I’ve always been fascinated by the amazing variety of pasta shapes, and even moreso by the evocative names the Italians give them. From radiatore (little radiators) to farfalle (butterflies), to stracciapretti (priest stranglers), the various shapes give each pasta variety its own unique flavor and texture. Much in the way a wine connoisseur samples vintages to experience subtle nuances, I can’t resist sampling different pastas whenever they cross my path. So, when I spied a bag of the rare hand-stamped Ligurian Croxetti pasta on the shelf of a chi-chi Italian import shop, I had to buy it, even though the price tag gave me an acute case of sticker shock. Since this unusual coin-shaped pasta is traditionally found on the Italian Riviera, I figured I saved a bundle on airfare alone.
Croxetti are made using traditional wooden stamps to press an image into the pasta. The name “croxetti” comes from the fact that the original discs were stamped with a cross. The pasta I bought was stamped with a variety of images including a sheaf of wheat, a mortar and pestle, a flower, and the sun. These pasta medallions are adorable. Typically, croxetti are served with a pesto sauce, and, although my current basil patch isn’t yet ready for prime-time, I was fortunate to have one remaining container of frozen pesto from last year’s harvest.
I was surprised that the croxetti seemed to take forever to cook. There were two conflicting cooking times printed on the package label. In one place it said 15 to 18 minutes and in another, 8 to 10 minutes. Turns out neither were correct as it was closer to 30 minutes before the discs were cooked to tender yet chewy perfection.
I decided to add some a can of creamy cannellini beans (well rinsed and drained) to the pesto and pasta, and it proved to be a perfect choice. Served with a side of sautéed spinach, fresh picked from my garden, the dinner was transporting. When I closed my eyes, I could imagine myself in Liguria. Almost.
After a week of unseasonably warm temperatures, the cold weather is back and along with it, my desire for a comforting stew. I wanted to use my last remaining butternut squash that I picked months earlier from my now-frozen vegetable garden. A richly flavored African stew sounded like a good match. I adapted this stew from the recipe for North African Pumpkin Stew in Vegan Fire and Spice. In straying from the recipe, I enriched the sauce with a bit of peanut butter, added a lonely sweet potato that was languishing in the fridge, and topped it with some steamed baby spinach, because we love our greens and also because spinach goes so well with the flavors in this stew. Served over brown rice, the result was a delicious one-dish meal that tasted even better when we had it for lunch the next day.
Butternut Tribute Stew
This yummy stew was a fitting tribute to my last garden-grown squash from the fall. The recipe was adapted from Vegan Fire & Spice. If you don’t like heat, just omit the chiles.
2 tablespoons cold-pressed canola oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely minced
2 small, fresh hot chiles, seeded and chopped
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 small winter squash, seeded, peeled, and cut into bite-sized cubes
1 sweet potato, peeled and diced
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar, or a natural sweetener
2 cups water or vegetable broth
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 (15.5-ounce) can dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
Cooked brown rice or couscous, to serve
4 cups fresh baby spinach, steamed
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, cover, and cook until tender, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic, chiles, ginger, cinnamon, cumin, and allspice, and cook, stirring, for about 2 minutes. Add the squash and sweet potato and toss until evenly coated with the spices. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar, water, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low. Add the beans, cover, and simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 45 minutes. A few minutes before serving time, remove about 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid and place it in a small bowl. Add the peanut butter and stir to combine, then stir the peanut butter mixture back into the stew. To serve, spoon some rice into the bottom of shallow serving bowls. Top with the stew and place a small mound of steamed spinach on top.