Well, it’s official, winter seems to have arrived. Today was the first really cold morning that I left the house wearing a winter coat, scarf, gloves and ear warmers. I definitely have a love-hate relationship with winter…snow is fun only during the first snowfall, until you have to shovel or dig out your car. I hate being cold but I love skiing, ice skating and hot chocolate (with marshmallows).
While I miss the warmer summer months, the best thing about winter (and the holidays) is all the rich food we get to eat! Holiday cookies, cakes, drinks – winter is definitely “eating” season. When you feel like curling up with a warm comforting dinner but you don’t want to completely ruin your diet, caramelized onion and spinach butternut squash pasta is the perfect dish. I had never thought to use squash as a pasta sauce until I found this recipe from Lauren’s Latest. Genius! The pureed butternut squash feels like a creamy, decadent sauce, but in reality you’re still eating your veggies! I added caramelized onions and spinach to bulk up the dish without adding meat, but you could surely add in chicken, sausage, etc.
Penne a la vodka used to be one of my all-time favorite Italian restaurant menu items to order. I say “used to” because while it’s so rich, creamy and insanely delicious, it’s also (very unfortunately) insanely high in calories. So, once I found this out, I swore off vodka sauce altogether. Fast forward to the invention of Pinterest…of course I found a creamy tomato pasta recipe reminiscent of penne a la vodka that claimed to get its creaminess from Greek yogurt! Sign me up!
Since we usually have one vegetarian night a week, I thought this would be the perfect sauce for pasta and veggies. I swapped out the penne and shrimp for linguine and dark leafy greens to bump up the “healthy” factor. When you add the protein from the Greek yogurt and whole wheat from the pasta, this is an all-around deliciously good-for-you dish! If you’re gluten-free, just use your favorite packaged gluten-free pasta. The sauce is decadent and creamy, and the hearty veggies add enough bulk and flavor to keep you satisfied, without the meat or fish. Plus, it’s ready in under 30 minutes — another weeknight dinner recipe to add to your collection!
“Pasta Night” began after my friends and I learned how to make pasta from scratch (ambitious, I know) at a cooking class and it has since become an annual tradition. The girls usually make a mess of the kitchen as we attempt to crank out fresh pasta while the guys eat all the appetizers and drink beer while watching whatever game happens to be on. Then we all sit down to a home-cooked meal (with lots of wine) and laugh the night away. I volunteered to make pesto and brought it to our very first pasta night. Since then, pesto has been a pasta night menu staple.
My mom always made pesto with fresh basil from our garden, and at some point over the years she started using walnuts instead of pine nuts. I love the taste and consistency with the walnuts, plus they’re a lot easier to find in the supermarket so I swapped out the pine nuts from Giada’s recipe in her ‘Everyday Italian’ cookbook.
As with everything in life, moderation is the key and in this case, a little pesto goes a long way. While this recipe was originally intended as a sauce over pasta (Giada says so), the freshness of the basil combined with the garlicky bite and salty creaminess from the Parmesan makes pesto delicious on just about everything. I love pesto as a topping for spaghetti squash, chicken or fish…just a tablespoon brightens up any main course while keeping the calories under control!
Pesto freezes well, so I like to make a double batch and freeze it in an ice-cube tray to get perfect portions whenever you need them. From-scratch pesto is SO much better than store-bought and it’s super easy to make it yourself! I can’t wait for our next pasta night…