Pasta with Creamy Pumpkin Sauce

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Halloween is over. Thanksgiving is over. Those pumpkin decorations need to come down and get eaten! Here’s a nice, simple sauce: creamy and rich but still light (and vegan). Roasted squash keeps in the refrigerator for a week or so and in the freezer for a good couple of months. I usually roast, cool, peel, and scoop pumpkin flesh into Tupperware to save for a variety of uses: make sauce right away, freeze some squash for soups, or mash it in place of mashed potatoes.

Make this sauce all through winter, you won’t get sick of it! This recipe is flexible- add a little of this or that and make it your own. The dash of coconut milk makes this extra creamy with just a wee bit of coconuty goodness.

Pasta with Creamy Pumpkin Sauce
4 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil + more for garnish
10-12 sage leaves
1 small onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
3/4 cup almond milk
1/4 +2 Tablespoons coconut milk
2-3 cups roasted pumpkin (kabocha, sugar pumpkin, red kury, pink lady or other meaty pumpkin squash)
salt and pepper to taste
14-16 oz your favorite brand of pasta*

In a wide skillet, heat 1 Tablespoon of the oil and add whole sage leaves. Lightly fry them (about 30 seconds on each side over medium heat)- they should just start to turn color and stiffen up but before they turn black. Remove leaves and set aside.

Using the same skillet, saute the chopped onion and carrot in 2 Tablespoons of the oil until soft and translucent. Add the pumpkin and stir until hot. Whisk in the almond milk and the coconut milk, partially cover and simmer over low heat.

While the sauce is simmering, prepare a large pot of boiling water. Chop the fried sage, reserving a couple of pieces for garnish if desired, and add to the simmering sauce. Taste for salt and pepper.

When your pasta is ready, strain and reserve 1 cup of the pasta water. Depending on the type of squash you used, the sauce may be a bit thick or thin. If it’s thin, remove the cover and continue to simmer for a few more minutes. Otherwise, toss pasta with the sauce and slowly add a bit of the reserved water until you’ve reached the desired consistency. Garnish with the sage leaves, drizzle of olive oil, and a bit of salt.

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Apple Almond Cake

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I love this cake. Love it so much that I’ve made a version of it almost every week for the past month. Plus after having not written here for months and months I wanted to be sure to post something perfectly amazing.

Earlier this week, I got home at 4:30pm and had a total of 40 minutes to whip something up to bring to dinner with my oldest friend at her grandmother’s house. Gaga, as she is called, used to serve us tea sandwiches and strawberry milk; she had a drawer full of cookies we could raid at any time of day; and she dressed elegantly with dainty shoes.

I did not want to arrive empty-handed and it seemed only fitting to bring a delicate cake to go along with whatever delightful treats she pulled out for us (plus I had a total of 40 minutes). The cake was a lovely addition. The kids and grown-ups enjoyed it equally. And Gaga still dresses elegantly and has a drawer full of cookies.

This recipe is adapted from Alice Medrich’s Almond Butter Cake from Flavor Flours. Of course, this recipe is wonderful as is and I’ve created just a few variations to fit various occasions. Here’s the quick and easy apple cake version.

Apple Almond Cake
1 cup white rice flour (160 grams)
1/2 + 2 Tablespoons cup almond flour (70 grams)
scant 1 cup (180 grams) sugar
1 stick (115 grams) earth balance butter, room temperature
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup plain yogurt*
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1-2 apples, peeled and cored

Butter a 9-inch round or square cake pan. Preheat the oven to 350. Beat together the flours, sugar, and butter on medium speed. Add the baking powder and soda, yogurt, eggs, and extracts and beat until smooth, at least 1-2 minutes. While the mixer is going, slice the apples into quarters and then evenly and thinly slice each quarter, keeping the quarters together.

Pour the dough into the prepared pan and even out with a spatula. Gently fan out each quarter of sliced apples (in any design) and press lightly into the batter**. The last few versions I have made of this, I used only one apple and spread them out a bit more. Bake for 25-30 minutes. A toothpick will come out with crumbs.

*I use green valley organics lactose free yogurt.
**If you use more apples (like in the photo above), it’ll need more time in the oven. After 25-30 minutes (and the cake is golden), cover with tinfoil and bake an additional 8-10 minutes.

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One-Pot Carbonara with Kale

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I was recently given the golden gift of a bunch of kale. Golden because it is unbelievably difficult to find in San Sebastian. I now have two other sources for kale – a fact I was unaware of as I savored each leaf and deliberated over what to make. The conversation in my Spanish class the day I received my gift revolved around what one could do with kale: the look on my Turkish colleague’s face when I showed her this carbonara made my decision easy on what to finally post. Yes, my first cooking post since moving to Spain 5 months ago. Oops.

I am on a budget here and share a kitchen with 5 other individuals. That makes for SOME very simple and inexpensive cooking. One of my go-to favorites here is a basic carbonara. There are a variety of ways to make this pasta but the key is the raw egg mixed into the hot pasta. The farm eggs here are amazing and plentiful. While the ham here is the best, I made this vegetarian version to take advantage of the kale.

I promise this is simple and delicious. Double or triple recipe to make enough for everyone.

One-Pot Carbonara with Kale serves 2
200 grams Spaghetti (half package)
1 egg yolk + 1 whole egg, beaten together in a small bowl
1 small clove garlic, chopped
a few large kale leaves (about 100 grams), tough stems removed, leaves torn into small pieces
3 Tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
parmesan to taste
zest of 1 lemon (optional)
chili flakes (optional)

Cook your favorite pasta in plenty of salted water.

While pasta is cooking, prepare your garlic, kale and eggs.

Strain pasta and RESERVE about 1/2 cup of the pasta water. In the same pot, add 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and put over low flame. Add the garlic immediately and stir to keep it from getting brown (the pot is still hot and will cook quicker than you may realize). Add chili flakes if using.

After a minute or so of stirring the garlic, add the kale. Sauté for just a minute until it appears soft. Add the pasta back into the pot and stir to keep from sticking to the bottom. Add the other tablespoon of oil if needed. Add 1-2 tablespoons of the reserved water. Turn the heat off.

While mixing with a fork, add the eggs and stir constantly until you have a rich creamy sauce. Add more of the reserved water if you want it creamier. Add salt and plenty of fresh pepper to taste (and the zest if you are using it). Add parmesan to each individual bowl of pasta.

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Gluten Free in Spain… Walking the Camino

I’ve been in Spain now just about 5 or 6 weeks and so far so good though. Looking up gluten free in Spain yielded a few results but I knew from earlier experiences that Spain can be pretty easy when it comes to eating gluten free, naturally. Breakfast is tough, snacks are tough. But what else is new? There have been many changes since last I was in the country. When I ask, “is there flour in that?” most waiters immediately know to say “no, no hay gluten”. Yep, everyone seems to know what gluten is. Great, for the most part.

While hiking the Camino de Santiago, I quickly learned I needed my own snacks. Every guide and every individual will say not to pack your own food on the camino, if you have Celiacs, don’t listen. Luckily, plenty of places in the cities and often even in the towns, have a few options. Every few days I bought a bag of cookies. The pharmacies, para-pharmacies, and the “natural” and “herbal” stores always have options. The problem is that you don’t want to walk with much and you don’t know when you’ll have access to a toaster or utensils- so cookies and crackers are usually the way to go.

I quickly learned which cookies or crackers were my favorite and least sweet (coming soon) and because I need to eat something in the morning, I’d eat a few before hitting the road. And these aren’t gourmet and delicious, they are regular old gf processed cookies from a bag, so while tasty, not exactly good for me. Once on the road, I’d keep my eyes peeled for a tortilla (usually de patate). Almost every small town we walked through had a coffee shop with a tortilla and a cup of coffee with my name on it. I’d walk for anywhere between 1-3 hours and then stop for breakfast. Once breakfast was out of the way, the rest was easy (usually). For anyone reading this as a guide, make sure you request “sin pan” when you FIRST order your tortilla. If you don’t, they will bring you the tortilla on bread or on the same plate. This system worked out fine for me since I liked the morning alone and while most folks were eating sandwiches or pastries in the morning, I was already walking and then taking a leisurely breakfast break.

Walking the camino involved a lot of towns with “menus del dia” or menu of the day for a set price. It was usually a 3 course meal with a bottle of wine included for incredibly cheap. There was pretty much always an option for the gluten intolerant and usually a server who had an idea of what that means. Several places even had an *ask about our gluten free menu. The first small town I went through with a sign saying “gluten free pasta” made me so happy that I got a bowl even though I was barely hungry. After that, I quickly realized that many places along the camino cater to just such ailments. And no extra charge, by the way, for ordering the gluten free version.

I will say that having cookies or crackers in my bag at all times saved me on a number of occasions. When you’re walking and walking and suddenly incredibly hungry but everything is closed for siesta and the easiest thing to do is buy a baguette or a pastry along the way, it’s a pretty good idea to have an emergency stash in your bag. Just never too much at once- every ounce on your back counts!

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Pistachio Torte with Limoncello-Soaked Strawberries

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I ran into a friend of mine at the grocery store and the conversation steered towards pistachios and how difficult they can be to find raw, shelled, and organic. I bake with a lot of different nut flours but for some reason pistachios are not often in my rotation- perhaps that’s why. The next time I saw them at the store, I bought a pound or two and made this torte, ice cream, and added them to a variety of breads and chocolates as well.

This recipe is based on a Sicilian dessert I saw in Southern Italian Desserts on my mother’s desk a long while back. I’d been wanting to make it for some time and the pistachio conversation brought it all back.

While this torte can stand on its own, it also reminded me of the bottle of Limoncello my parents had brought back for me from Italy. I’d been saving it for a rainy day and what better occasion than the creation of a perfect pistachio torte?

Pistachio Torte
adapted from Southern Italian Desserts
225 grams raw, shelled pistachios
1/4 teaspoon salt
zest of 1 lemon
6 large eggs, separated
125 grams sugar

Preheat the oven to 325 and position a rack in the lower third of the oven. Grease a 9-inch springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.

Blend the pistachios and salt in a food processor until almost fine. A few larger pieces are okay. Pulse in the zest.

In a large bowl using a handheld mixer (or standup if you have one) beat the egg whites until they hold soft peaks. Add 75 grams of the sugar and beat until stiff.

In a second smaller bowl, beat the egg yolks and 50 grams of sugar until yolks turn slightly pale. Fold the yolk mixture into the whites. When blended, fold the pistachios in as well, a third at a time.

Pour mixture into the springform pan and bake for 30-35 minutes. A toothpick should come out with some crumb but not wet. Let cool completely before cutting. Sprinkle powdered sugar over if desired.

Limoncello-Soaked Strawberries
1 pint (or more) fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered
3 Tablespoons (or more) limoncello
2 Tablespoons sugar

Combine the ingredients in a bowl, stir, cover, and let sit for at least an hour. Spoon the juices over the strawberries at least once and again before serving.

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Pasta with Swiss Chard, Beet Greens, and Pecorino

While in Los Angeles with family this spring my sister brought over leftovers from a catering gig. She had deliciously chopped and stewed greens to put with aioli on baguette slices. I couldn’t stop dipping my crackers into the aioli and topping it with the greens. While I normally steer clear of chard there was a tiny kick to her dish and with the smooth garlicky aioli it just worked so well.

After my return to Austin, I was given a bunch of Swiss Chard and Beet Greens. Instead of immediately giving them to someone else or to my compost, I decided I’d see if I could create something I would like too. I brought back several bags of my favorite pasta, La Fabbrica della Pasta Senza Glutine from the Italian Import Store, Guidi Marcello. This pasta is far and away one of my top three pasta options (even if I have to leave room in my suitcase just for a trip to Guidi Marcello). Because this doesn’t have a “sauce” it’s extra important to use a gf pasta that you like the taste of since it will not be masked by heavy flavors.

Pennone Rigato with Greens and Pecorino

2 garlic cloves
2-3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 bunch of greens, chopped finely
chili flakes to taste
salt and pepper
*1/2 cup Pecorino Romano or more

Approximately 12 ounces pasta

In a small saucepan, bring a cup of water to boil. Add the garlic and boil for just 1 minute to take out some of the sharpness. Remove, let cool and chop.

In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add the onion and a pinch of salt. Sautee over low-medium heat until translucent. Add another tablespoon of olive oil then the garlic and greens. Stir occasionally until the greens are coated. While the greens are cooking, put the pasta on to cook.

When the greens are wilted, add a pinch of chili flakes and salt and pepper to taste.

Strain the pasta and reserve some of the starchy pasta water. Toss the pasta with the greens and add more olive and 1 tablespoon at a time of the reserved water to create a creamy consistency. Add some of the pecorino and the rest should be added to each individual bowl.

If you have access to goat or sheep ricotta, add a scoop to the pasta for an extra rich flavor.

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Lamb and Beef Meatballs with Lemon

This past spring I was on a meatball mission. Since they so frequently have breadcrumbs I rarely get to them out at restaurants. I made a dozen variations and finally settled on this as the all-around favorite inspired by Jerusalemjerusalem. These have a Middle Eastern flair with the herbs and lemon and can be served with rice, vegetables, or just in the juices in which they are cooked. These are amazingly simple and naturally gluten and dairy free.

Lamb and Beef Meatballs with Lemon
makes about 24 meatballs
3-5 Tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 pound ground lamb
1/2 pound ground beef (not too lean)
5 green onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 egg, beaten
1 Tablespoon mint, chopped
1 Tablespoon cilantro, chopped
1 teaspoon cumin
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
pepper
1/2 cup chicken broth
1 cup dry white wine
2 bay leaves
2 lemons and zest
extra mint and cilantro for garnish

In a large bowl, combine the meats, 3 of the green onions, garlic, egg, mint and cilantro, cumin, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and a hefty couple of turns of the pepper mill. Mix well with your hands. Form the mixture into 2-inch in diameter meatballs (roughly the size of a golf ball).

In a large skillet (with a lid), heat 1 Tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add as many of the meatballs as will fit comfortably without touching. Sear for about 2 minutes on 2 sides. Remove the meatballs and set aside. Do this in as many batches as it takes to sear all the meatballs, remembering to add a tablespoon of oil before each batch.

In the same skillet, heat 1 Tablespoon of the olive oil and scrape up all of the brown bits from the meatballs, leaving them in the pan. Add the remaining 2 green onions, broth, wine, bay leaves, 1 Tablespoon of lemon juice and bring to a boil. Keep the liquid at a low boil for 4-5 minutes.

To the skillet, add the meatballs, another tablespoon of lemon juice, and a pinch of salt and pepper. The liquid should cover about 1/4-1/2 of the meatballs. Cover and simmer gently for about 8-10 minutes. Turn the meatballs and spoon the juices over them and partially cover for another 5-8 minutes. The liquid should get a little thicker but not dry- make sure there is always enough liquid to spoon over the meatballs. If it starts to dry, add another 1-2 Tablespoons of broth or water.

Let the meatballs sit in the broth until ready to serve. Sprinkle additional herbs and lemon zest for garnish. Taste for salt and pepper if needed.

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