Monday, December 19, 2011

Pasta with Squash and Brown Butter

When I was forced to cook for myself back in my undergrad years, and soup noodles with boiled bok choy and canned sardines was getting tedious, I would escape from dorm and stay with my cousin Sandra in downtown Montreal for the weekend.

We would pore over food magazines, Epicurious, cookbooks or just bounced dinner ideas back and forth based on our cravings. One food magazine we flipped through for inspiration even in the frigid December was a summer issue of Donna Hay. She’s my first food idol, her pictures are always alluring, simple and clean, her menu ideas entertaining and fresh.

A while ago, Sandra had dated a tall, handsome fellow with the finest manners, even the Queen couldn’t stifle a crush on him. He had a sexy, deep chuckle to compliment Sandra’s shrill laughter and he always made her smile in a way that even her eyes twinkled. For her birthday, he bought her Donna Hay’s Instant Cook and on the inside front cover scribbled in thick black Sharpie was a love note that went something like this:

Happy birthday, may you cook many more drool-worthy meals…so you can share it all with your friends, especially me. 

I treated that cookbook like my own, I studied each page like a textbook, furiously bookmarking recipes that caught my attention. Sometimes I used my old Canon point and shoot to photograph a recipe like the eggplant ricotta and parmesan bake.

However, my impatience to have my own cookbook grew too strong. One quiet morning, I succumbed to my unrelenting desire need for the beautiful books, so rather than memorizing the chemical structure of branched-chain amino acids and how many ATP are produced from 1 glucose molecule (Biochem anyone?), I jumped on and purchased not one-but two Donna Hay books. I convinced myself: they are an early Christmas gift…the shipping is free…I’ve been mostly frugal this month! 

Soon enough, a slender cardboard package arrived at my front door. I tore threw it like a kid on Boxing Day and jumped up and down. They might not have endearing notes scrawled on the inside, but they belonged to me, and it wasn’t long before I bought more of her books including Entertaining and Modern Classics Volume 1.

One of the things I love about Donna Hay is the inspiring, easily adaptable recipes. I first made this pasta on Thanksgiving weekend back in October (we Canadians celebrate the holiday a month before our neighbors). If you were here on the East coast, you may recall how oddly warm that weekend was, so warm in fact, I sat outside on the balcony in my pajama shorts and a t-shirt (short sleeves! in the fall!) and slurped my pasta with the sun beaming on my face. And of course, the best part of this dish is the brown butter. Did I get your attention? Repeat after me folks, brown butter. Brown butter. Brown butter. I don’t think I need to explain, it really is the best thing ever.

The brown butter is laced into every noodle, the squash accentuating its caramelized flavour and the parmesan tones down the sweetness with its salty pungency. This sauce is so phenomenal, so brilliant, it will knock your socks off. Don’t wear socks? Pants! It will knock your pants off!

The procedure is a breeze: golden fat is slowly melted to a beautiful deep color, turning your kitchen into a nutty, sweet heaven. Then this liquid gold is tossed with pasta and cubed squash plus a generous handful of sharp parmesan. Tada! That's it.

Just remember, brown butter makes everything taste ridiculously good. If it was drenched over cardboard, I bet you would like it too (but not advised).

Pasta with Squash and Brown Butter
Serves 4

Donna Hay uses pumpkin, but I like using smaller squash like butternut, it’s sweeter and easier to handle. If you use salted butter or if your cheese is on the extra salty side, you probably don’t need to add salt at the end.

1 kg (2 lb) squash, peeled and diced into 1-inch cubes
2 tablespoons olive oil
400g (14 oz.) fettuccine or spaghettini
5 tablespoons butter
1 cup finely grated parmesan cheese
fresh parsley, roughly chopped
fresh black pepper
sea salt

  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Peel and dice squash into 1-inch cubes, discard seeds. Put squash in a baking dish and drizzle with olive oil. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden and soft.
  2. Just before pumpkin is ready, cook the pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water until al dente. Drain.
  3. While pasta is cooking, place butter in a large saucepan over low to medium heat and allow butter to simmer until golden brown in color. Keep an eye on the butter because it can burn easily. Remove from heat when done.
  4. To serve, place pasta in serving plates and top with squash and parmesan. Spoon over brown butter and garnish with parsley. Season with pepper and salt if desired.
Recipe here!

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