World Pasta Day, celebrated each year the world over on Oct. 25, is a good reminder that pasta can indeed be a fall food. With the addition of a few seasonal ingredients, from figs and prosciutto to butternut squash, a cook can easily transform any pasta dish.
Baked pasta dishes
Now that the temperature is cool enough to make turning the oven on a pleasure again, it’s the perfect time to cook oven-baked pasta dishes, like lasagna or these crunchy-tender pasta squares. Using dried egg pasta, you don’t even need to boil the pasta. Just spread raw dried egg pasta in a buttered pan, pour on your favorite broth and lots of grated grana padano cheese and bake until tender. The result is a wonderful contrast in textures, crunchy outside with a soft cheesy center.
Pasta, a global food, is eaten in five continents and comes in more than 500 shapes and sizes. About 13.5 million tons of pasta is produced worldwide. Italy, with 57 pounds per year eaten per person, is the world’s leading pasta consumer, followed by Venezuela, Tunisia, Greece, Switzerland, Sweden and the U.S., according to the International Pasta Organization.
Pasta is an affordable, healthy, fat-free food that can be prepared in thousands of ways. Pasta pairs well with any vegetable or protein. Add it to soups, mix it into salads, toss it into casseroles.
Seasonal and versatile
For those of us on a budget or who might want to cut down on meat, pasta with meat sauce is a great way to stretch a modest serving into a meal. A half-pound of ground beef when combined with a pound of pasta can easily feed a family of four. Meat sauce is also a great way to add more servings of vegetables to your diet. Besides the tomatoes, you can add pureed pumpkin or minced bell peppers to the sauce.
Pasta is an ideal way to reduce food waste. Just combine pasta with leftovers to create a new meal. Season cooked pasta with a little olive oil, mix in leftover chopped vegetables and any leftover protein like meatloaf, bits of burger, beans, fish, chicken or pork. Pasta is easy to cook. It’s so easy to cook with that it can entice even non-cooks into the kitchen. You don’t even need a recipe.
Carbonara with an autumn twist
One virtually recipe-free dish here is carbonara. Hot pasta tossed with raw egg that creates a creamy sauce, which is then punctuated by crisp bits of pancetta or bacon and a shower of grated cheese. There are many ingredients that you can add to this magical combination of egg-bacon-cheese, like leftover cooked veggies.
For an autumnal note, toss in diced butternut or kabocha squash. And if you’d like a vegetarian option, you can even omit the bacon and substitute sweet caramelized onions instead. I like to top it with Grana Padano, an aromatic, richly complex, flavorful cheese that is so important it received geographic protected status by the European Union and is the world’s most popular, most-consumed PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) cheese.
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Pasta with Butternut Squash
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Recipe courtesy of “Pasta Modern” (Stewart, Tabori & Chang). This simple-to-make dish is perfect for October.
1 large onion, thinly sliced
2 cups diced kabocha or butternut squash, seeds and skin removed
Salt and pepper
1 pound short pasta, preferably Monograno Felicetti
Grana Padano PDO cheese
1. In a large frying pan over medium heat, cook the onion in 2 tablespoons of oil until the onion is very soft, about 8 minutes, then raise the heat to high and continue cooking until golden and caramelized, about 4 more minutes. Remove the onions from the pan and set aside.
2. In the same pan, adding another tablespoon or two of oil, fry the squash until tender and golden at the edges, about 8 minutes. Return the onions to the pan, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and keep warm.
3. In a large serving bowl, beat the eggs with 2 heaping tablespoons of grated Grana Padano cheese.
4. Cook the pasta in boiling, salted water until al dente. Drain and toss in the egg mixture, stirring until creamy, then stir in the hot onion-squash mixture. Serve topped with more grated or shaved cheese.
Mix it up with fruit
Pasta is even great with fruit! My passion for pasta with fruit began while researching my first cookbook, “Shakespeare’s Kitchen,” when I discovered the many sweet-savory pasta dishes of the Renaissance. In today’s Italy, you’ll find pasta paired with all sorts of fruit, both dried and fresh — berries, figs, prunes, dates, oranges and lemons — each adding lovely color, brilliant acidity and delicate sweetness to the sauces.
Oranges have an astonishingly savory-sweet quality when paired with pasta, so it’s no wonder that there are hundreds of variations of this combination throughout Italy. Top your favorite sauce with orange zest for a nice pop of flavor. Or try this simple orange-date-anchovy combination by tossing hot cooked pasta with a spoonful of tomato pasta, minced dates, mashed anchovy topped with orange zest.
Figs are fine for fall
Figs and prosciutto is a classic Italian combo. It’s also great with pasta, and a nice way to savor the last of fall’s figs. Toss hot cooked pasta with a little olive oil and fresh sliced figs, then top with shaved aged cheese and prosciutto. Since there are so few ingredients, be sure to use top-quality prosciutto. I especially like San Daniele prosciutto, which is produced only in the Friuli Venezia Giulia region of Italy, around the hill-town of San Daniele, and has an ethereal flavor and melt-in-your-mouth texture. You can also enjoy this fig-prosciutto combination even when figs aren’t in season. It’s great with dried figs that have been softened in white wine and combined with caramelized onions.
Dried Fig and Prosciutto Penne
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cooking Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 25 minutes
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Recipe courtesy of “Opera Lover’s Cookbook” (Stewart, Tabori & Chang). Cooking dried figs in white wine makes them soft and sweet as fresh figs.
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 red onion, diced
1 cup white wine
12 dried Calimyrna figs, about 9 ounces, very thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups chicken stock
1 pound penne, preferably Monograno Felicetti
1/4 pound prosciutto, sliced, preferably San Daniele prosciutto DOP
1/2 cup shaved Grana-Padano cheese
1 tablespoon whole pink peppercorns
1. Heat the butter and oil in a medium sauté pan over medium heat until the butter melts. Sauté the onion until translucent, about 5 minutes.
2. Add the wine and figs and simmer until the wine is absorbed and the figs soft, about 8 minutes. Stir in the stock and simmer, covered, for about 7 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, cook the penne according to package directions. Drain and toss with the fig sauce.
4. Serve the penne topped with Grana Padano, San Daniele prosciutto and a sprinkle of peppercorns.
Main caption: With a few seasonal ingredients, such as artichokes and plums, pasta can be a favorite fall food. Credit: Courtesy of “Pasta Modern” (Stewart, Tabori & Chang)