Monday, June 22, 2015

herbed summer squash pasta bake

summer squash pasta bake

One of the things I’ve first-world struggled with since the beginning of this incubation period is a lack of appetite. Of course, there’s the glib side of me — great for managing weight gain! why “eat for two” if you can eat for half?! — but mostly, it’s a bummer. I thought that after the first trimester nausea passed, I’d be good to go and yes, I’m back to eating regular meals, but my enthusiasm has only returned in short bursts. Sure, I’ve shamelessly consumed all matter of crispy eggs with soy sauce, sesame oil and chile flakes (flipped only long enough to keep the food police at bay, or so I tell you). I will eat almost any green vegetable roasted to a blistering crisp with olive oil and salt and finished with lemon juice. Speaking of lemons, we go through homemade, barely sweet lemonade by the half-carafe. And some cravings are even fun; for example, “the baby wants ribs” was a text I sent out to friends a few weeks ago while led to a great deck party. But do you know when I sat down with my plate after an afternoon of carefully preparing three glorious racks of ribs, I could only eat one? It’s rather grim for a so-called food writer to go through life unmotivated by hunger and cravings, to have become a person who shrugs and says “Meh, whatever you want to eat is fine.” I don’t even know me.


zucca shape, which turns out to not mean zucchini
summer squash and zucchini

And so, with just a couple weeks to go and with the additional invader of final-stretch fatigue, rather than continuing to try to push myself to cook things I lose interest in halfway — a saffron-brothed couscous salad from last week is the latest victim — I’m instead shifting my focus to future meals. Because if there’s anything I remember from the baby-feeding side of things from last time, it’s that I was hungry enough that I honestly would have eaten the sofa if I was more convinced it would have gone down well with a couple shakes of hot sauce. I kind of can’t wait.

thinly sliced squash

So, let’s talk about freezer meals. I didn’t prepare these last time; we’re New Yorkers, baby! We can order anything at any time! Plus, our families brought food over and we made do. But this time, we have a 5 year-old who needs proper meals and snacks and I imagine the transition to being a family of four will be exhausting enough that we will not need the additional stress of a hangry kid, nor will he need the additional stress of not knowing if dinner will be ready any time soon. I bemoaned in a comment conversation recently that I wasn’t sure how to plan future meals when I barely had motivation to plan tonight’s dinner, but the solution has turned out to be very simple: cook once, freeze half.

seared, lemon juice-d

But I was still stuck. When I think of things that freeze well, I think of casseroles, macaroni and cheese, heavy lasagnas, enchiladas, essentially bricks of deep, wintery foods and I don’t know about you, but the thought of eating this way in the summer — especially with the added stress of trying to eradicate that baby belly (mine, of course; all attached to actual tiny humans can and should be worn with pride) — depresses me. It’s hot and sticky enough in New York. I wondered how many dishes could be reoriented to the spring and summer months, maybe with local produce and herbs snipped from our deck garden.

my herb garden!

I began dreaming about a summer version of this past winter’s mushroom marsala pasta bake. My favorite things about it were how heavy it was on vegetables relative to a small amount of pasta, that it wasn’t terribly rich but it had a ton of flavor, and, if you played your cards right, it could be made and then baked entirely in one pot. And yet, it was anything but workaday or predictable. It tasted special. It tasted like the kind of thing I would want to defrost first, given the chance.

herbing up the sauce
stir everything together

And so as soon as the goofy-looking summer squash appeared at markets last week, I got to work. They’re sliced thin and seared at a blistering high heat in olive oil with salt and pepper flakes until browned and semi-collapsed, then doused with a little lemon juice. The pasta sauce is a bechamel, but loaded with early summer scallions, a bit of garlic, a handful of fresh herbs and lemon zest, this “white sauce” is instead green-flecked and summery. There’s just enough cheese that you know it’s going to be delicious but not so much that you’re going to need a nap, because heaven knows that’s not going to be in the cards for us for the next 18 years. [Woe.] It reheats wonderfully, and simultaneously solved a weekend dinner crisis and one for some as-yet-decided future date. Basically, I think we should make it president.

summer squash pasta bake
summer squash pasta bake

freezer meal inspirationMore Freezer Meal Inspiration: For those of us who plan ahead, and those of us (cough!) who are learning to, here’s a collection from the SK archives of dishes that freeze well, including a beloved Spinach and Cheese Strata, Thick Chewy Granola Bars (psst, a new nut-, dairy- and gluten-free version coming soon), Three Bean Chili, Baked Chicken Meatballs and 35 more, here with pretty pictures on Pinterest or listed from the Recipe Index.

 
 
 

One year ago: Frozen Coconut Limeade
Two years ago: Pickled Vegetable Sandwich Slaw
Three years ago: Cold Rice Noodles with Peanut-Lime Chicken
Four years ago: Rich Homemade Ricotta
Five years ago: Chocolate Doughnut Holes and Bread and Butter Pickles
Six years ago: Spanikopita Triangles and Neapolitan Cake
Seven years ago: Pistachio Petit-Four Cake
Eight years ago: Strawberry Tart

And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Deep Dark Gingerbread Waffles
1.5 Years Ago: Breakfast Slab Pie
2.5 Years Ago: Parsnip Latkes with Horseradish and Dill
3.5 Years Ago: Cashew Butter Balls

Herbed Summer Squash Pasta Bake

I doubled this, and froze half.

Serves 4, heartily, as written

8 ounces pasta, any shape you like
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound summer squash, halved lengthwise and sliced thin
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest (you won’t need this yet, but better to zest before juicing, to avoid grumpiness)
Juice of half a lemon
3 tablespoons (45 grams) unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 large or 5 skinny scallions, sliced thin and white/pale green parts and dark green tops in separate piles
Pinches of red pepper flakes, to taste
3 tablespoons (25 grams) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups milk, ideally whole but low-fat will also work
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley, divided
1 tablespoon finely chopped mixed herbs of your choice (I used a mix of thyme, oregano and mint, but if you only have, say, thyme or oregano, a full tablespoon will likely overwhelm, so use less)
Salt and more pepper to taste
3/4 cup finely grated parmesan or aged pecorino romano cheese, divided
4 ounces (115 grams) mozzarella, cut into small cubes

Cook the pasta: If you’ve got an oven-save 3-quart deep skillet or braising pan, use it here and you’ll only need one pot for the whole recipe. Otherwise, bring an medium/large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente, about 1 to 2 minutes before perfect doneness. Drain and set aside.

Heat oven: To 400 degrees.

Prepare the squash: Heat a large skillet or the pot you just used to cook your pasta to high heat. Once hot, add olive oil, and let it heat until almost smoking. Add sliced squash, season it with salt and pepper flakes and let it sear underneath, unmoved, until golden brown. Continue to saute until browned and somewhat wilted, about 10 minutes, trying to get some color on each layer before moving squash around. Transfer to a bowl and squeeze lemon juice over bowl. Add more salt or pepper if needed.

Make the sauce: Reheat your the same pot over medium heat. Melt butter in bottom of pan. Add scallion white and pale green parts and garlic and let sizzle for 1 to 2 minutes. Add flour and stir until all has been dampened and absorbed. Add milk, a very small splash at a time, stirring the whole time with a spoon. Make sure each splash has been fully mixed into the butter/flour/onion/garlic mixture, scraping from the bottom of the pan and all around, before adding the next splash. Repeat until all milk has been added, then add lemon zest, salt and pepper to taste. Let mixture simmer together for 2 minutes, stirring frequently; the sauce will thicken. Remove pan from heat and stir in half of chopped parsley, all of mixed herbs and reserved scallion greens. Adjust seasoning to taste.

Assemble dish: Off the heat, add drained pasta, summer squash, 1/2 cup grated parmesan and all of the mozzarella to the pot, stirring to combine. If pan is ovenproof, you can bake your final dish in it. If not, transfer mixture to a 2 to 3 quart ovenproof casserole or baking dish. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup parmesan.

Bake: For 25 to 30 minutes, until edges of pasta are golden brown and irresistible. Sprinkle with reserved parsley and serve hot. Reheat as needed.

To freeze: Let dish fully cool to room temperature, then transfer, wrapped well, to the freezer. Let defrost in fridge for a day before rewarming in oven. If I have time, I like to rewarm at a lowish head (300 to 325 degrees) with the foil on, then finish it for the last 10 minutes or so at a higher heat without the foil to restore some crisp.


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