Fall Harvest Browned Butter Pasta

During the summer I rarely eat pasta as I prefer lighter and cooler meals in the hot weather. As the temperature drops and the leaves change, I reintroduce pastas and soups into my regular rotation. However, with Montana’s bipolar weather patterns, fall typically holds as many days in the 70s as it does in the 40s, which makes my usual bulk preparation a bit more challenging. Quinoa salads are great for this, because they are excellent both warm and cold, making it easy to match the weather and my mood for the day, but I don’t want to eat one every week. Another option are vegetable-heavy pasta meals that don’t involve a heavy sauce.

This recipe is partly inspired by my favorite cookbook, written by an elite distance runner. It’s full of hearty and delicious meals that aren’t “skinny” but still full of veggies and healthy fats. I modified my version slightly, adding Brussels sprouts and changing the spices a little, based off a similar recipe online. The result is a colorful mix of veggies and pasta, falling somewhere between a light summer entree and a cozy fall one.

Brussels sprouts are a winter staple for me, as they keep well in the fridge and roasting them is simple and always delicious. (They are also sold at Costco, which admittedly factors heavily into my produce selections.) The butternut squash takes a bit more effort to prepare, but you can really streamline the process by buying the pre-diced version. This does feel slightly ridiculous, but it saves a huge amount of time and effort so personally I think it’s worth the extra couple dollars.

Browned butter adds a nice caramel flavor, complimented by herbs and a few red pepper flakes. I kept my sauce on the light side as I wanted the veggies to shine, but absolutely double the sauce recipe if you want a more decadent experience. I opted to add toasted walnuts for some crunch, and parmesan (because you can’t go wrong with cheese) for a delicious protein boost. I personally loved this recipe in its original vegetarian state, but some crumbled bacon or prosciutto would be a nice addition as well.

It reheats nicely for leftovers, and is also pretty good cold if you didn’t add too much extra sauce. Welcoming in the fall vegetables without the heat or heaviness of a chili, it bridges the divide from summer to winter with a more gradual shift. If, like me, you’re in a place that can’t quite make up it’s mind about the weather, a batch of this will be that perfect mix of cozy and cool.

Fall Harvest Browned Butter Pasta

Inspired by Maebells and Run Fast, Eat Slow
Serves 6-8

Ingredients

2 lbs butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and diced
2 lbs Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
2 Tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste

1 lb pasta (I used casarecce)

for the sauce
1/2 cup unsalted butter
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 tsp dried sage
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly grated pepper
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)

optional toppings
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and line two baking sheets with aluminum foil.
  2. In a large bowl, mix together butternut squash and 1 tablespoon of olive oil until squash is well coated. Spread in an even layer on one baking sheet.
  3. In the same bowl, mix together Brussels sprouts and remaining 1 tablespoon of oil, mixing until well coated. Spread in an even layer on the other baking sheets.
  4. Sprinkle both sheets with salt and pepper, to taste.
  5. Roast for 30 minutes (squash on top), stirring halfway through, until squash is tender.
  6. Remove squash from oven and move sprouts to the upper rack, roasting another 5-10 minutes until browned and crispy.
  7. Meanwhile, cook pasta al dente, according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
  8. When the veggies have about 10 minutes remaining, make the sauce: melt butter in a large pot (I used a wok) over medium heat. Simmer until it begins to darken and contains brown flecks, stirring occasionally.
  9. Turn off the heat and stir in garlic and spices.
  10. When the veggies and pasta are done, stir gently into the sauce until completely combined and evenly coated.
  11. Serve hot with extra grated pepper, optionally topped with one tablespoon each of Parmesan and toasted walnuts.

Notes

I kept the sauce fairly light as I wanted the veggies to shine through. If you’re looking for a rich, buttery experience, feel free to double the sauce recipe.

To toast walnuts, spread on a baking sheet and bake at 400 degrees until warmed, lightly golden, and a little crunchier (about 5 minutes).

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Homemade Frozen Pizzas

Last weekend Montana skipped straight from the heat of summer to its first snowfall. It didn’t stick much at the city level, but nonetheless resulted in a lovely “November” run on Saturday, and the snow-capped mountains are a welcome relief from the smokey haze we’ve been battling for weeks.

When the weather cools I start thinking about soups and chilis like any sane person, but I also think a bit more about quick freezer meals. One of my (many) odd quirks is that I really prefer not to bake in the dark. I have no idea where this mentality came from, but it sometimes makes the blog posts challenging in those few months of the year when all the daylight is during work hours and the weekends are filled with skiing. Arriving home in pitch black also makes me much less inclined to start a full dinner, and if I don’t have leftovers to reheat I usually end up with a grilled cheese or scrambled eggs. Despite my love of both, they do get a bit repetitive (and not particularly healthy) when eaten too often in lieu of a proper dinner.

A staple of most college kids, frozen pizzas are a quick and easy dinner for those busy evenings. I personally never buy them, since the odd ingredients and all-or-nothing style of vegetables don’t appeal to me, but the idea seemed incredibly sound. Armed with my mom’s dough and sauce recipes, I set off to make my own.

I pre-baked the crust to make it a little sturdier for storage, then topped them all with my favorite mix of meat, produce, and cheese. I am one of those people who likes fruits on their pizza, so sorry (not sorry) in advance if my pineapple and mandarins repulse you. I made one that evening, then froze the remaining five before wrapping in plastic wrap and sealing in Ziplocs to try another day.

Like the store-bought variety, these can be baked directly out of the freezer, sans all the wrappings. The bottoms have a tendency to brown faster than the cheese melts, so bake them one rack above center. If you are truly anti-crispy with regards to crust, bake on a silicon mat instead of directly on the baking sheet. They keep a month or two in the freezer with no dip in quality, and would probably last longer if you don’t eat them before then.

Alternatively, instead of adding the toppings right away, you can freeze the crusts naked and top when you bake them. This takes away a bit of the preparedness, of course, but has the added benefit of letting you add whichever toppings you feel like that day. It also gives you a bit more flexibility since certain toppings (like leafy greens, berries, raw tomato) may not freeze quite as well.

I made mine into small personal sized pizzas as their intended to be a one-off meal, and also so they fit nicely into gallon Ziploc bags for storage. You can make one pizza for tonight and freeze the rest for later, which makes the effort of mixing your own dough and sauce a little less off-putting. Despite the long list of ingredients, this is actually an incredibly easy project, and if you have all your toppings cut ahead of time it’s even fast enough for a weekday meal. Personal pizzas are also great if you have a variety of preferences in the house. M prefers a very high meat:not meat ratio, and loathes olives with a fiery passion; I prefer just a touch of meat and often experiment with more unusual combinations. Having individual pizzas for each of us makes it easy to customize the amounts of each topping, with no chance of contamination.

With school back in session, hunting season underway, and the cold weather imminent, this is a great time to prep a few meals for future nights. Make up a batch or two of dough and in an hour or two you can have 8-10 meals in the freezer for later.

Homemade Frozen Pizzas

Adapted from AllRecipes and Food.com
Serves 4-6 people1

Ingredients

Sauce
2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced

8oz can tomato sauce
6oz can tomato paste
2 Tbsp grated parmesan cheese
1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp fennel seed
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1 small bay leaf

Crust
1 cup water at 110 degrees Fahrenheit
1 (.25 oz) package active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar

2 1/2 cups bread flour
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 tsp salt

cornmeal

Topping Suggestions2
2-3 cups freshly grated mozzarella cheese
12 oz hot Italian sausage, browned and drained
1 bell pepper, diced and sautéed
15 oz can pitted black olives, sliced
20 oz can pineapple chunks

Directions

  1. For the sauce: In a large skillet or saucepan over medium heat, melt butter and oil. Add onion and garlic and saute until onion is soft and transparent.
  2. Add remaining ingredients and bring to a simmer. Continue to simmer at least 30 minutes for best flavor.
  3. Remove bay leaf and use an immersion blender to puree until smooth.
  4. For frozen pizzas, let cool completely and store in the fridge until ready to use. For pizzas you’re baking right away, you can use it now.
  5. For the crust: In the bowl of a stand mixer, add sugar and yeast. Slowly stream in water and stir gently. Let rest 10 minutes, until yeast has foamed.
  6. Gently and briefly stir in flour, salt, and oil. Using the dough hook, beat on low until dough comes together and pulls away from the sides. Let rest for 5-10 minutes.
  7. Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit and sprinkle pizza pans or cookie sheets with cornmeal. Set aside.
  8. Sprinkle your counter or a cutting board with flour. Divide dough into desired number of servings and gently roll into circles. Transfer to prepared pans.
  9. Bake for 5-12 minutes, until crust is just starting to firm up. For mini pizzas this will be 5 minutes, for one large pizza it could be up to 12. If you’re making frozen pizzas, be very careful not to over bake.
  10. Remove from oven, and allow to cool slightly (for eat it now), or completely (for frozen pizzas).
  11. Assembly for eat it now: Spread sauce onto crusts to within 1/2 inch of edge, and top with desired toppings. Bake an additional 10-20 minutes, or until crust is desired crispness, cheese is melted, and toppings are warm.
  12. Assembly for frozen crusts: Allow crusts to cool completely, then wrap carefully in plastic wrap, seal in a Ziploc, and store in the freezer until ready to use. (You can add your toppings to the frozen crust, then bake as instructed below.)
  13. Assembly for frozen pizzas: Allow crusts, sauce, and topping to cool completely. I like to prep everything on one day, store the sauce in toppings in the fridge overnight, and then make the pizzas the next day. Crusts are fine on the counter in an airtight container.
  14. Spread crusts with sauce to within 1/2 inch of edges, and then add desired toppings. For mini pizzas I about 1/2 cup cheese and 1/4 cup meat, then arrange the other toppings as they fit.
  15. Transfer pizzas to cookie sheets or cutting boards and then freeze until solid.
  16. Remove from freezer and wrap each pizza individually with plastic wrap, then place into Ziploc bags or airtight containers for longer-term storage. They should keep just fine for a couple of months if they are well wrapped. Pro tip: Use tape or labels to write baking instructions on each pizza.
  17. If you have leftover toppings, use them for scrambled eggs or omelets, on salad, or freeze for later use.
  18. Baking: Preheat oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit and for crispy crust on large pizzas move rack to one below center. For personal frozen pizzas with frozen toppings, you may want to move rack to one above center.
  19. Unwrap frozen pizza and place on a cookie sheet or pizza pan. For less crispy crust, use a silicon mat.
  20. Bake an additional 15-25 minutes (depending on pizza size) or until crust is browned on the bottom, cheese is melted, and toppings are heated through. If the toppings are browning too fast for the crust, cover lightly with foil for the remaining bake time (and make a note to yourself that you might prefer to use a lower rack in the future.)

Notes

Lots of options here: one family sized pizza, two larges, 3 mediums, 4-6 personal sized pizzas. I did 6 smallish personal-sized pizzas because I like to have a side salad to make a well-rounded meal. Feel free to do whatever sizes suits you!

These are the toppings used in my pictures, but mix it up or make substitutions to fit your dietary needs/preferences.

Blackberry Peach Smoothie

Although I mostly stick with my go-to peanut butter and banana smoothie, I occasionally am interested in a more summery flavor profile. Typically I concoct one from whatever happens to be my in freezer at the time, which is usually a mixture of bananas, berries, and melons, and maybe a cucumber or two. Blackberries are far and above my favorite berry but as they are quite strong in flavor I like to pair them with something a bit more mild. Bananas are excellent for this, of course, but in late summer peaches are easily my ideal complement.

This is another excellent smoothie for any time of day, an equally delicious way to start your day as it is to end it. With plenty of fresh fruit and a hidden veggie boost, its flavor is reminiscent of a cobbler but much lower in sugar. The spinach muddies the color a bit, but otherwise it’s not even noticeable. Ground oatmeal makes a nice thickener as well as keeping you fuller longer, and my trusty dash of cinnamon rounds it out nicely. If you prefer yours a bit sweeter, add a dollop of pure maple syrup.

It’s not necessary to peel your peaches before freezing them, but make sure they are in small enough chunks to fit in your blender. I typically cut mine into eighths since that’s the easiest way to pit them anyway. Slice and pit a whole tray at once and then arrange on a piece of parchment paper to freeze. Once frozen you can transfer them to a Ziploc or other storage without fear of them sticking into one giant clump of peach. I use this method to freeze all my fruits and veggies for smoothies (and oatmeal) – everything from sliced bananas and berries to cucumber and zucchini. It takes a little prep time, but it’s well worth the convenience later.

Sweet peaches and tart blackberries come together in combination perfect for those later days of summer when both are overly abundant. Whether you’re buying from Costco or local stand, or lucky enough to be picking them yourself, it’s a delicious way to use up excess fruits that are maybe a little beyond the raw-eating prime. With these last few weeks of toasty weather ahead, you should have ample time to give this a whirl.

Blackberry Peach Smoothie
Makes one 16-20 oz smoothie

Ingredients

1/3 cup oatmeal

1 ripe peach (pitted, sliced, and frozen)1
1/4 cup blackberries, frozen
1 – 1.5 cups coconut milk (or any unsweetened milk)

1 – 2 cups frozen and crushed baby spinach
1-2 tsp maple syrup (optional)
cinnamon, to taste

Directions

  1. Place oatmeal in blender (I like to use the single-serve size so I don’t accidentally make a gigantic smoothie) and blend until finely ground.
  2. Add remaining ingredients (optionally reserving a peach slice and two berries for garnish) and blend until completely mixed (this could take a minute or so). If it’s too thick, blend in additional milk one tablespoon at a time until desired consistency is reached.
  3. Enjoy immediately with a straw, a sunny day, and a good book.

Notes

1  I typically slice mine into roughly eighths as they fit into my single-serving blender cup better that way. You can slice yours more or less to suit your needs.

I like to put a bunch in the freezer and then crush it all once it’s frozen. Then it’s really easy to measure out a cup or two for each smoothie on the fly.

Race Day Smoothie

About five years ago I discovered my favorite green smoothie, which I basically lived on during an extremely hot and smokey summer in Helena. I was admittedly liberal with the peanut butter and a bit light on the spinach, but overall it was a decently healthy dinner option for those days I didn’t want to eat anything warmer than ice.

Over the years I’ve lightened up my original recipe, opting for coconut or almond milk instead of cow’s and substituting PBFit peanut butter powder instead of the real deal. Peanut butter powder may sound silly, but in baking or smoothies I actually prefer it over the original. The peanut flavor is a bit more concentrated and it really lowers the amount of calories and fat. I’m not a calorie counter by any means, but it makes it much easier to create a snack-sized version while keeping all that wonderful peanut flavor.  I’ve also probably doubled the amount of spinach I use, since I’m now inclined to add it to almost anything from smoothies to soup to scrambled eggs, and it’s definitely my preferred salad base. The spinach only vaguely modifies the flavor but gives a big nutrient boost – presuming you don’t mind the crazy green color. I admit it’s a bit off-putting to the uninitiated but I’m so used to it that this smoothie without spinach now looks and tastes strange to me.

During the summer and fall I participate in tons of running events, where you have to get up stupid early in the morning in order to make it to the start line or bus pickup on time. My usual race day breakfast (or really any day breakfast) is oatmeal with banana and PBFit, but on the days it’s too hot for that I opt for this smoothie instead. They contain basically the same ingredients, with the smoothie having that extra spinach boost. It goes down much easier when it’s already 75 degrees or more, and takes just as little time to prep in the morning.

I like to pre-grind the oatmeal so there aren’t large chunks clogging up my straws, but it’s not strictly necessary if you have a really quality blender. The oatmeal not only adds some calories and makes the smoothie more filling, but I really enjoy the hearty flavor it adds to the palate. It’s not overwhelming but reminiscent of an oatmeal cookie, and is still pleasant for people who necessarily enjoy oatmeal on its own.

This smoothie tastes like a peanut butter banana milkshake but is a much healthier way to start the day. With the addition of oatmeal it sticks with you for quite a while, making it perfect for both pre-race and post-race. It’s also a pretty legit dinner for those days you’re feeling lazy or in a hurry but still want something on the healthy end of the spectrum, and your boyfriend isn’t around to insist smoothies are not a real dinner.

Race Day Smoothie
Makes one 16-20 oz smoothie

Ingredients

1/3 cup oatmeal

1 ripe banana (peeled, sliced, and frozen)2
1 – 1.5 cups coconut milk (or any unsweetened milk)
2 Tbsp PBFit
1+ cups frozen and crushed baby spinach
cinnamon, to taste

Directions

  1. Place oatmeal in blender (I like to use the single-serve size so I don’t accidentally make a gigantic smoothie) and blend until finely ground.
  2. Add remaining ingredients and blend until completely mixed (this could take a minute or so). If it’s too thick, blend in additional milk 2 tablespoons at a time until desired consistency is reached.
  3. Enjoy immediately with a straw, a sunny day, and a good book.

Notes

1  For a lighter smoothie I just leave out the oatmeal; this is great for the days you want a lighter breakfast or a healthier snack/dessert later in the day. But for an entrée smoothie the oatmeal adds great flavor and makes it a lot more filling!

2  I typically slice mine into roughly eighths as they fit into my single-serving blender cup better that way. You can slice yours more or less to suit your needs.

I like to put a bunch in the freezer and then crush it all once it’s frozen. Then it’s really easy to measure out a cup or two for each smoothie on the fly.

Roasted Red Pepper and Bacon Salad

I’ve written about my favorite Italian restaurant in Bozeman, Fresco Cafe, as the inspiration for one of my grilled cheese concoctions from April. This is probably the place I go to with the most regularity, both for team lunches with work and with out-of-town visitors. It has delicious pastas and paninis, several delightful salads, and the specials are always on point. Although a semi-expensive place to dine, it is worth every single dollar to have amazing food and service every time. (As an aside, it’s also one of the few places that serves plain water rather than ice water, which is always worth a lot of points in my book.)

A couple of weeks ago during team lunch, the special salad was basically the combination of all my favorite things: bacon, bell peppers, goat cheese, and balsamic vinaigrette. Served atop a bed of mixed spinach and arugula, it was one of the best salads I’ve ever had, in addition to being the perfect size for lunch. I expressed my ecstatic review, as well as requested they put it on the regular menu, which is something I’ve never actually bothered to do at a restaurant before. Since they haven’t heeded my advice yet, I set out to recreate a similar experience in my own kitchen.

It might sound plain and possibly too light, but with a slice of bread and a latte (I always get a latte at Fresco) it was properly filling without leaving me feeling overstuffed and heavy for the rest of the afternoon. Roasted red peppers are something I could eat with every meal, and you’ve probably already noticed I have a slight obsession with goat cheese (blame Costco.) Bacon and walnuts bring a little salt and a lot of protein to the dish, and a bed of leafy greens rounds out the meal nicely.

The original uses their house-made balsamic vinaigrette, but I opted to dress mine with plain balsamic vinegar from my local oil and vinegar spot. This was mostly out of laziness but also because it’s one of my favorite ways to top any savory salad. In any case, you can substitute your favorite balsamic vinaigrette or reduction in its place for a more traditional pairing.

I served mine with the bacon and peppers still warm (which will be extra great in the winter), but you could absolutely let them cool to room temperature during these excessive heatwaves everyone is having. I made myself all four servings and then each day assembled the leftovers for lunches this week. If you do the same, you could either serve it all cold or briefly reheat the bacon and peppers in the microwave before stirring it all together, as I’ve done for the past three days. Goes perfectly with a side of focaccia fresh from the Co-op.

Roasted Red Pepper and Bacon Salad

Inspired by Fresco Cafe
Serves 4

Ingredients

8 slices bacon
2 large red bell peppers, thinly sliced

1 cup walnuts, halved

~8 cups fresh spinach & arugula (10-12 oz)
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar (or your favorite vinaigrette or reduction)

4 oz goat cheese, crumbled

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a rimmed cookie sheet (or two quarter sheets, if you have them) with foil. If you’re using one sheet, create an edge of foil in the middle of the pan.
  2. Arrange bacon in one half of the pan; lightly coat the other half with olive oil and arrange the peppers on top.
  3. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or to desired doneness. Remove bacon to paper towels to drain and set aside bell peppers.
  4. Spread walnuts on the bare pan and return to the oven to toast for 3-5 minutes.
  5. In a large bowl, gently toss greens and balsamic vinegar (or dressing.)
  6. Divide greens into four bowls or plates – don’t scrape the mixing bowl.
  7. Gently toss bell peppers in the large bowl with leftover vinegar/dressing, then arrange on top of the greens.
  8. Slice bacon on an angle into bite-size pieces and arrange in the bowls.
  9. Top each with walnuts, goat cheese, and freshly ground pepper.
  10. Enjoy immediately, optionally garnished with a slice of bread.