For the past 5 weeks, I’d say, whenever I would go on the Food Network‘s website I would always “somehow” come across a recipe for Baked Ziti with Pumpkin and Sage. Starting on October 1st I like to give myself full rights with anything involving pumpkins (it’s amazing how much is out there that contains pumpkin). Especially now that the holiday season has began it is particularly intriguing to me and I absolutely love the flavor. It immediately sends me back home, and since I am home, I figured I just had to make it for dinner tonight!
The first thing I wanted to do, besides preheating my oven of course, was get my pecans candied for my salad so that they would have more than enough time to cool before adding them in the salad. I knew the dinner was not going to take too long so I figured it would be a nice way to start. I took 2 tablespoons of brown sugar and 2 tablespoons of butter and melted them together in a little saute pan as shown here:
It is very important to add the pecans (or whatever nut you choose) as soon as the sugar and butter melt or else your candied nuts will burn and, trust me, that is not the smell you want lingering throughout your home.
As soon as I added the nuts in the mixture I let them all become great friends for about 5 minutes. I probably could have let them go a little longer but I was not willing to let my precious babies burn, so I poured them out onto some parchment paper to let them cool.
Then, it was time to get the pasta started! Sausage. I could go on all night about the different varieties, types, and brands of sausage, but for now, lets just put it this way: I used mild italian sausage.
After removing the packaging, I sliced the sausage into bite sized pieces and got right to browning. NOTE: It is SO IMPORTANT to wash anything that had ANYTHING to do with raw meat. If any of you have fallen victim of food poisoning of any kind, I for one can sadly partake, it is just an absolute mess.
Here I have a plate that I lined with a paper towel where I placed the finished sausages. I know I have used the words “mise en place” before but I realized I never exactly explained what that means. It is used a lot in the kitchen at Johnson and Wales, and in every successful restaurant in the whole world. Generally speaking, it means “everything in its place”. Being organized and having everything together when you need it is very important and really can only be taught through practice. Lots and lots of practice. I cannot even tell you how many room temperature side dishes I have served to my chefs, resulting in a slight thwap on the back of my head.
After all the sausage was browned, I set them aside to nap while I got to work on the rest of my ingredients. I chopped up 1 small Spanish onion (or yellow onion), and 4 cloves of garlic (always one extra). I used the fat that rendered from my sausage as my “oil” for sweating the onion and garlic together. Then, it came down to the sauce. The spectacular binder bringing all of the deliciousness together.
Sage. I call sage the “fun herb” because it has a texture unlike any other. Do you remember in arts and crafts when we used that textured paper that was “felt” on one side and paper on the other? That soft felt is exactly what sage “feels” like. It is so interesting to me because holding it and feeling it makes me think that nobody should ever put that in their mouth, but it adds such an amazing flavor. When I chopped it and the oils were released it smelled like my living room the day after we put in our fresh christmas tree. It is pine-like and floral in smell, put slightly peppery to the taste.
After mixing the sage into the pumpkin mixture it turned into a beautifully pale orange color that practically whispered to me that Thanksgiving is in two days.
I then added the sauce to the sauteed onions and garlic. The cooked penne and sausage were added after, as well as a nice handful of fresh italian flat leaf parsley. I, personally, would have rather used whole wheat pasta, but a couple family members are still trying to adapt to the chewier texture that whole wheat supplies your mouth with. I happen to love it.
The recipe called for fresh parmesan on top, but I did not feel as though that was enough. This was a special little dinner and I was going to go all out, so I also added a layer of panko bread crumbs because I am a sucker for the crunchy crust on top of any baked dish. Oh, and I dotted little pieces of butter all of the top as well……but that is neither here nor there. 🙂
While the pasta was baking and bubbling away in the oven, I got started right away on the salad, and the first thing I made was the dressing.
Here, for my autumn salad dressing, I have a teaspoon of dijon, a teaspoon of balsamic, one small shallot, and 2 teaspoons of maple syrup. I am not exactly sure why maple is related to the fall. I love it every season of the year on top of my pancakes. But I just went with it. I whisked in a 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper to finish it off. Extra virgin olive oil should ALWAYS be used in salad dressings. No ifs, ands, or buts.
Being that my dressing was sweet (and do not forget those precious little candied pecans!), I felt it would be best to contrast that with peppery lettuce. I started with a bed of baby arugula, than added radicchio.
Radicchio, to me, is red cabbages adorable baby sister. It has quite a bitter and spicy taste to it, which would work great with the sweeter dressing. I gently peeled back the leaves and tore them with my hands, as to not bruise the leaves in any way.
To finish the salad I added the apples, candied pecans, and goat cheese. I absolutely love goat cheese and the tangy flavor brought everything together in my salad. I dressed it and it was ready to be eaten. Yum!
I could smell that my pasta was finished and when I took it out of the oven it was bubbling and smelled AMAZING.
Yay! I was so excited and so very hungry. It really was everything I was hoping it would be, and more. I, of course, shot gunned a corner because it had the most crispy-deliciousness. I was so happy eating my dinner tonight. 🙂