic, the most esoteric, the most ‘need to demonstrate that I am on the cutting edge of the food world’. It drives me bonkers! What happened to a decent tasty meal?? Keep restaurant food in restaurants – keep the idea of going out for a ‘special meal’ special. I love your recipes & love that your food is real… not to mention delicious! Many many thanks!

Links | hecavanagh.org14/11/2012 - 11:00 pm

[...] ∞ A couple of links on foodie and “conscious consumerism” grossness: abandoned city farm animals, a food journalist writes scathingly about foodie vanity, and then a slightly differing perspective on how good food shouldn’t be elitist in an information age. [...]

Brandon29/10/2013 - 5:57 am

Made this last night and my husband said it was the best thing I’ve ever made! He and our guests all LOVED it! Thank you so much for the fantastic recipe and the gorgeous photographs.

[…] Butternut Penne with Pistachio Pesto, Stuffed Portabellos with Herb Sauce, Butternut Orecchiette with Arugula, Stuffed Squash, Leek and Greens Tart with Cornmeal Crust, Vegan Lentil Shepherd’s Pie with […]

Elliott02/02/2014 - 4:14 pm

Thank you for speaking up a little about the yuppie-foodie thing and how gentrification affects all of the members of our community. With diabetes and other food related diseases on the rise just as much as the home cooking craze (and subsequent increase in price of all fresh foods), it is important to be aware of what’s going on around us and to figure out ways to make healthier food and healthier lifestyles more accessible. Currently, “being healthy” is only marketed as a lifestyle one can purchase – which attracts yuppies while pushing away those of us who are broke. Spreading the knowledge and wisdom of health as a way of life rather than an overpriced weedy green is a great way to reach out to our communities.

Will definitely be making this recipe by the way.

Chris22/03/2014 - 7:54 am

“Arugula” isn’t a yuppie food, if there really is such a thing. Some of what people dismiss superciliously as yuppie food here is what common folk ate in other lands. I grew up eating rucola – which is my Italian relatives called it – in Sudbury Ont. and all my distinctly non-yuppie Italian relatives grew it in their yards. We would mix it with various forms of radicchio. There’s a leaf form of radicchio that never appears in the farmers markets that has a buttery texture when harvested young and a slightly sweet, nutty flavour that balances the bitterness of the rucola. Most people only know the red fall-harvested radiccchio head lettuce.

[…] Butternut Pasta with Chard and Sausage Serves 4-6 Adapted from Sprouted Kitchen and The First Mess […]

Katherine17/10/2014 - 6:45 am

Made this last night, super tasty. I didn’t need all the stock, probably only 1/3 cup to get it to a nice thick ‘creamy’ consistency.

katherine17/10/2014 - 7:07 am

Meant to say I added a drizzle of balsamic to the rocket which worked really well and cut through the rich sauce.

elisabeth20/10/2014 - 12:02 pm

How much is one “small butternut” in grams, please? In austria i can only geht fairly large ones – they weight about 1,2 kilograms each.. Should i only use one half? I don’t want to produce soup ;)

Laura Wright21/10/2014 - 8:42 am

Hi ELizabeth. I think you’re aiming for a squash in the range of 550-700 grams :)
-L

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