Creamy Koginut Squash + Sage Pasta

When choosing new seed varieties late last winter for the  upcoming growing season, I somehow convinced William I needed another type of winter squash to grow. He hates winter squash. But somehow, I won him over and then our late season garden became a sea of squash. I chose the Robin’s Koginut variety from Row7 Seeds. It’s a variety that has gotten a lot of press in the last few years, for chef Dan Barber of Blue Hill, who also wrote one of my favorite books, helped develop the variety in partnership with his local farmers and seed breeders. The result is a combination of a butternut and a kabocha squash variety, and I quite like it. But I also like nearly all winter squash.

Relatedly, over the course of the last few days, I’ve been taking a cooking class on using cooking techniques from Ayurveda. This means an emphasis on getting all six flavors in every dish, balancing the meal so that no flavor stands out over the rest, and that the end result is balancing to the body. One of the other tenets of Ayurveda is eating seasonally, i.e. what is in season, where you live.

One of the other person’s in the class asked about fruit, since I have virtually all types of fruit available to me where I live, she said. Our instructor reminded her that what’s at the store does not always represent what’s in season locally, as most well-stocked groceries carry fruit and other produce from all across the globe at all times. Unless a banana grows outside your door right now, it’s probably not in your best health interest to eat a banana, our instructor said, and advised the person to visit her farmers market instead.

I agree with my instructor wholeheartedly on a personal level. As many of you long-time readers know, I’m a big advocate of eating locally in season, getting to know your local farmers, supporting your community and economy, voting with your fork for sustainability and climate resilience, and of course, because what’s in season is often better for our health.

But for anyone that works with me with nutrition, I take a much more individualized approach. Not all of us come ready and able to make dietary changes that are so vastly different than what we’re currently doing. Not all of us live in a bounty of locally available all the time. Some of us need gentle guidance without judgement to get started where we are.

I have a book on healing with whole foods on my shelf that is nearly falling apart. When I first began really getting into holistic/integrative health, I read it from front to back, a little at a time, night after night. The pages are textbook size and there are nearly 800 of them. When I got done, I started reading again. Over years, yes years, I very slowly incorporated practices encouraged in the book. I tried meditation. I incorporated chlorella and spirulina (years before these would become more mainstream). I learned about types of oils and when and how to use different sweeteners. I learned about the effect of different foods on the body. It was an incredibly slow process and along the way, I slowly shed the way of eating that leaned heavier on the cheese, yogurt, ice cream, baked goods, convenience fast-food, and then all the “skinny” diet crap products, and more into trying new and then seasonal foods. Part of what really pushed me further was the second of three health crises, but I eventually figured out a way of eating that is intuitive and right for me. In the process it also helped heal the first, second, and third health crisis, the last of which I now believe to be both a reaction to a multi-year stint in a moldy apartment and emotionally related, leftover from the first.

This is all to say, for personal sustainability-sake, I don’t believe everyone needs to completely ditch their mainstream big-box grocery immediately and only shop at the farmers market from here on out. Or never again eat a banana. But I do think it can be life changing if you research a couple ways to seek local food where you live, and try a couple new in-season foods to start

If you come across the Koginut Squash, I encourage you to try it. Or if not, seek out a Butternut or Kabocha Squash instead. For learning about local farms and markets near you, try “Local Food Near Me” as a google search, or check out Local Farm Markets as a start. Or if you’re ready or in need of some extra food and nutrition guidance, please reach out to me for more personalized support.

Creamy Koginut Squash + Sage Pasta, serves about 4
1 medium koginut (or butternut) squash
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup water or vegetable broth (low/no sodium)
¼ cup nutritional yeast
1 Tbs. raw apple cider vinegar
1 Tbs. dried sage leaves, plus a few more to serve
salt and pepper to taste
12 oz. gluten-free pasta, preferably a bean/legume based pasta unless you’ll be adding chickpeas or other beans
3-4 medium handfuls dark leafy greens such as spinach or kale, optional

  • Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking pan with parchment paper.
  • Halve the squash and take out the seeds. Then put the two halves, cut side down on a baking pan, along with a couple splashes of water. Cook for 40-45 minutes until tender when pierced with a fork. Remove from the oven and let it cool slightly.
  • While the squash is cooking, heat a large pan over medium heat. Add the oil and the onions. Cook until soft, about 7-10 minutes. Add the minced garlic and cook for another minute. Remove from the heat and set aside.
  • In an upright blender, combine the squash, onions, and garlic, water or broth, nutritional yeast, vinegar, sage, and salt and pepper to taste. Blend on high speed until the ingredients become silky smooth. Transfer to a saucepan and keep warm over low heat until ready to use.
  • Cook the pasta according to the instructions on the box. Drain it, and then combine it with the sauce. If you’d like some extra greens, tossing in a couple handfuls of spinach or another soft leafy green (such as kale or swiss chard), is ideal at this time.
  • After you’ve dished up each serving, sprinkle with a couple pinches of minced sage over the top.

Early Summer Pasta with Creamy Walnut Basil Sauce

Early Summer Pasta with Creamy Walnut Basil Sauce

 

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This post was going to be about how I have the greenest green thumb and my peas won’t stop producing (my mom would be so proud) so I have to keep finding new ways to eat them that don’t involve stir-fry because I don’t often crave the flavors of Asian food. What is actually on my mind, however, is that I don’t do a lot in our garden. The peas basically grow themselves. I harvest and water, occasionally fertilize, smash bugs with glee and generally curse at them, but our outdoor space is more William’s domain.

Instead, I’ve been spending my time not showing up in key relationships, being “too busy” trying to cross everything off my to-do list, trying to get to work on time, complete grad school classes successfully, commute, run, maintain my blog, volunteer and stay active in community groups, and generally do everything I do to the highest standards I can aspire to, while accomplishing more things than are humanly (for me) possible.

 

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I sat at a table for a non-profit board I’m on last weekend and as we went around sharing what we were looking forward to this summer, my mind couldn’t think of a single thing other than getting to the end of the season so I could breathe and have some free time.

It became evident I needed to let things go. While I feel a lightened load from taking items off my plate, I’m also experiencing increased guilt at committing to projects and events and then not following through. I debated back and forth for hours, days, weeks about dropping a class and waited until the last day to finally admit I can’t find 15 more hours in each of my July weeks.

In the name of self-care, sanity and medium/long term health, I’ll be doing less this summer than I aspired to. I’ll be focusing on just being, breathing, enjoying the moment and experience and whatever these months bring more.

I’d rather not get to the beginning of September and wonder where summer went. So today, with my mile long list needing shredded, I’m going to go shell favas in the kitchen, prep an early summer vegetable hash, contemplate making a berry pie with the cache of boysens from Sunbow for William, and generally work on setting down my high standards for now because I get to give myself a break.

 

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Early Summer Pasta with Creamy Walnut Basil Sauce, serves 4

This pasta came about through my walnut experiments and out of needing to use what the little plot of land we care in south west Eugene is producing now. Feel free to use whatever vegetables you have. 

8 oz. pasta of choice

1/4 cup raw walnuts, soaked at least 4 hours and drained

2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

3/4  tsp. sea salt

1/8 tsp. ground black pepper

4 cloves garlic

a large handful of basil leaves

1 cup water

1/4 cup chickpea flour

1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes

1 Tbs. olive oil

1 bunch broccoli, diced into 2-inch pieces

1 medium zucchini, diced

1 medium onion, diced

a medium handful of snow peas, tops removed and cut into 1-inch pieces

minced basil, to serve

additional salt and pepper, to taste

  • Begin making the pasta. While the pasta is beginning to cook, bring together the sauce.
  • Place the soaked walnuts in a food processor or blender. Add the lemon juice, salt, pepper, garlic, and basil. Puree until semi-smooth and then set aside.
  • In a small saucepan, whisk together the flour and a small amount of the water until no clumps remain. Then whisk in the remaining water and turn the heat to medium. Whisk for about 5-7 minutes until the mixture resembles a nice thick pudding. Remove from heat and carefully pour it into the food processor with the basil-walnut mixture. Blend it up until completely smooth.
  • In the last minute of cooking the pasta, toss in the broccoli to quickly blanch it. Then, drain it along with the pasta and run under cool water while cooking the remaining vegetables.
  • In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium-high and then lightly sauté the onion, zucchini, and snow peas until nicely soft and golden, about 5-7 minutes. Into the sauté pan, pour the pasta and broccoli, sauce, and additional salt and pepper to taste.
  • Serve topped with a little extra basil for garnish.

Pomegranate, Kale + Pancetta Spaghetti

 
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“Go into yourself and see how deep the place is from which your life flows; at its source you will find the answer to the question of whether you must create. Accept that answer, just as it is given to you.”
                                                            – Letters to a Young Poet, Rainier Maria Rilke 
 
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The truth is, the beginning is blurry. When I squint back into the depths of my childhood, my thoughts were not long off of food. I would take cookbooks to bed at night, squinting into the flashlight-shadows, long after my sister had demanded I put our shared, bunk-bedded room into darkness. Looking back at the shy, quiet, anxious little person that I was then, I recall only that I felt most at home in the kitchen. I still do.
 
It began then, I think, with playdough. My mom mixed up homemade playdough. I remember seeing the recipe on a worn index card in her gray metal recipe box, a box that to this day holds her most cherished recipes. There were two recipes in that box that were beyond intriguing to my child-mind:  elephant ears and playdough. The first was something that I had never considered could be made outside of a hot, steamy, trailer-kitchen at the county fair. The second was the only non-food recipe that I’ve ever known my mom to have on hand. I must have asked her, and she mixed up a batch for us. I don’t remember much after beyond the whirl of the mixer blades, and the fact that my mom brought me into the kitchen, handed me the measuring cups, and taught me fractions.
 
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From that moment when I learned to turn on the mixer, to scoop flour into the measuring cups, to follow recipe instructions, up to now, nearly 20 years later, I’ve been most at home in any place surrounded by food. It fascinates me in its cultural symbolism, use as a socio-economic tool and weapon, as a draw to family gatherings and entire holiday celebrations, and, most importantly, in its most simple form as basic sustenance for the hunger in all of us.
 
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In those simple childhood days, those most-remembered foods symbolize the dearly loved and oft-hated. My favorites from that gray box included our neighbor’s recipe for honey-cinnamon swirl rolls,  my mom’s homemade bread, and leftover-oatmeal cookies with just the right amount of spice. There was my favorite breakfast, dad’s “stinkbug porridge”, which was a simple concoction of raisins and brown sugar. And then the fresh milk from our cow, Betsy, with flakes of cream floating amongst my morning cheerios. I had to plug my nose to get the milk down after staying an extra hour at the table gathering the resolve to drink it. Now looking back, I realize what a precious experience to have been raised in a place where our milk came right from the cow.
 
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In this new year and new beginning of sorts, I am reminded of how I am drawn to food as a means of communication and connection. I am reminded of the beginning, how I learned in the kitchen with my mom and the whirl of the blender blades that are still in her cupboard today. I am reminded that food is special, and that when I go into myself, as Rilke suggests, the only answer I come back with is, yes, I must create.
 
Though I can no longer enjoy thick slices of my mom’s bread, or partake in flecks of cream floating in the cow’s milk, I hold in my heart and in my cooking a focus on good, simple, nourishing food, in whatever way it can be most enjoyed. I am looking forward to this year to come, and the creations it will bring.
 
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Pomegranate, Kale & Pancetta Spaghetti, serves 3
Pomegranates have been often in our kitchen this winter, more than ever before. This creation happened spontaneously and naturally, out of ingredients we had on hand one evening. It will become a favorite, I’m thinking, in the many wintery days ahead. If you have not used pomegranate molasses, it can be found at a well-stocked grocery store, online, or you can make your own by reducing pomegranate juice in a sauce pan. Don’t leave it out in this dish; it will be missed.
 
6 oz. brown-rice spaghetti (or any type that you prefer)
4 oz. pancetta, diced
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large bunch kale, chopped (I prefer Tuscan but any type will do)
1/4 tsp. salt
3 Tbs. pomegranate molasses
1 Tbs. orange zest
seeds from one pomegranate
salt and black pepper, to taste
  • Cook the spaghetti according to package directions in a large pot. 
  • While pasta is cooking, heat a large sauté pan to medium-high. Add pancetta and cook until almost done. Add the onion and continue to sauté until transculent, about 8 minutes.
  • When onion is very soft, add kale and cook down until wilted, about 5 minutes.
  • Drain spaghetti when cooked, and mix it into the kale and onion mixture.  
  • Add salt, orange zest, and pomegranate molasses. Toss the pomegranate seeds on top and stir them in gently. Add additional salt and pepper to taste, and serve.