‘Tis the day after Christmas, and all through my home,
I felt bloated while cursing
My gut, quite the dome.
(and English teachers, yes, I know it’s a forced rhyme, so piss off)
The first time I went on Weight Watchers, it was right after the holidays. That year, I relieved myself of the guilt of overindulging in the festivities by promising myself that, indeed, once the holidays were over, I would seriously commit to losing some weight. I followed through with it and, as I have mentioned many times, it totally changed my lifestyle. But most importantly, it changed how I cooked and the range of dishes to which I became exposed.
The above dish is straight from Weight Watchers (http://www.weightwatchers.com/food/rcp/RecipePage.aspx?recipeid=140421). This is definitely in my top 5 WW recipes of all time. It’s vegetarian (not vegan, though), but it still has some substance to it. It’s filling, tasty, and the leftovers make excellent lunches. I will admit, this recipe takes a bit of work (fun for me!), and your timing has to be on. For whatever reason, too, you will use a lot of dishes making it, but whatever. It’s worth it.
One change I make with any Weight Watchers pasta dish is that I use low-carb pasta instead of the whole-wheat stuff they always suggest. The wheat pasta sucks, in my opinion, and the low-carb pasta at least is semblable to regular pasta.
A few years ago, some colleagues and I met at my house to work on a project, and I happened to be making butternut squash as a side dish for dinner that night. While everyone was chatting, I figured I’d get some of the prep work done for dinner. One of my colleagues, Brooke, wanted to watch me specifically butcher this butternut squash. She said that it was one of her favorite vegetables, but she only used the already-cubed kind (found at Trader Joe’s or Costco). She had no idea how to actually cube it herself. I have had other people mention this to me a few times since then, so I figure I’ll explain the easy way here for posterity. It takes 5 minutes, your squash will always be fresher than the pre-cut kind, and it’s cheaper.
How to Peel and Cube a Butternut Squash:
1. With a big knife, cut the ends off of the squash.
2. Lay the squash on its side, and slice it into 1″ to 1 1/2″ thick disks.
3. With a soup spoon, scoop out the ganglia and seeds from the disks that have them.
4. With a paring knife, peel each disk.
5. Cut each disk into 1″ cubes. Easy as a two-bit hooker.
Baked Pasta with Butternut Squash and Ricotta
1 butternut squash cut into cubes (the recipe says 20 oz., but I use as much as I have)
1 lb. low-carb penne or something similar
1 1/4 cup low fat or fat free milk
2 tbsp. flour
2 cloves minced garlic
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper or to taste (I like a lot)
2 tsp. dried thyme, or 1 tbsp. fresh thyme, if you’ve got it
1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
Preheat the oven to 375°.
Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray and put the squash on it in one layer. Spray the squash with more spray and sprinkle it with salt and pepper, like this:
Cook this for 30 minutes, or until they are tender enough to be mashed easily. When they are done, put them in a bowl and mash them like potatoes. Keep the oven on, wise guy.
Get a pot of salted water boiling before you get the squash in the oven so it’s ready when you need it. Penne usually takes 10 minutes to cook, and you want the penne and the creamy squash sauce all done at roughly the same time, so keep that in mind. When you’re ready, cook the pasta according to the box, drain it, and return it to the pot.
In a medium saucepan, whisk together the milk, flour, garlic, salt, and pepper. Get this to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking regularly so it doesn’t burn. Reduce the heat to low and simmer a few minutes until it’s thickened, about 2 minutes. Stir in half of the thyme. Add this sauce to the mashed squash and stir it together well. It will look like this:
Then, add this mixture to the pasta and mix that well. Take a 9″ x 13″ baking dish and spray it with cooking spray. Transfer the pasta to this dish and make it all level, like this:
Now for the fun part. Spoon dollops of the ricotta over this (if you can’t tell, I use a bit more ricotta than the recipe, like a cup total, because that’s how I roll). Then, sprinkle the parmesan, walnuts, and the other half of the thyme over it. It will look like this:
Bake this for about 20 minutes, until the top is browned and glistening and jovial as the day is long. A serving is supposed to be 1 cup, which would make it a 5 on the old Weight Watchers system, but I divide this into eight. I am guessing this is more like a 7 or 8 the way I make it and serve it.
Add a side salad or a veggie and you’ve got yourself a very healthy and tasty meal.
Note: You might think to add chicken to this to give it some protein. I have done it and, meh. The chicken takes away from it a bit, in my opinion, but it’s still good. The points would have to be adjusted accordingly.
So, as you contemplate your resolutions for the coming year, remember that good food can be had without adding on the pounds. This dish is an example of it.
Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.
© Jon Marino, 2012