October 26, 2010

Butternut and Sausage Cellentani with Sage

Filed under: Pasta — by Carla



In an effort to eat more healthfully, we’ve tried to cut back on processed carbs and saturated fats. Most nights a few locally grown vegetables, a chicken breast and salad constitute dinner with very few sightings of steak, potatoes, bread or white rice. I don’t generally miss those white calories, but lately I’ve had a genuine craving for pasta.

cellentani_176There’s one specific noodle that I find particularly tempting. It’s a little hollow corkscrew shape called cellentani. Barilla makes it so it should be easy for you to find. It has the most seductive spring and chewy bite… I just can’t get enough of it.

While I’m in confessional mode, I might as well admit that I’m losing the battle with sausage as well. Especially Lou’s, a local Sicilian sausage with just a hint of heat, roasted red peppers and fennel.

Now, in my mind, cravings are the human body’s way of telling us what it needs. Obviously, I’m running short on carbs and fat so in an effort to bring my body and mind in sync, I recently decided to make a meal of pasta, sausage, butternut squash and sage. My in-laws had recently gifted us with a few butternut squash from their garden and my sage bush outside was still holding on to plenty of leaves. It doesn’t get much more local or seasonal than that.

And did you know that butternut squash is good for you? It’s full of vitamin C.

There are so many interesting and healthful ways to eat it. There’s soup (with cream), a filling for ravioli (with cheese), casseroles (with cream), gratins (with cheese and cream) or just split a squash lengthwise and roast it in the oven for about 45 minutes (with butter and brown sugar). Tasty options, all.

Did I mention that butternut squash is full of beta carotene? It helps maintain eyes, skin and a healthy immune system. So, not only is this meal local and seasonal but healthy as well. Right?

Feeling better about my choices, I tossed half the cubed squash with olive oil, salt and pepper and roasted it in a hot oven until browned and tender. Then I sautéed a leek and a clove of garlic in butter before adding the remaining diced squash and chicken stock. When tender, I whizzed it up in the food processor with a touch of cream. Once the al dente pasta was sauced and tossed with the browned sausage and roasted butternut I topped each serving with a few fried sage leaves, a drizzle of the sage butter and a whisper of shaved Parmesan.

As I set the mounded plates of  hot pasta on the table I informed my husband that butternut squash is a good source of fiber and full of anti-oxidants.

I must admit, it was so delicious. Not like health food at all.


Kitchen Counter Point:  Peeling and dicing a hard skinned squash is easy if you do it in sections. First, using your largest sharpest knife, cut the squash in half lengthwise. If the knife becomes stuck halfway through the squash, just pound the squash on the cutting board once or twice until the knife cuts through and is free. Scoop out the seeds with a large spoon and discard them. Cut the halved squash into quarters. This makes it easier to peel with a paring knife. Once peeled, cut the squash into 1/2-inch slices and then cut them down into 1/2-inch dice. Pretty easy, really.

Serves 4

1 large butternut squash, about 4 pounds
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided use
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided use
1 medium leek
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups chicken broth, plus more if needed
Pinch freshly ground nutmeg
Pinch cayenne pepper
1/4 cup heavy cream, more if desired
3/4 lb freshly made sausage of your choice
1 lb cellentani noodles or other corkscrew pasta such as rotini
16 whole sage leaves
Parmesan cheese for grating

Preheat oven to 400ºF.

Bring a large pot of water, about 1 gallon, to a boil over high heat.

Follow the directions for the squash in the Kitchen Counter Point. Dump half the squash onto a sheet pan and toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread the squash out in an even layer and roast in the preheated oven for about 25 minutes or until lightly browned and tender.

While the squash cooks, cut the leek in half lengthwise and wash it under running cold water to remove any grit. Cut away and discard the dark green leaves and thinly slice the white and light green parts. Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat and add 2 tablespoons of the butter. When the butter is hot add the leek and salt. Sauté the leek for about 3 minutes or until tender. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute or until fragrant. Add the remaining squash, 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste and broth and lower the heat to a simmer for about 10 minutes or until the squash is tender. You may have to add more broth as the vegetables cook. There should be about 1/3 cup broth in the pan when the vegetables are tender. Process the mixture in a food processor or blender (be careful it’s hot) until smooth. Return the sauce to the pan and add the nutmeg, cayenne and cream. Reheat and taste for seasoning adding more broth or cream if the sauce is too thick. Keep hot.

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and cook the sausage in the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Break it up into chunks and cook for about 5 minutes or until no longer pink. Drain and set aside.

In a small fry pan, add the remaining 3 tablespoons butter and heat over medium heat. When the butter is sizzling add the sage leaves and cook them for 1 minute on each side or until crispy. Transfer them as they are cooked to a paper towel lined plate. The butter in the pan will brown lightly. Remove it from the heat if it begins to darken too much. Keep warm.

Add about 1 tablespoon of salt to the boiling water and add the pasta. Cook for about 8 minutes and check it for doneness. It will need another minute or two, but should still have a nice bite and no flabbiness. Drain the pasta well and add it to the squash sauce along with the browned sausage and roasted squash. Toss to coat the pasta with the sauce. Mound the pasta onto heated shallow bowls and top each portion with a few fried sage leaves, a drizzle of the browned sage butter and a grating of Parmesan. Serve very hot.

October 12, 2010

Whopper Brownies

Filed under: Desserts — by Carla


Last week I made the Chocolate Malt Cake from Momofuku Milk Bar for my mother-in-law’s birthday. While it might have been a little more sophisticated than the usual birthday cake, it was worth the effort.  You should have seen the delight on her face when we fired the topping of mini marshmallows and lit the candles with my husband’s propane torch. No matter how old you are, fire and chocolate  are always exciting.

The cake was fabulous and fun, pleasing adults and kids alike.  I liked it so much that I got to thinking about developing an easier to make brownie clone of the cake incorporating the crunchy malted crumbs, malty fudge sauce and of course the toasted marshmallows on top of a fudgy brownie base. Let’s just say I was successful in creating what might best be described as chocolate turpitude on a plate.

Because you’re bad…very bad to eat these brownies. In the 90’s they’d have the words “death by” written in front of them. Personally,  I find turpitude preferable to death. It offers so many more options. But, I digress.

Unlike the cake whose towering three layers were impossible to cut into anything but Fred Flintstone sized slices, these brownies are easily cut into two-bite-sized bricks of deliciousness. I especially like the shy hint of salt, compliments of the un-dissolved flakes of kosher salt in the batter. The brownie base is buttery, fudgy and chewy. Not the least bit cakey. In other words, it’s perfect. The malted fudge sauce gets its flavor from one of my favorite childhood treats… Ovaltine. Christina Tosi, the pastry chef who originated the cake recipe, gets points for creativity here. The sauce is delicious, firms up just right and takes but a minute to make. But that is just the beginning of her malty genius. She used Ovaltine in the crunchy malted “milk crumbs” as well. I think this component is one of the most important to the success of the cake and though a bit weird, this baked mixture of dried milk, flour, sugar, butter, Ovaltine and white chocolate really made the cake sing.  I understand why she developed those little malted crumbs.  But really. Can’t we just use the more easily procured Whoppers, crushed, to top our version? I think so.

Intrigued yet? We’re just getting to the pyro part if the recipe. If you don’t have a propane torch, just set the marshmallow topped brownies under the broiler for a minute to toast them up, but the torch is infinitely more fun because you get to hold the fire.

And who doesn’t love to play with fire? Remember the fun of toasting marshmallows on a stick when you were a kid? I liked to make mine really brown, just a moment before they ignited into flames. And the bonfire itself with its hot licking flames and how you smelled the smoke when you sniffed your clothes and hair the next day. And what kid didn’t love Whoppers? Those irresistible chocolate covered malted milk balls that you might have chomped on while watching a movie like The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly back in the summer of 1966?


But, I digress yet again. I guess these fudgy brownies with their Whoppers, Ovaltine fudge sauce and toasted marshmallows take me back to a simpler, less complicated time. I can’t guarantee that they’ll make you feel like kids again, but why not give them a try? It might help you to remember toasting marshmallows in the backyard and chowing down on a whole carton of Whoppers or eating a ridiculous (in a good way) brownie and how it tasted so good that you ate another.

 Chocolate turpitude be damned. Pass me the brownies.


Kitchen Counter Point:  A propane torch is a handy thing to have around the house. I love using it to brown the sugar on top of crème brulée, to char peppers, to brown meringue (as in lemon meringue pie) and even sometimes to caramelize or brown high sugar fruits such as pineapple or berries when topped with a sabayon. It really puts the heat right where you want it. Not like the broiler which has a tendency to over heat the dessert that lies below the surface.  Ace Hardware sells a great little gadget that screws to the top of the tank. All you have to do is turn it on, push a button and the fire is ignited. Beware the wimpy “kitchen torches” sold in cookware shops. They don’t have the mojo to get the job done. 

Makes about 16 good sized brownies
Brownie base
1 cup all purpose unbleached flour
1/2 cup cocoa
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon dark corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla

Malt Fudge Sauce
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons Ovaltine
2 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
Pinch kosher salt
1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup dark corn syrup
2 tablespoons sugar

1 cup crushed Whoppers
3 or 4 handfuls of mini marshmallows

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Grease a 9x 9-inch baking pan and line it with parchment paper leaving excess paper on two sides of the pan so that later, the brownies can be easily lifted out. Grease the parchment paper.

Sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt. Set aside

Combine the butter and sugar in a mixer bowl and beat on medium high speed until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides and add the eggs, one at a time and beat until blended. Beat in the buttermilk, corn syrup and vanilla. Reduce the speed and add the dry ingredients in three additions, stopping to scrape down the sides. Beat the batter another minute on medium-high to thoroughly combine. It will be thick.

Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan and bake in the preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes. The center should still be a bit jiggly. Transfer to a rack and cool completely. It’s normal for the center to sink a bit on cooling.

To make the fudge sauce, combine the Ovaltine, chocolate and kosher salt in a medium bowl. Set aside. Combine the cream, corn syrup and sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Dump the Ovaltine mixture into the pan and let sit for 1 minute, then stir until smooth. (Make the sauce right before assembling or it will firm up and you’ll have to reheat it to a pourable consistency.)

Crush the Whoppers in a heavy duty plastic bag with a mallet or a hammer. Leave some crunchy chunks for texture.

To assemble the brownies, spread a thin drizzle of fudge sauce over the top of the brownies and sprinkle over the crumbled Whoppers. Drizzle over another layer of fudge sauce. If the sauce is too thick, rewarm gently over low heat. Scatter the marshmallows evenly over the top pushing them down into the sauce so that they adhere. Quickly char the marshmallows with the propane torch that’s probably in your garage. If your significant other isn’t the handy type, preheat the broiler and brown the marshmallows in the oven for about 1 minute. Cool the marshmallows. Lift the brownies from the pan and transfer them to a cutting board. Cut the brownies into bars, wiping the knife clean between cuts and serve. The brownies keep tightly sealed for 5 days but they will be gone in 2 or 3.