Traditions, they bring us together as a family and a community; they provide comfort in times when life seems a bit overwhelming. Food is an integral part of tradition in every culture, especially at holiday time. Remembering our visits to the East Coast over the years, La Levitt so looked forward to the lasagna with tiny meatballs from one grandmother and brisket with a secret sauce from the other; the culinary traditions of two cultures.
The world changes, our children grow and evolve as individuals which sometimes requires looking differently at our traditions and deciding what is truly important. La Nipote has embraced life as a vegan for the most part of this past year and although we are proud of her sense of justice and resolve, it has created some challenges for the rest of us.
Thanksgiving con la famiglia comes with a set menu prepared by Mio Marito and myself, at the centerpiece of this is Ravioli with Squash – a family effort on Thanksgiving morning. A delicate but rich filling of roasted butternut squash and parmigiano, served with a butter and sage sauce – definitely not vegan.
Struggling with how to accommodate our dinner while still maintaining some sense of tradition, Cavatappi with Butternut Squash was developed. Without including any dairy products, I wanted to create a pasta dish that would be deep in flavor so that no one would feel deprived.
Incorporating sage as a key ingredient, using it throughout he preparation gave the elements a delicate sense of the herb without overwhelming the dish. Roasting always brings out the best in any vegetable, especially squash. Finally, a ladle or two of pasta water along with some toasted hazelnuts makes Cavatappi with Butternut Squash an ideal first course for Thanksgiving or any other fall evening.
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- 1 pound dried commercial cavatappi or similar sized pasta
- 1 large white onion, thinly sliced
- 3 - 4 pounds of butternut squash - peeled, seeded and cut into ½ inch cubes
- 7 to 8 Tbs. olive oil
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Bunch of fresh sage, preferably with large leaves
- ½ cup toasted hazelnuts, skin removed and coarsely chopped
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Parmigiano for grating as an option for non-vegans
- Preheat the oven to 425º degrees and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Place the cubed butternut squash on the lined baking sheet and drizzle with 3 or 4 tablespoons of the olive oil. Randomly add 3 large sage leaves torn into pieces to the baking sheet; more if they are smaller in size. Season the butternut squash and sage with salt and freshly ground black pepper, give the contents a good stir and place into the preheated oven. Roast for 30 to 45 minutes stirring once or twice during that time. The butternut squash should be browned yet tender. Remove from the oven and reserve.
- In the meantime heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add 2 or 3 large sage leaves and heat in the oil to release the flavor of the sage stirring for about 4 or 5 minutes. Add the thinly sliced white onion, stirring for the first few minutes on medium heat then turn the heat to low and cooking until lightly golden. Season with salt and a bit of freshly ground black pepper.
- Fill a large pasta pot with cold water, add 2 to 3 sage leaves and bring to a boil.
- Remove the sage leaves from the cooked onion and butternut squash. Add the butternut squash to the skillet with the onions and combine well.
- Once the pasta water has come to a boil, add a nice handful of salt then the pasta, giving the pasta a strong stir with the wooden spoon. Cook the pasta to just before the al dente stage, which is generally a few minutes less than the time on the package directions.
- Heat the onion and butternut squash over low heat while the pasta is cooking.
- Once the pasta is cooked, drain thoroughly, removing the sage leaves and add the cooked pasta to the onion and butternut squash. Turn the flame to medium and stir the contents well to be sure that the pasta has been coated by the vegetables. If the pasta seems a bit dry, add some of the pasta cooking water, a bit at a time.
- To serve, place the pasta in a large warm serving bowl, drizzle with a bit of extra virgin olive oil, top with the chopped hazelnuts and garnish with some sage leaves. Offer grated parmigiano for guests that do not observe a vegan diet.