Tag Archives: vegetarian

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.

T.J.’s Artichoke Ravioli in a Toasted Bread Crumb and Butter Sauce

15 Sep

T.J.'s Artichoke Ravioli in Toasted Crumb Butter Sauce 10

In his book Heat, Bill Buford chronicles his adventures as an amateur slave cook for Mario Batali, and his immersion into the professional cooking world. Amongst the people he mentions in the novel is Lidia Bastianich. If you’ve never seen her show, try to find it. She is about as close to one of my Italian aunts in the kitchen as one could get. Her recipes will make your legs shake and you’ll get that squishy feeling like you did when your crush passed you in 2nd grade or when you straddled a swing too long.

I mention Lidia because one of my favorite pieces of wisdom comes from her in Buford’s book. He talks about the link between food and sex, and he refers to a conversation he had with Lidia on this very subject. When pressed to explain further, Lidia states that, of course food is like sex, and then throws him a rhetorical question, “‘What else do you put in someone’s body?'” I never thought of it that way, but it’s dead on when you think about it, and it’s why good food and wine can lead to a euphoric, erotic level of being.

And the connections can be drawn from there. Perhaps the encounter is a fifteen-minute exercise in lust on the kitchen counter, or a quickie in the front seat of your car as you take a break from a long road trip, or the clumsy first time when all the ingredients are there, but you’re unfamiliar with timing and how everything works together. Or maybe it’s a languid evening that requires four hours of musical ambiance, punctuated by the brief recognitions of humanity’s inherent beauty and the privilege you feel in recognizing it, or maybe you’re just starving and you tear open everything and scarf it all down while closing the front door with your back left heel. This could be food. This could be sex.

This recipe effuses sexuality in that it’s indulgent, but also smooth and simple. Most importantly, it’s easy. When I first read it over, I was uneasy about using a whole stick o’ butter, but it was the perfect complement to these ravioli. Serve this with some greens in a light vinaigrette, and you’re getting lucky on two levels.

I mentioned Lidia because it so happens that this sauce is from her book, Lidia’s Family Table. Also, I use Trader Joe’s Artichoke Ravioli for this, but I think any good filled pasta would work famously with it. The recipe below serves 4, but I usually halve it since there are only two of us.

T. J.’s Artichoke Ravioli in a Toasted Bread Crumb and Butter Sauce

Serves 4 or so


2 packages Trader Joe’s Artichoke Ravioli, or a filled pasta of your liking

2 tbsp. dry bread crumbs

8 tbsp. butter (1 stick)

Lots of freshly ground black pepper

1 cup of the pasta-cooking water

2 tbsp. chopped parsley, Italian would be optimal

1 cup Parmesan or Grana Padano

Makin’ It:

Get a big ol’ pot of salted water boiling for the pasta.

In a small skillet, toast the bread crumbs over medium to medium-high heat, tossing them often so that they get browned evenly. When they are almost all brown, drop in 2 tablespoons of the butter. Remove the pan from the heat and swirl the pan around to melt the butter and stop the crumbs from getting too brown. Set this aside.

In a big skillet, melt the rest of the butter over medium heat. Grind in the black pepper generously. Ladle in 1 cup of the hot pasta water and get it simmering. Keep stirring and simmering it as it reduces a bit while you wait for the pasta to finish.

Remove the cooked pasta from the big pot o’ water and add it to the skillet. Toss it with the sauce. Off the heat, toss in the Parmesan and parsley. Plate your pasta portions (dividing the sauce among the four plates, obviously) and sprinkle the toasted bread crumbs on top of each right before serving, like this:

T.J.'s Artichoke Ravioli in Toasted Crumb Butter Sauce 2

Make and serve this, and it will be one of those encounters you remember in the wee hours of an insomniac night.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

Walnut Gorgonzola Fettuccine

8 Aug

Walnut  Gorgonzola  Fettucine 007

Things I’ve learned upon turning into a 40 year-old man

1.  If you have children, everything you did as a child comes back to haunt you amplified times 7.

2.  There is no shame in spending a good amount of time in Bath and Body Works searching for a pleasant smelling hand cream. No need to be nonchalant about it; it will make your day better.

3.  The grass isn’t greener. It’s a mirage brought on by your terrible thirst.

4.  The 1940’s and 1950’s never go out of style. Ever.

5.  Many of the “good” people who married young didn’t sow their oats enough when they were young, so they succumbed to #3 and are now either miserable or divorced.

6.  Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog” sucks in every way and no one should play it ever again.

7.  Human nature’s predictable repetition is a beautiful thing. I made it through 1980’s style, so its resurgence is a bottomless source of amusement and laughter for me.

8.  Man-scaping is not necessary; it depends on what your partner wants.

9.  On the whole, most people talk the talk but don’t walk the walk, especially the overly-zealous religious ones.

10.  “Violent antipathies are always suspect and betray a secret affinity.” -William Hazlitt

11.  The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Rush are that good. So is Neil Diamond.

12.  Don’t trust farts.

13.  Technology is my friend, but I’ve earned that friendship through the years: no garage door opener, no remote, Pong, Atari, cable switch box, 8 track cassettes, cassettes, vinyl, typewriters. I could go on for quite some time here, but if you lived through it, you get it.

14.  Making a tape or even a CD for someone was a labor of love and an art form that cannot be replicated now.

15.  Punch a bully in the nose once and they’ll usually leave you alone.

16.  Check your pockets before throwing them in the washing machine.

17.  The difference between pink and purple is your grip.

18.  Buy American. They get everything from China.

19.  There was only one Johnny Carson. Alas.

20. Making a light meatless pasta doesn’t emasculate me; it makes me even sexier and more worldly.

#20 leads into the recipe. And without further ado, here’s a pasta that’s meatless, sexy, worldly, and a 6 on the old Weight Watchers system (PointsPlus and 360° can fuck off wontonly).  I admit, I double it and suffer a 12 because it’s so good, but that’s me.  It’s one of their recipes that’s actually excellent and made by someone who knows how to cook, an often rare concept in the WW world.  While this has a light taste, it’s filling and wonderful, and it’s beyond easy to make.  Try it and you’ll see. You’ll also see that it’s a perfect get-laid-dish for a male (40 year-old or not) with few cooking skills.

Walnut Gorgonzola Fettuccine

Serves 4, 1 cup each


1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese.

1/4 cup chicken broth

1 tsp. lemon zest

6 oz. fettuccine

1/4 cup walnuts, toasted lightly

1/4 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese

2 tbsp. chopped Italian parsley

Makin’ It:

1.  In a bowl, whisk together the ricotta, chicken broth, and lemon zest until ’tis smooth.

2.  Cook the fettuccine according to the package or to your liking. Drain it and return it to the pot. (Note: don’t totally drain and dry the pasta. A little of the pasta water is good to keep it all moist. Just don’t overdo it.)

3. Add in the ricotta mixture and toss it well. Add in the walnuts, Gorgonzola cheese, and parsley. Toss it all again. Using tongs, grab a portion (1/4 if serving four smaller portions, 1/2 if serving two bigger portions) and twirl it into a bowl or onto a plate. Make sure you evenly distribute the walnuts and cheese as they have a tendency to settle at the bottom of the toss pot (British folks may laugh at this point). I usually will top each portion with the extra nuts and cheese.

Walnut Gorgonzola Fettucine 001

Easy as turning 40.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

Israeli Couscous

13 Apr

Israeli Couscous 3

In one of my first posts, I shared an Israeli couscous recipe attached to a recipe for tandoori chicken pitas.  The pictures were horrible and did not do the dish justice.  Moreover, it was part of a very convoluted post and it was the first time I made it.  Since then, I have made it a few times, tweaked the recipe, and I am now certain that this will make anyone’s nipples erect and tingly.  So I decided to do a separate post on it.

This dish could be a meal in and of itself.  If you grill up some chicken breasts, slice them, and put it on top of this, you have a very healthy and tasty dinner.  Use vegetable broth and it’s vegetarian.  Any sort of candied nuts will do, and they are easily made if you have plain ol’ nuts in the pantry (“Nuts in the Pantry” sounds like a great album name or a Three Stooges episode, no?).

This recipe was originally inspired by the recipe on the back Trader Joe’s Israeli Couscous.

Israeli Couscous

Serves 6 at least


2 tbsp. olive oil

1/2 cup red onion or shallots

1 1/2 cups Israeli couscous

1 cinnamon stick

1 bay leaf

2 cups broth (chicken or vegetable would be best)

1/2 tsp. salt

a handful of chopped parsely, chopped

lemon zest from 1/2 of a lemon

1/4 cup chopped candied nuts (I got the candied walnuts from Trader Joe’s and they’re unreal) or pine nuts

1/4 cup of raisins or similar dried fruit (figs, cranberries, etc.)

black pepper to taste

Makin’ It:

In a medium sauce pan over medium to medium high heat, heat the olive oil and saute the onion until it’s golden, about 7 minutes.  Add the couscous, cinnamon stick, and bay leaf, and saute until the couscous starts to get golden, about four minutes and stirring often.

Slowly pour in the chicken broth and add the salt.  Bring it to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover, and let cook for 12 minutes or until tender.  Uncover, fluff, add in the parsley, lemon zest, nuts, raisins, and pepper, and mix well. Sprinkle with additional parsley and you’re rockin’, like this:

Israeli Couscous 2

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

Frittelle di Cavolfiore (Cauliflower Fritters)

17 Feb


Cauliflower Fritter 2

I’ve noticed a bit of a pattern when I make my comfort food.  I always think that no one will like it. Yet when I bring it into the English teacher workroom, everybody wants to try it, and lo and behold, they dig on it.  I’ve never had anyone, and I mean anyone, not like these fritters unless they’re lying bastards, which they could be without a doubt, especially in my English department.

For whatever reason, I think my pessimism is residual bashfulness from my childhood.  My family was different from the “normal” American family, whatever that means.  My pop, who has a thick accent, never watched football on Sundays because he was rebuilding classic MGs and couldn’t care less about football.  I could be late for anything, including church and school, but not for dinner.  I might belabor this point if I didn’t know there are a shitload of “You know you’re Italian if…” lists out there, so you get the point.

Personally, I never brought a girlfriend to a family gathering until my late teens/ early twenties. I think I was self-conscious because I thought she wouldn’t like the food or would think I was abnormal based on the family.  That first time I did bring her to a family party, right after we left she said to me, “You know how different your family is, right?”  I realize now that she meant it as a compliment…something of which I should be proud.  I got offended.  I told her that America is a melting pot, goddammit, and that we are part of the fabric.  I was right, but we are “different” too. I have since lightened up quite a bit, obviously.

After My Big Fat Greek Wedding came out, I remember my cousin asking me, “Did you see that movie?!?  It’s our family!”  So true was she, except that we’re Italian and not Greek.  At our family gatherings, everyone yells and gets passionate, yet we’re not pissed at each other…most of the time.

Even now at our family gatherings, everything centers around food and drink, and I think the biggest difference between my parents’ generation and mine and my brothers’ is that the guys cook in this generation.  And with only one girl in this round of grand kids,  I think that tradition will continue.

My pop said he and his buddies would buy fried treats in Naples at little fry shops called friggitorie.  My aunts, nonna, and mom made these regularly and they are absolutely delightful.

Frittele di Cavolfiore (Cauliflower Fritters)

Makes a bunch of ’em…enough for six I would think.


1 big head o’ cauliflower, stemmed and broken into florets (I am guessing a bag o’ florets would work too, but you’d be ghetto and lazy, of course)

1 to 1 1/2 cups flour

1 cup of milk

2 eggs

salt and pepper to taste (1/2 tsp. of each works for me)

Vegetable oil for frying

Makin’ ‘Em:

First, you need to parboil the cauliflower, so steam the florets for about 10 minutes and drain. They’re ready when you stick a fork into a floret and it splits, but it isn’t mushy; they’ll have a moist firmness to them.

Then, as my mom told me, you need to make a savory pancake batter.  Mix the flour, eggs, milk, salt, and pepper.  It shouldn’t be too thick, so that’s why you have to feel how much flour you need. Add in the drained cauliflower and mix it well, breaking up the florets with a metal spoon’s edge so there are chunks, rather than florets, of cauliflower in the batter.

In a big skillet, pour enough oil to fry, about 1/2 cup.  Get it hot enough so that a drop of water pops, dude.  Working in batches, drop 1/4 cup or so of the batter mix in the hot oil, and let it get golden brown on one side, about 2 minutes or so.  Using tongs and a fork, flip them carefully and brown the other side.  Drain them on paper towels and season them more with salt and pepper, but be careful not to over-salt them.  You should get this:

Cauliflower Fritter 3

Everyone except me eats them as is.  I love to dip them in ketchup mixed with sriracha or tabasco because I’m ghetto like that.  Truly, they need nothing, as you will taste.

Raise the glasses! Say it aloud and make the guests repeat!

Acqua fresca, vino puro, fica stretta, cazzo duro.

Buon Appetito!

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

Baked Penne with Butternut Squash and Ricotta

26 Dec

Baked Butternut Squash Pasta

‘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 (  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


Cooking spray

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

Makin’ It:

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:

Baked Squash Pasta 1

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:

Baked Squash Pasta 2

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:

Baked Squash Pasta 3

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:

Baked Squash Pasta 5

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.

Baked Butternut Squash Pasta

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