In a perfect world I would eat pasta every single day. Seriously, I just cannot get enough of it. During the dark days when I was on a no-carb, no-sugar, no-fat diet, the first thing I did when it ended was have a huge bowl of pasta with plenty of butter and a ton of cheese and black pepper.
While I think enjoying anything in moderation is okay, pasta is something that’s hard for me to not eat excessively. It’s just so good! As a result, I’ve tried to prepare it in healthier ways (i.e., less cheese, more veggies) and, you guys, I think I’ve come up with one of my favorite ways of eating it: butternut squash carbonara.
Anyone that has had carbonara knows how sinfully and richly delicious it is. The traditional method involves tossing hot pasta with pancetta or bacon fat, bacon bits, egg, and cheese to create a luxurious and decadent sauce. While this version still has fat and cheese (bacon and parm…. but in moderation!), the use of whole wheat pasta, butternut squash, and spinach makes it a healthier alternative.
Butternut Squash and Spinach Carbonara
Adapted from Bon Appetit, serves 6
- 4 oz. thick cut bacon or pancetta, diced
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage
- 1 2-lb. butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut into ½” pieces
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
- 1 lb whole wheat pasta (fettucine, linguine, or spaghetti)
- 2-3 cups fresh, baby spinach
- 1/4 cup finely grated parmessan, plus more for serving
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat, add pancetta, reduce heat to medium, and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp, 8–10 minutes. Add sage and continue to cook for a minute or so more. Using a slotted spoon, remove from pan and set aside, blotting bacon and sage with paper towels to remove excess grease.
Remove the majority of bacon grease (leave a few teaspoons), add squash and onion to skillet; lightly season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent, 8–10 minutes (add garlic the final minute or so of cooking). Add broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until squash is soft and liquid is reduced by half, 15–20 minutes. Let cool slightly, then purée in a blender until smooth. Reserve skillet (no need to wash it at this point).
Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta water.
In the reserved skillet, combine pasta, squash purée, and 1/4 cup pasta water and cook over medium heat, tossing and adding more pasta water as needed, until sauce coats pasta, about 2 minutes (I found I needed less than 1/2 cup pasta water to get the sauce to the perfect consistency). Mix in 1/4 cup parmesan and spinach (I like my spinach just barely wilted, so add earlier if you like yours more cooked); season with salt and pepper.
Serve pasta topped with reserved pancetta and sage. Add additional parmesan cheese and pepper, if desired.
Just a note: I found my leftovers got very clumpy when they cooled, but actually reheated surprisingly nicely.
Happy first birthday to my blog (which, coincidentally is the same day as my half birthday)! I cannot believe it’s been a year of blogging (although my lack of belief probably has to do with my immense lack of posts the first 6 months or so). I’ve really enjoyed having every single one of you as readers and I’ve equally enjoyed reading all of the other blogs I’ve come across… it’s nice to meet so many people from different states, countries, continents, and hemispheres who enjoy food as much as I do.
What’s in store for year two of Air-runn? I certainly hope to post more original recipes and I definitely hope to take better pictures (although, ahem, improving on something so mediocre probably won’t be difficult).
My first blog post was a cake recipe (orange chocolate chunk) so it seemed fitting I start my second year with another cake recipe.
One of my good friends makes some of the best cupcakes I’ve ever had and she was kind enough to share her red velvet cupcake recipe (perhaps my favorite cupcake). The recipe originates from Bubble Room, a restaurant she goes to anytime she’s in Florida. She initially found the recipe published in a cookbook but has since made a few minor alterations. I’m not privy to all of her changes (undoubtedly she doesn’t want to share all the secrets to her amazing cupcakes) but I think I did the recipe justice.
Besides the fact that this recipe tastes divine, it was relatively forgiving and incredibly simple. For instance, when I had already scooped the batter into the lined muffin tins, placed them in the oven and realized I forgot to put sugar in them, the final product didn’t suffer when I had to scrape out the batter into a bowl, add the sugar, and re-pour into the muffin tins. Woohoo!
Red Velvet Cupcakes
Adapted from a friend’s recipe, who adapted it from here
Makes 12 cupcakes
- 1 1/4 all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon red wine vinegar
- 3/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup buttermilk
- 2 tablespoons red food coloring
Preheat oven to 350°
Sift together dry ingredients in a bowl.
In another bowl, mix together egg, vinegar, oil, buttermilk, vanilla, and food coloring. Add to dry ingredients and mix well.
Spoon into 12 lined muffin tins and bake 20-22 minutes (although I test at 18). When cupcakes are done, a cake tester (such as a toothpick) will come out with one or two moist crumbs. Let cool slightly, remove from muffin tins, and cool completely on a wire rack. Frost with the following frosting recipe.
Cream Cheese Frosting
- 8 ounces cream cheese (room temperature)
- 1 stick unsalted butter (room temperature)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Pinch of salt
- 2 cups sifted powdered sugar
Using a hand mixer or stand mixer, beat cream cheese and butter for a few minutes, until light and fluffly. Add vanilla, salt, and sugar, turn mixer to low (you don’t want to cover yourself in a cloud of powdered sugar), and mix until combined, light, and fluffy. Use immediately.
Recently I’ve had a lot of epiphanies in the kitchen. Which is kind of sad, because the realizations I’ve had have been kind of common things that most people should already know. What can I say; I guess I can be a bit dense?
For instance, did you know that using a high quality vanilla extract vastly improves your baking? I knew that, but it took me a while to actually fork over the dough for the good stuff. Sort of kicking myself for not doing so sooner. And it’s only been within the past year that I’ve actually made my own stock. Heck, even simmering water with a few veggies and some herbs will likely be 10 times better than canned stock. Silly me.
One of the easiest (and cheapest) things I’ve been doing in my cooking recently has been to incorporate parmesan cheese rind into soups. The first time I did it was with Minestrone Soup and it added a savory richness. Since enjoying that particular soup so much, I decided it wouldn’t hurt to add parm rind to virtually any broth-based soup. And it hasn’t disappointed.
Two of my local grocery stores sell Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese rinds at a very reasonable price. I bought a package of 8 for a little over a dollar and threw them in the freezer and now I just pull one out any time I make a soup. While not entirely necessary, it’s a very welcome addition and if you haven’t added rind to your soups, I encourage you to do so.
Lentil, Sausage, and Spinach Soup
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 3 sausage links (approximately 2/3 lb) (I used spicy chicken)
- 1 leek (white and light green parts only), diced
- 1 small onion, diced
- 2 medium carrots, diced
- 2 stalks of celery, diced
- 4 cloves of garlic, minced
- Salt and pepper
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme leaves
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 cup lentils (sorted and rinsed) (I usually use French, but used brown as they were the only kind I could find)
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
- 6 cups water (all the ingredients create plenty of flavor… no broth needed!)
- 1 28 oz can crushed tomatoes
- 1 parmesan cheese rind
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 3-4 cups baby spinach
- Freshly grated Parmesan, for serving
Heat olive oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Remove sausage from casings and cook until lightly browned. Reduce heat to medium, add leek, onion, carrots, and celery, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook for approximately 8 minutes, or until browned. Add garlic, thyme, and cumin, and cook for a few more minutes. Add lentils, bay leaves, red pepper flakes (if using), water, crushed tomatoes, and parmesan cheese rind. Bring to a simmer and cook (uncovered) for approximately 40 minutes until lentils are tender. Remove rind (most of it will melt into the soup) and bay leaves. Add red wine vinegar and spinach, season to taste with salt and pepper, and cook for a few more minutes, just until spinach has wilted. Serve with a sprinkling of parmesan cheese. Prepare to be wowed.