Tag Archives: squash

Chickpeas and Pasta

19 Oct

Chickpeas and Pasta

“Just go away.”  I have uttered this often to my teenage students, in a variety of contexts, over the last twelve years since I started teaching high school English. I’ll say it as I attempt to take roll and a student asks me for the fortieth time if they need to skip lines when writing an essay, even though I have a large poster at the front of the room that clearly asserts, “Yes! Skip lines!” I’ll say it as I am but three words away from totally explaining the most impassioned and profound concept, which will alter their lives invariably thereafter, when one kiddo raises his hand and asks if he can go to the bathroom. I’ll say it when everyone is taking a final exam and the antsy, gregarious, loquacious student who finishes first asks me what I’m cooking for dinner that night. Loudly.

But truly, the context in which I most often say “just go away” relates to what they do after high school. I tell them to travel, to get away from their familiar environs, and just go away. You want to see South America? Good! Just go. Castles where knights rose and fell? Go. You want ninjas? Go. Where Napoleon died? Why? Never been to San Francisco? Go. You want to see hot Spanish chicks and dudes? Go. Make it happen and don’t wait.

Usually this is precipitated by me sharing about my backpacking trip around Europe when I was 23, fresh out of college. For two months, my best friend Pat and I went from Ireland, to Spain, to Germany, to Austria, to Czech Republic, to Netherlands, back to Spain, to France, and then home. We partied every night, slept on the floors of trains, saw Europe before it was the EU and before the internet localized the world, partied more, ate stuff that I still can’t identify, and basically changed our lives for good.

Physically, mentally, economically, or realistically, I cannot and will not ever be able to do this type of trip again. It was once in a lifetime, and I try to instill this in my students. “Do it now, kids, because you won’t be able to later. Trust me.” No money? I didn’t have much either. It took me until I was thirty to pay it off, but it was interest well bought. Just get out of town. Just go away.

As usual, I tangentially bring this up because, until that trip to Europe, chickpeas were something I refilled in the salad bar at Straw Hat pizza in my teens, not something I ate knowingly. Amsterdam changed that. Without going into details, I will posit that Amsterdam’s “coffee” shops are intentionally and strategically located next to shwarma and falafel stands (and KFC, Pizza Hut, and McDonald’s, for that matter), so patrons succumbing to the munchies have no choice but to belly up to some serious grub on every side of them. They’ve got you by the balls convincingly. Before this time, I had never even heard of falafel, which is ground chickpeas and spices rolled into balls, deep fried, and then served in a pita with veggies and sauces. But after leaving a coffee shop and letting the holy grail of street food create new universes in my expanded mind, I ate them every day for a week. Sublime.

As the Food Network Empire and Darth Rachel came to power, chickpeas (garbanzos, or if you’re a pretentious prick, ceci, pronounced che’-chee) started getting some coverage in a variety of contexts. Unbeknownst to me, “chickpeas and pasta” are an Italian staple all over the boot. Although I personally had never had the dish, Darth Rachel’s scratchy voice assured me that it is “yum-o,” which of course comforts me in the recesses of my mind, Sand People pursuing or not.

In any case, this is a Weight Watcher’s recipe and I took only a few liberties with it. A good-size portion is a mere 7 on the old system (PointsPlus and 360° can fuck off frenetically). It’s vegetarian, filling, and good for you. It’s easy as hell to make, too, so it’s a perfect weekday dinner. And you will see that, as you eat this, you will tell people to just go away.

Chickpeas and Pasta

Serves 4

1 1/2 cups serving is an old Weight Watchers 7


4 tsp. olive oil

6 garlic cloves, minced

3 carrots, peeled and sliced thinly

1 tbsp. chopped fresh rosemary (or a teaspoon dried, I’m guessing)

2 tbsp. fresh chopped parsley, divided

1/4 tsp. crushed red pepper

1 14 1/2-oz. can diced tomatoes, undrained

1 16-oz. can chickpeas (garbanzos), drained and rinsed well

1/4 tsp. each of salt and freshly ground pepper

1 or 2 zucchini or yellow squash, peeled and made into ribbons (I used the peeler to make thick ribbons, but only shave the meaty parts rather than the seedy parts)

2 cups cooked pasta, like rotini, penne, or ditalini

1/4 cup parmesan

Makin’ It:

In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium to medium-high heat. Saute the garlic for a minute and then add the carrots, rosemary, red pepper, and 1 tablespoon o’ the parsley. Saute this for about 5 minutes, stirring regularly.

Add the tomatoes and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 10 minutes, stirring often. Start cooking the pasta about halfway through this.

Then, add the chickpeas, salt, pepper, and squash.  Simmer this for another 5 minutes, stirring here and there. Add in the pasta, parmesan, and the other tablespoon of parsley. Divide into four bowls and serve. Bob’s your uncle.

Chickpeas and Pasta 7

Now just go away.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013


Mashed Butternut Squash a la Weight Watchers

3 Oct

Weight Watchers Mashed Butternut Squash 5

Since I’m Italian, I get to tell Italian jokes. So there’s an old joke that goes something like this:

A Frenchman, an Englishman, and an Italian are lined up at the pearly gates to get into heaven. When they approach the gates, St. Peter says to them, “To gain admittance to heaven, each of you much pass a spelling test.”

The Frenchman, never daunted, goes first. “Spell ‘house,'” says St. Peter. “House. H-O-U-S-E. House.” The gates open and he enters.

The Englishman comes next, cocky bastard that he is. “Spell ‘goal,'” says St. Peter. “Goal. G-O-A-L. Goal.” The gates open and he enters.

Guiseppe walks up next and St. Peter asks him, “You’re Italian, right?”


“Spell ‘onomatopoiea.'”

I felt like this a few weeks ago when I and my student partner were dismissed from the podium for my misspelling of the word “cromlech” (pronounced crom-lek) in my first spelling bee since I was probably ten. “Cromlech,” you see, is a word that describes prehistoric megalithic structures. Stonehenge would be an example of a cromlech. And of all of the people that could have been asked to spell it in that room, I would guess that I would be most qualified to do so correctly; I majored in English, my specialty is medieval and Renaissance British literature, I watch archaeological documentaries on ancient Europe whenever I can find them (I remember at least three focusing on Stonehenge, no less), I am an anglophile to the hilt. I actually touched a cromlech in Ireland, I later learned.

I spelled it “c-h-r-o-m-l-e-c-h,” and was thus stripped of a potential trophy for a good cause (“ch” at the end, so it should be at the beginning, too, right? No. It’s Welsh, and therefore makes little sense linguistically). What’s worse is that the team after us got the word “hoary,” as in hoarfrost, or the lichen and mossy stuff that hangs off of old trees. It’s also used to describe old, grizzled people, like Gandalf. Hoary I read regularly. It’s actually one of my senior English class’s vocabulary words because it’s so common in British literature. Cromlech vs. hoary? What the fuck. It’s my beard they distrust, I know it.

So how does this figure into a recipe for mashed butternut squash? I think that when I first started the Weight Watchers program, I would sincerely pine for certain items, mashed potatoes being one of them. How can there be a substitute, a worthy substitute, for buttery, starchy goodness? I was biased against them at first, saying to myself, “Those can’t possibly be good. And they’re hard to make, I bet. Too much work,” etc. In essence, I was treating the substitutes as the Italian at the pearly gates and I at the podium were treated: I didn’t give them a fair shake. And if I continued to be slanted against those recipes, I surely should have gone to hell, just like the whore-y female announcer, the one who picked “cromlech” for my team and “hoary” for the next team, should and will.

This recipe will have your cockles tingling. It’s got some substance, it’s unbelievably tasty, and it works well with roasted or grilled chicken. It screams “autumn,” which can get annoying when I’m trying to cook. I got it from a website called and didn’t mess with it much. Each 1/2 cup serving is a 2 on the old Weight Watchers system (PointsPlus and 360° can go fuck themselves).

Mashed Butternut Squash a la Weight Watchers

Serves 5 or so, 1/2 cup servings (2 points on old WW)


1 butternut squash, about 2 pounds peeled and cubed (if you want to know how to do this, go to the bottom of this recipe:

2 tbsp. brown sugar

3 tbsp. lite margarine or reduced fat butter, melted

a dash o’ cinnamon

1/4 tsp. salt or to taste

1/4 tsp. black pepper

1/4 cup low-fat milk (I use 1%), heated a bit

Makin’ It:

Preheat the oven to 400°. Put the cubed squash in a big bowl and sprinkle on the brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, and pepper. Pour on the melted margarine and toss this all together well.

Pour this onto a cookie sheet and spread it out evenly. Make sure you pour out all of the liquid over it, too. It’ll look runny, but that’s ok. Put this in the oven for 40 minutes, tossing them with a spatula after about 20 minutes.

Once they’re cooked, put the cooked squash, the pan liquids, and the heated milk in a food processor (a masher doesn’t work, kids. A blender? Maybe.).  Process this until the it’s pureed. Transfer it to a bowl and serve it hot. Bob’s your uncle.

Weight Watchers Mashed Butternut Squash 1

May you find a hoary cromlech on the road ahead of you.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino

p.s. This post is dedicated to the friend and colleague who got me to compete in the spelling bee and has been an inspiration in so many ways.

Butternut Squash and Pasta (Pasta e zucca)

15 Feb

Pasta e Zucca 2

Today’s recipe post is all about love.  ‘Tis Valentine’s Day, of course, so it follows that whatever I post needs to effuse passion and desire.  Squash and Pasta is it for me.  Out of all of the dishes with which I grew up, this is my favorite. On my birthdays, my mom would ask me what I wanted for dinner, and this is usually what I requested, even after I had moved away from home.

This is another dish that when I made it for my wife the first time, although I was a bit shy about serving it, she just stopped after the first bite and said, “Oh my god.” Now we both can’t wait for fall to begin so this can be on the menu again. I remember one time that we were expecting company and I thought about making this for guests.  I had called my mom that day for whatever reason and told her what I was making.  Her reply was, “Jon, you don’t make that for company.  That’s peasant food. It’s comfort food.”  And it’s true.  I think I’ve made it for one or two people and that’s about it. I don’t want to exaggerate, but this dish is me, pure and simple.  No matter the circumstances, this cheers me up and satisfies me to the core.

This is purely vegetarian, even vegan, come to think of it, but it still sticks to the ribs.  It’s also a fall/ winter dish and most Neopolitans will serve this regularly during those seasons.  Just like so many Italian dishes, it takes simple ingredients and makes them magical.  It’s also very healthful in that its only fat is olive oil, and you’re getting a good serving of veggies with it.  Although one might think it overkill to eat this with a good hunk o’ bread, that one person should fuck off because this sauce on warm bread is pure indulgence.

The recipe below is from Naples at Table by Arthur Schwartz, but it tastes EXACTLY like my mom’s, who learned it from my nonna.  Like I said, this dish is love, so make it for that special someone and thank me later for the shenanigans after the meal and wine.

Butternut Squash and Pasta (Pasta e zucca)

Serves 4


2 lbs. butternut squash, cubed into 1″ pieces (see below) (you can also use acorn squash)

1/3 cup olive oil

5 cloves garlic, smashed

1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes

2 tsp. salt or to taste

5-6 cups water

1/2 spaghetti, broken into 1 1/2″ or slightly longer lengths (it’s peasant food, so it doesn’t have to be perfect, wise guy)

1/3 cup finely cut parsley, or 1 tbsp. dried

Parmigiano to serve

Makin’ It:

In a 3 quart or larger pot over medium-low heat, combine the oil and the garlic.  Cook the garlic until it’s soft and barely browning on both sides.  Press the garlic into the oil with the edge of a wooden spoon to get the flavor into the oil. Remove the garlic.

Add the cubed squash (again, see below) and the red pepper flakes.  Sprinkle this with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and raise the heat to medium-high.  Saute the squash, stirring fairly often, until it’s soft and starting to brown.  It almost gets gooey and stringy on the outside. This takes me about 12 to 15 minutes.  Some of the squash will stick to the bottom, which is okay, but don’t let it burn.

At this point, add the 5 to 6 cups of water, stir it well and scrape up the bits from the bottom of the pan.  Cover the pot, raise the heat to high, and get it to a rolling boil.

Stir in the pasta and recover it until it returns to a boil. Once boiling uncover it and cook the pasta according to your taste (10 minutes normally for spaghetti).  As it cooks, stir it once in a while and smash some of the squash cubes against the side of the pot to thicken the water .   You can do this a lot and make it like a stew, or do it a few times and make it soupier…whatever blows your hair back (obviously, there’s no draining pasta in this dish).

Stir in the chopped parsley, and it looks like this:

Pasta e Zucca 3

Pass the parmigiano.  Serve it hot, like this:

Pasta e Zucca 4

Note:  Reheating this is good, but in the microwave, cover it and stir it every few seconds because it will pop and crackle like a mofo.

Cubing a Butternut Squash:

Lay the squash on its side and cut off the ends.  Slice it into 1″ thick disks (or close to it…it’s peasant food, dude), like this:


Scoop out the seeds of the disks that have them, and then peel each disk, like this:


Then, slice this into cubes, like this:


Bob’s your uncle. Do I get exactly two pounds of squash?  No.  I get a good size one and use all of it because I like a lot of squash.

If you try this and enjoy it, let me know.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013