Orecchiette with Greens and Beans

One of the things I’ve enjoyed the most about motherhood so far is introducing our daughter to new foods. It’s been so much fun watching her take a tentative bite, have an initial look of shock or horror, suck on her thumb for comfort while she pieces it out whether she likes the taste or not, then signalling that she’s willing to give it another try by popping her little mouth open. We soon know whether it’s met her approval when she smiles broadly and leans forward, eager for another bite. So far, the only thing that she has flat-out, consistently refused is cauliflower, and being a recent but still wary cauliflower convert myself, I can’t blame her.

Being foodies ourselves, I hope that we can continue to cultivate her palate, but I know that in all likelihood, this openness to eating green, leafy vegetables and trying new things is sadly unlikely to last. In the meantime though, I’ve had fun experimenting with some of the techniques and suggestions from What Chefs Feed Their Kids, a cookbook with ideas for meals that both parents and kids at all stages can enjoy together. This dish is inspired by that book’s Wild Greens Puree, a delicious mess of wilted kale, collard greens, spinach, basil and parsley. Our daughter runs hot and cold for that puree, although lately, she eats it more consistently when blended with a white bean dip. On the days when she refuses it, John and I don’t mind, scooping it up with tortilla chips while sipping some pre-dinner martinis as we complete her bedtime routine. Yeah, it’s just that good.

Recently, I found myself with a bunch of leftover greens and an extra can of white beans in our cupboard after we made some purees for her meals. The cookbook suggests thinning the greens puree into a soup for the adults, but I liked the idea of making a heartier meal and using the greens and beans in a pasta dish with some crumbled sausage. The one issue was that I felt like just mixing sautéed greens into the pasta would mean stringy, difficult to eat pieces of vegetables, so I decided to cook down my mix of green vegetables, then puree them into a slick sauce to coat the pasta. I browned some crumbled, spicy Italian sausage then sautéed some shallots and garlic in the rendered fat. I then piled on the green vegetables– kale, mustard greens, and spinach. Once wilted, I added the mix to a blender with a splash of chicken stock and pureed it until I had a bright green sauce. This went back into the pan with the sausage, some cannellini beans, and the pasta, then mixed to coat. A sprinkle of fresh basil added some brightness. This was delicious, and I love the fact that we were eating a combination that our daughter loves to eat too. Next attempt on this front: pureed, roasted eggplant for her; baba ganoush for us!

  • 1 lb dried orecchiette pasta
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 lb bulk Italian sausage (sweet or hot)
  • 2 large shallots, halved and sliced
  • 3 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 bunch each: kale, spinach, and mustard greens, leaves removed from stems and roughly chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup chicken stock
  • 15oz can cannellini beans, drained
  • 1/4 cup torn basil leaves

Cook pasta about 2 minutes shy of package directions in a large pot of boiling, salted water. Reserve about 1 cup of pasta cooking water when ready to drain.

While water for pasta comes to a boil, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add sausage and cook until browned and caramelized, about 7-8 minutes. Remove sausage from pan, leaving rendered fat behind. Add the shallots, garlic, and red pepper flakes and saute until shallots are softened, about 2-3 minutes. Add the chopped mixed greens in 1/3 batches, wilting down one batch before adding another. Season with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. When the leaves have all cooked down, add all the contents of the pan to a blender with the chicken stock and puree until greens are finely chopped and you have a smooth sauce. You might add some of the pasta cooking water to achieve your desired consistency. Adjust seasoning to taste. Add the pasta, the cooked sausage, drained beans, and the puree to the pasta cooking pot and mix until combined. Add more reserved pasta cooking water if mixture gets too dry. Spoon onto plates and garnish with torn basil. Serve with grated cheese if you wish.

Makes 6-8 servings.


Roasted Chicken & Sausage

An almost weekly meal in this household is a roasted chicken. What can I say? I like how this is a meal that is easy to plan, cooks in one pan, feels kind of elegant, and most importantly, generates 2.5 quarts of chicken stock to keep in my freezer until I’m ready to make a soup. Only (1st world) problem? It’s starting to feel like falling into a rut.

So how to vary the routine? Instead of roasting a whole chicken, I decided to roast some chicken thighs with links of Italian sausage on a bed of potatoes.

I took some chicken thighs and some halved sausage links, browned the outsides in a hot skillet of olive oil then set them in a roasting pan with potatoes that had been tossed with garlic cloves, fresh thyme, rosemary, and lemon zest. This was then left to roast in the oven and in around 30 minutes later, we had juicy pieces of meat and crispy browned potatoes, heady with flavor from cooking in the chicken and sausage fat. A squeeze of lemon juice added more lemony flavor as well as acidic brightness that brought out the woodsyness of the fresh herbs. Faster than roasting a whole chicken and just the slight change-up that was needed in this routine.

Note: I totally blanked on this but had intended to roast sections of fennel bulb along with the potatoes. Give this a try as I think the fennel would be delicious with the Italian sausage and would provide a nice, refreshing anise flavor to pair with the lemon. And FYI, for roasting a whole chicken, lately I’m in love with the simplicity and thoroughness of the Thomas Keller method for roasting a chicken with root vegetables.

  • 1 lb bone-in chicken thighs
  • 1 lb hot Italian sausage links, halved
  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil
  • 4-5 medium Yukon gold potatoes, cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 4-5 smashed garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon each fresh thyme and rosemary leaves, chopped
  • zest and juice of 1 lemon

Add about 2 tablespoons of olive oil to a large skillet and set over medium high heat. Sprinkle both sides of each chicken thigh with salt and pepper, about 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper total. When oil ripples, add the chicken thighs skin side down and the sausage halves. Leave the chicken thighs undisturbed to let the skin brown, but monitor the sausage halves, moving them around so the casing browns on all sides. It should take about 5-6 minutes total to brown the chicken thighs.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. While meat is browning, toss the potatoes, garlic cloves, about 1 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of pepper, and half of the herbs and zest in a roasting pan with about 1 to 1.5 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the chicken thighs and sausage and sprinkle all of the pan’s contents with the remaining herbs and zest. Roast for about 30-35 minutes or until chicken temperature is 175 degrees F and potatoes are browned. Remove from oven, and squeeze lemon juice over all of the pan’s contents. Plate family style by putting potatoes on serving platter and topping with chicken thighs and sausage.

Pumpkin Sausage Rigatoni

Each year, our CSA gives us at least one sugar pumpkin. The pumpkin usually arrives around late October but since it’s really more pie than Jack-O-Lantern material, I usually end up letting the pumpkin sit on the window sill while saying a silent, daily prayer that the pumpkin holds out until Thanksgiving. This year, I had double the worry since our storage share (tons of onions, potatoes, shallots, garlic, and squash to keep in the shed to last you for the winter while our CSA is not in session) gave us second cute little pumpkin. Luckily, they both made it.

So being the food nerd that I am, I was super excited that this year, I could make a pumpkin pie with homemade, not canned, pumpkin puree. It seemed daunting at first when staring down the pumpkins, but seriously– this was so much easier than dealing with pre-T-Day grocery store crowds. I threw the hulled out pumpkin halves in a roasting pan, and let them bake while I knitted and watched t.v. A quick blitz of the pumpkin flesh in the food processor was all it took. The deep orange color and smooth texture looked exactly like the canned stuff only it tasted more pumpkiny and was therefore infinitely better.

The two pumpkins yielded about 4 maybe 4.5 cups of puree of which I only needed half for my Thanksgiving pie. So what to do with the rest? My thoughts went to a pasta dish I once saw made on a cooking show a long time ago. I had just moved to Cleveland, fresh out of grad school. At the time, I had a budding interest in cooking but had a graduate student budget, so the most I would do was manipulations of prepared, cheap foods. On television, I saw a local chef make a sauce from pumpkin puree, sausage and tons of Romano cheese. I remember being fascinated by the idea that pumpkin could be used in something savory and was determined to try it for myself. I loved how the sauce was ripe with heat from garlic and tons of red pepper flakes but that there was an underlying sweetness from the pumpkin. It was the first time that I had made something with so many contrasting flavors and textures that magically work together. A food nerd was born.

I wanted to revisit that dish here. I amped up the complexity of the spices by adding a hint of cinnamon and nutmeg which played very well with the red pepper flakes, a kind of shimmering heat of flavors in the background of this sauce. I also added some fennel seeds to bring out the flavors of the Italian sausage more. Lastly, a splash of cream made the sauce both lovely to look at as it transformed the pumpkin orange into a buttery yellow, and it also made the sauce velvety smooth, coating each piece of rigatoni, ensuring maximum flavor with every bite.

  • 2 small sugar pumpkins*
  • 1 lb dried rigatoni pasta, cooked according to package directions
  • olive oil
  • 13 oz hot Italian sausage
  • 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp dried red pepper flakes
  • pinch of cinnamon, about 1/8 tsp
  • 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1/4-1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

*You can substitute a 14.5 oz can of pumpkin puree for the fresh pumpkin. Just skip over the steps for making the puree, duh.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Split the pumpkins in half and clean out the seeds and stringy bits. Set the halves cut side up in a roasting pan that has been lightly oiled and cover tightly with aluminum foil. Roast for about 1.5 hours or until soft and tender. Scrape out the insides of the pumpkin shells, including adding the liquid released while roasting into a food processor. Puree until smooth. You’ll use 2 cups of the puree and can save the rest for a pie or maybe more pasta in an air tight container.

In a large skillet, heat about 1 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Turn the heat up to medium high and add the sausage using a wooden spoon to break it up and crumble the pieces. Let cook for a few minutes without disturbing to caramelize the meat. When the sausage is browned, add in the garlic, red pepper flakes, fennel, cinnamon and nutmeg. Reduce the heat back down to medium and stir in the pumpkin puree. Slowly stir in the chicken stock, adding it to thin out the puree into a sauce, the consistency of which is to your liking. Add the cream and cook for a couple minutes more, allowing the sauce to thicken slightly. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Mix in the cooked rigatoni then plate with tons of cheese and parsley.

CSA Count: 3

Sugar pumpkins, onion, garlic