Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Oven-Baked Butternut Squash, Purple Kale, Crimini Mushrooms and White Beans with Nutmeg Béchamel Pasta Recipe

















I am on a three day break from my month-long tour and decided to take a side-trip to Brussels to spend some time with my old friend Cheryl. She and I have known each other for nearly eighteen years, danced together long ago with Merce Cunningham, and have only now reunited as colleagues for this Boris Charmatz dance project. She and her French husband now live with their adorable new baby in a charming and typical Belgian apartment, and yesterday, despite the bitter cold, we ventured out to the gilded and ornate Grand Place to take another look, and revisit memories of being in Brussels years ago, when we premiered Merce Cunningham’s Ocean at Le Cirque Royal.

Freezing in the Belgian cold, we cruised through the Christmas village where they were selling tartiflette Savoyarde (a decadent mixture of reblochon cheese and lardons and potatoes, mixed together in a massive cauldron and served in nearly every Christmas village I’ve visited while in France or near France), hot, mulled wine (also ubiquitous in Christmas villages in Europe, including Vienna, where we have just visited), Belgian waffles, or gaufres (in multiple flavors, and unique to Belgium, it seems), an array of sausages, and trinkets from the global market. Wanting to test out some Trappist beers, we ducked into a nearby brasserie to share a slightly bitter red Westmalle, a Rochefort 6, and, in honor of our ‘old times’ memories, a light Vieux Temps.

Reminiscing about ‘vieux temps’, we told stories of touring silliness, like when our friend Jared, who shared a boyish likeness to the Mannekin Pis, gracefully tumbled into the fountain, naked, tipsy, and peeing, while starring in a late-night video project by our friend Frédéric. We cried remembering when a colleague called the front desk and said, “Je ne suis pas le papier de toilette” (I am not toilet paper), when instead she wanted to say that she didn’t have any (avoir, not être), and we laughed about Cheryl’s predilection for stealing interesting glassware from several post-performance receptions, sometimes along with bottles of champagne meant for said glasses.

I am happy to be here, now, creating new memories with my good friend, Cheryl, and barring some strange and horrible circumstance, I am confident we will be sharing these memories in another eighteen years. Tonight, I will clink my Vieux Temps glass with hers and toast to us, and to all the old friends out there, friends so close they feel like family. Stolen glass or not, lucky us, lucky friends.

Oven-Baked Pasta with Butternut Squash, Purple Kale, Crimini Mushrooms, White Beans and Nutmeg Béchamel Recipe

Note: this recipe makes a massive amount of healthy, delicious and texturally varied food! I filled one large baking dish and another small one, so if that seems like too much for you, simply cut down on the amount of pasta and veggies.

Also, when I created this, I was in the mood for a creamy and rich pasta dish, but in my tasting, I found it equally delicious without the béchamel or cheese. If you’d like to make a vegan version of this, simply plate the dish after stirring all the vegetables together with the cooked pasta, and skip the baking in the oven step.

For those of you who want a little creamy heaven, don’t worry: this recipe is just creamy and rich enough to satisfy a craving, but there is relatively little cheese and milk and butter compared to healthy veggies, so go ahead and indulge.

For the pasta and vegetable mixture:

1 small butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1 to 1 1/2 inch square cubes (about three cups, but you can cut this down to two cups if you’d like to decrease the amount of food this recipe makes)
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon for coating the squash while roasting
1 medium onion, chopped
1 bunch of purple kale, stems chopped, and leaves roughly chopped
2 cups of crimini mushrooms, sliced
2 cloves of garlic, sliced thinly
1 14 ounce can of Great Northern Beans (or you can use fresh beans, if you’d like to make your own)
1 14 ounce can of diced tomatoes
1 pound of whole grain (I used whole wheat) pasta shells, fusilli or penne
salt and pepper, to taste

For the béchamel:

2 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons of flour
2 cups of milk
about 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, or a touch more, depending on your taste
salt, to taste

For the topping:

1/4 cup grated parmigiano reggiano
1/4 cup grated mozzarella

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, Fahrenheit.

Put the cut-up pieces of butternut squash into a roasting pan, coat with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and a little salt. Roast, turning them a couple times during cooking, until fork tender, about 30 - 40 minutes. Remove from the oven.

Turn the oven temperature down to 375 degrees F, once the squash has cooked.

For the pasta: put a large pot of salted water on the stove to boil, and when the water is boiling, add the pasta, and cook until al dente.

For the vegetables: Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a large pot, add the onion and the kale stems, and cook until the onions are translucent and the kale stems have softened. Stir in the mushrooms, and cook until soft. Add the kale leaves, and cook until wilted. Stir in the garlic, the beans, and the tomatoes, and bring everything to a low simmer. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Cover, while you make the béchamel.

For the béchamel: in a medium saucepan, and over medium to medium-high heat, melt the butter. When the butter has melted, add the flour, whisking constantly, until the flour turns golden brown, about a few minutes. Slowly whisk in the milk, making sure to smooth out any lumps that form. Keep whisking at a simmer (lower the heat if the milk begins to boil), until a thickish sauce begins to form. Add salt and nutmeg.

Combine the cooked vegetables with the roasted squash and the pasta. Put this mixture into one baking dish (or two, depending on how much you have made) and pour the béchamel sauce evenly over everything.

Sprinkle the grated cheese over the top of the pasta, cover with foil, and bake in the oven for 20-30 minutes or so. Uncover the baking pans, and bake a bit more, until the cheese has melted and turned golden brown.

Similar Recipes from A Hungry Bear Won't Dance:
Pasta with Ground Beef, Parsley, Garlic Yogurt, and Paprika Butter (Piç Mantı), Conchiglie (Pasta Shells) with Gorgonzola and Garden Orache (or Radicchio) Recipe, Creamy, Thyme Scented Fusilli with Purple Asparagus, Green Peas, and Bacon

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