There are a few simple farmer philosophies. Principles by which we run our life. One of the most important of which is, “Waste not, want not”. A lot of my approach to food revolves around this idea that you should make every effort to use what you have. And that means bringing some creativity to what you find in your refrigerator.
I always encouraged my CSA members to shift their thinking from “What do I want for dinner tonight?” to “What can I do with what I have available to me?” When I’m making a meal, I see what I have, what’s fresh at the market, then decide what to do with what I find.
Food that grows together, often goes together. I can’t explain it, but think tomatoes and basil, asparagus and green peas, potatoes and cabbage. So it makes a lot of sense to eat seasonally, not just because it has a lower impact on the environment (though it does), but because you may find some inspiration and a better flavor profile that trying to mix-and-match across the seasons.
One of these fine pairings is winter squash, onions and sage. Enter: one of my favorite fall recipes. Well, this is a re-invention of it – Pumpkin & Sage Pasta. It’s the best kind of mac and cheese I make. Typically I whip everything up in a single sauce and toss it into some rigatoni or penne or something, but this week I took a slightly different approach. With 3/4 of a box of 8 year old lasagna noodles, half a head of cauliflower, some whole milk ricotta, three small chunks of different cheese, half a leek, and 2/3 cup of pumpkin left over from pumpkin bread made the day before. My lovely mother had given me a small sage plant for a housewarming gift which I knew I could raid since the weather would ruin it any day… so pumpkin noodle rolls with sage and caramelized onion with cheezy sauce it was!
|cobbled together whatever I could find, including pumpkin, cheese, sage, leeks, ricotta cheese, and a cocktail (not pictured)|
Okay, first things first. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Boil up the noodles (lasagna noodles work well, cannelloni or manicotti would be fine, too) and cauliflower (my kids will eat cauliflower so we usually have some handy. Use broccoli if you have that, or you can skip the added veg all together). Keep them both al dente because they will cook further in the oven. You’ll want them to keep their shape for the putting together of this dish. For me that was 12 minutes on the pasta, 6 on the cauliflower.
While the pasta is cooking, you’ll want to caramelize your onions for the filling and sauce. I had about a cup of chopped leeks and about a cup of chopped onions. That is what I had on hand, if you only have leeks, or only have onions, use that. Heat 4 tablespoons of olive oil in a large frying pan. Add the onions and leeks, plus a generous pinch of salt, and another pinch of sugar. Turn down the heat to low and let them simmer away in there for about 15-20 minutes. Try not to stir too much or you won’t get much of a caramelization. Not the end of the world, but it is a really nice addition to this dish.
Rinse the pasta and veggies (if using) with cold water when they’re done cooking to cool them down. Don’t worry if the edges are a little haggard. I found this box of noodles in my husband’s old kitchen box when we moved. The “best by” date was Jan 2003. The ruffles fell off and the edges were kind of fringy, but they tasted and functioned just fine.
When your onions are done browning up, scoop about half of them out to use in the sauce – don’t forget to do this. To the remaining onions, add the pumpkin (at least 1/2 cup, not more than 3/4 cup), ricotta cheese (at least 2 cups, not more than 4 cups), sage (2-3 Tbsp, cut into slivers), 1 tsp salt, and 1/2 cup of grated Parmesan cheese if you have it. Mix it all up and get ready to fill your noodles.
|Lightly grease a 9×13 pan.|
|Standard lasagna noodles are too long. Using scissors cut each noodle in half cross-wise.|
|Spoon about 1/4 cup of pumpkin-y, cheesy yummy sauce onto one end.|
|Gently roll them up, and place in the pan.|
|I got 16 little bundles in my pan, then spread the cauliflower over the top.|
Now to make the bechamel sauce for the top! In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt 1/4 cup (4 Tbsp) of butter. To that, add 1/4 cup of all-purpose flour and stir/whisk constantly for about 5 minutes.
When the smell is so divine that you want to lick the pan, whisk in 3 cups of milk. Keep stirring and in about 5 minutes, the sauce will thicken up. At that point, add about 2 cups of shredded cheese. I used a combination of sharp white cheddar, goat gouda, and manchego. Once the cheese is melted, add in the onions you set aside and any leftover pumpkin filling (waste not, want not, remember??). Once mixed in, taste it. Add salt and pepper if it needs it (usually does). I also added 1/4 tsp of cayenne pepper to this version for fun. You could add mustard if you prefer… It should have a lot of flavor, because the noodles will be a little bland.
When it tastes perfect, pour it over the noodles and cauliflower. Enlist some help if you need it 😉 Sprinkle with a handful of shredded cheese and a dash of paprika, then pop it in the oven.
|35 minutes in the oven and this bubbly, gooey, pumpkin deliciousness is ready to serve!|
12 lasagna noodles
2 cups cauliflower flourets
1 cup chopped onion/leek, caramelized(sauce)
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups milk
1 cup chopped onion/leek, caramelized
2 1/2 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground lack (or white, if you have it) pepper
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
paprika for decoration