Sunday, September 18, 2011

Time for pumpkin, Pumpkin.

Eat them before they eat you.
I know. That was awful. I promise to never get a job as a headline writer (If you found that charming, however, you wouldn't know where I could get a job as a headline writer, would you?).

Around the middle of August every year, I completely preempt every store in the world by wanting to eat nothing but pumpkin. Now thankfully tossed into September and the comforting embrace of pumpkin spiced coffee syrups, my fall gene has kicked into an insatiable overdrive.  I was born in October, my favorite holiday is still Halloween, even though as an adult I can't really get away with trick-or-treating (actually... that's a lie. I totally went last year). Some people wait all year for Christmas... I wait all year for Fall.

If I drop into a diabetic coma at any time during my life, it will probably be on November 1. It's not a Halloween candy problem... but when people think pumpkin, they think pie, cake, scones, cookies, chemical coffee creamer and maple syrup double chocolate mounds with sweet pumpkin gravy.  In short: SUGAR.

That kills me. Probably literally.

While I'm totally unwilling to give up any amount of sugary concoction during the season, it should be noted more often by more people that there are savory ways to jam more pumpkin into your diet.  Many restaurants pair pumpkin in pasta, specifically ravioli, but unless you've got a weekend, a pasta maker, a lot of patience and a dear love of sage (not getting near me unless we're talking tea), you're probably not going to make the classic squash/pumpkin ravioli at home.  If we're being really honest, I'm so tired of that savory mixture of sage and pumpkin that I could just spit.

This is a fantastic recipe that I almost totally lifted from Rachel Ray.  I say "almost" because I'm committed to ending the phrase "EVOO," and the only time this phrase will appear on this blog is right now (look away if you're eyes are sensitive to cutesy catch phrases): "YUM-O."  Also, I'm giving you options that Rachel isn't interested in giving you. Because I care.

(In an act of epic failure, I didn't take a picture of this pasta before we sat down and made it all ugly.  Writing about it is going to make me want it, however, so pictures are forth coming.)

Pumpkin Patch Stuffed Shells

Both pumpkin-y and cheesy, and completely lacking in (yawn) sage, this dish packs a giant vitamin C punch while keeping your belly extra warm and happy. 

Salt and Pepper
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
20 Jumbo Pasta Shells
1 lb Baby Spinach
4 Tbsp. Butter
1 large Onion
1 lb extra-lean Ground Beef
1 1/2 cups shredded Cheddar Cheese
2 cups Milk
1/4 cup flour
3/4 cup canned Pumpkin Puree

1. Add 2 tsp salt, about a tablespoon of olive oil and your pasta shells to a large pot of boiling water.  Cook according to package instructions, but make sure they're al dente - those guys are going back on the heat. Drain the pasta and rinse in cool water. Cover the pasta in damp paper towels to prevent the pasta from drying out.

2. Bring about 1 inch of water to a boil in a high-sided pot.  Add the spinach and stir to wilt as quickly as possible.  SUPER important not so over cook the spinach.  When it's wilted, it's wilted.  It doesn't need to contemplate the feeling of boiling.  When your spinach is wilted, rinse immediately in cold water to stop the cooking, and wring it out.  Pick it up and squeeze that water out.  Don't worry, you won't hurt it.

3. Place the spinach on a cutting board and chop it in to small pieces.  

4. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  In a skillet, melt 2 tbsp. butter.  Add 1 large onion, chopped; add 3/4 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. pepper. Cook over medium-high heat until tender, 6 to 7 minutes.

5. Add 1 lb. extra-lean ground beef and brown. 

6. Remove the skillet from the heat and stir in the chopped spinach until well mixed.  Stir in 1/3 cup shredded cheddar. Let cool... you're gonna touch it.

7. Bechamel time! Heat 2 cups milk in the microwave. If you hate microwaves like I do, you can also heat it in a separate pan until it's hot but not boiling. In another sauce pan, melt 2 tbsp. butter.  Whisk in 1/4 cup flour, when fully combined, add the rest.  When the mixture boils, whisk for one minute.  

8. Remove your base sauce from the heat and season with salt and pepper to taste. Whisk in 3/4 cup pure pumpkin puree.  Stir in 1 cup shredded cheddar and mix until completely melted.  Cover to prevent skin from forming.

9. Stuff your pasta shells with the beef and spinach mixture.  Do you hate stuffing shells so much that you want to slap me right now? You can totally use another pasta type, mix the whole she-bang together right now, and stick it in the oven. Everybody wins.

10. Grease a 9x13 baking dish. Smear the bottom with 1/2 up of the pumpkin sauce.  Arrange the stuffed shells in the prepared pan with the openings face down (or laugh at your intelligence as you triumphantly pour your completed pasta mixture in your baking dish, stuffing shells be damned). 

11. Pour the rest of your sauce on top of your shells (of course, if you decided not to make shells, you've already mixed the sauce into the pasta... right?).  Cover the dish with foil and bake until the sauce is bubbling hot, about 25 minutes.  Let cool for about 10 minutes before garnishing the top with parsley leaves. Cause it looks like a pumpkin patch, then. And you like to be festive. Don't you?

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