Ziti with Winter Squash

Every now and then, I get a culinary idea out of nowhere, that is equal parts “hey, this could be good” and “Well, we got this in the fridge.. so”.  More often than not, it turns out pretty decent.  Once in a great while, it’s spectacular. This one was one of the later instances.

It’s been cold here of late, so I thought of doing a butternut squash pasta (because what says winter like butternut squash?). However, in the wake of Thanksgiving, Teeter was out of them, so I switched to acorn.

OK-  so how to turn two acorn squash into what you see below —  easy.  First,  butcher the squash and roast it (375 for about 50 min) in the oven with some EVOO, balsamic, s&p and as much red pepper flake as you like.  When that’s just about done, render down some pancetta and carmelize some shallots, then toss in the squash to sautee in the bacon goodness for a minute or three.  Add some white wine (we happened to have a bottle of white in the fridge that I’d been cooking with for a month..) and let that fully reduce. Then, right before your pasta is ready (I used ziti, but any cut pasta will do) – add a bit of cream (which I had left over from Thanksgiving) and then toss in the pasta and a little pasta water to make the sauce. (Remember, always take your pasta out of the water 90 seconds before the box tells you to and let it finish in the sauce).

Top it off with mint, chives and parsley (all similarly left over from Thanksgiving) — and of course, some parm.

A quick and easy dinner – that a certain toddler just devoured.


Duck: Not Just for Holidays

I’m not the world’s biggest fan of turkey, which means come holiday time while everyone else is overcooking their Butterballs, I’m finding other ways to put a meat on the table. Usually, that involves one of my favorite meats: duck.  Over the years, we’ve made some pretty tasty holiday dinners, and always say we should cook it more often throughout the year, and almost never do. I’m not sure why; a duck breast costs just about as much as a decent steak, which we usually have once a week.

With the weekend here, I was looking to do something a little different, so I went over to our local butcher looking for some inspiration. While I bypassed the alligator steaks and ground camel they had for sale (someday!) — the duck looked great and affordable. So I grabbed some — and found this tasty recipe from Epicurious, most of which I already had in the house. I mean, duck, bacon, dates —  how can you go wrong?

Don’t let the picture fool you, it’s actually a pretty easy dish.  I took my time and did things separately, but you could easily get this on the table in an hour.

One tip for the duck breast, start them skin side down in a stone cold pan. The slow heating makes it less likely that you’ll burn the skin.


Mothers Day Brunch

I’m not entirely sure where the tradition of mother’s day brunch came from, but with a 2.5-year-old in the house, who has a passion for destroying things at will, and a pregnant wife unable to self-medicate with alcohol, a morning at one of DC’s finer establishments wasn’t really in the cards.

So, we did it ourselves at home, with some breakfast tacos.  Pretty simple here, scramble some eggs, with a handful of cheese, add some bacon, salsa, sour cream and avocado — and you’ve got brunch, in 20 min or less.

Carbonara – Proof that God Exisits

I’m honestly not sure if I had ever had Spaghetti Carbonara until the wife and I took our honeymoon to Italy. Which basically means I lived the first 30 years of my life deprived.

You’d think with so few ingredients, it would be a pretty idiot proof dish. You’d think wrong.  The number of times I served what basically turned out to be spaghetti and scrambled eggs was appalling.  Then I found this New York Times recipe and everything made sense.  I usually double the pancetta in the dish (because, which of life’s problems cannot be solved with more bacon?) and add one extra egg yolk to the mixture, although “1 egg” can always be a bit of an inaccurate thing listed on a recipe, given that they don’t come in uniform sizes.  While generally sacrilegious, I often had some parsley or basil at the end just for color.

Key to success here is having the eggs and pancetta at mostly room temperature. Even let the pasta cool a little too. The only heat to cook the eggs should come from the lukewarm pan, the residual heat from the pasta, and the pasta water.