When my mom was planning my dad's surprise party, she asked that I sort through my collection of pictures to find some featuring my dad, which she enlarged and used for decorating the party room. Going through old photos, at least for me, is an experience filled with mixed emotions. Pictures featuring childhood friends or family vacations leave me feeling nostalgic, while those that serve as evidence of my many fashion and hairstyle "don'ts" cause me to wince and quickly flip to the next photo.
My various Halloween costume choices over the years were also on display as I went through stack after stack of pictures. Deciding what I was going to be for Halloween was always a big deal, and since my mom usually made my costume, I needed to plan in advance. Until I was 5, I always wanted to be a witch, which was probably due to the fact that my best friend, Lynn, was also going to be a witch (at that age, originality holds no value.) After that, I was a princess in a pink dress, a girl from colonial days, also in a pink dress (I really liked pink), Snow White, and Little Red Riding Hood. This photo to the right is of me, dressed as Little Red Riding Hood, my brother, who was dressed as a slot machine (and you wonder how I ended up in Vegas??), and my dad, who obviously enjoyed Halloween just as much as we did. I think that I might have been mad that my brother had a cooler costume-notice his big grin. Yes, you can make fun of my hairstyle in the background picture. It was the early 80s. What can I say?
I remember the worst part of Halloween being that my mom made us eat a sensible dinner before we were allowed to go trick or treating. We were both too excited about the evening's potential in the form of massive amounts of candy, and we were likely still sugared up from the Halloween party at school that day. Looking back, she probably prevented many a stomach ache by filling us up enough, so that we didn't devour half of our goodies before the night was over. Thanks, mom.
When I was making this pasta dish for dinner last night, it struck me as one that might be appropriate to serve as a pre-trick or treating meal. The bright orange color of the squash is perfectly festive for Halloween, and it has a nice, sweet, kid-friendly flavor. The addition of Pecorino Romano gives the pasta some lighter similarities to macaroni and cheese, and the pasta provides lots of energy, needed to race around the neighborhood. Best of all, this recipe is easy to make, it serves a small army, and adults will love it too. Here are my extra tips for this spicy and seasonal pasta:
- Pumpkin, acorn squash, or hubbard squash can all be substituted for the butternut squash in this recipe. Just select whichever vegetable looks fresh and the most beautiful at your grocery store or farmer's market.
- You will likely find that most squash weigh more than 2 pounds, so you will have some leftovers. If you have an entire half remaining, seed it and roast it face down, unpeeled, at 375F degrees until tender. Turn the squash over, brush it lightly with butter, sprinkle with brown sugar and cinnamon, and continue to bake until the topping has melted and caramelized. Season with salt and pepper and serve. This is one of my favorite healthy meals. You can also seed, peel, and dice leftover squash, toss with other vegetables, olive oil, and seasonings, and roast until tender and browned for a delicious autumn side dish.
- After you add the squash to the skillet, cook it until it is soft but not falling apart. You want the squash to be tender, but you don't want it to turn into mush!
- Feel free to cut back on the amount of crushed red pepper for less spice or to substitute whole wheat pasta for a healthier twist on the recipe.
- 1 teaspoon of dried thyme may be substituted for the fresh thyme.
- Conchiglie is pasta that is shaped like a small shell. Cavatelli is a type of pasta that is about 1-inch long with a rolled edge. Its shape is similar to gnocchi, but cavatelli is composed of flour, semolina, and water, as opposed to gnocchi, which is composed of potato and flour. Penne, rigatoni, farfalle, orecchiette, or fusilli can all be substituted.
Conchiglie with Spicy Butternut Squash
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
6 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons crushed red pepper
2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme
Salt and coarsely ground pepper
1 1/2 pounds uncooked conchiglie or cavatelli
3/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. In a large, deep skillet, heat the olive oil. Add the garlic, onion, and crushed red pepper and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until the garlic and onion are softened, about 5 minutes. Add the squash and thyme, season with salt and pepper, and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cover and cook over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until the squash is just tender, about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, add the cavatelli to the pot of boiling water and cook until al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the pasta cooking water. Add the cavatelli to the squash mixture in the skillet, stir in 1/2 cup of the pasta cooking water, and toss gently to combine. Add the 3/4 cup of cheese, season with salt and pepper, and stir gently. Add a little more pasta water if necessary. Serve immediately, passing more cheese at the table.