Pumpkin Macaroni and Cheese

Pumpkin Mac and Cheese

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: easy-medium
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Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsps butter
  • 2 Tbsps flour
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2-4 cups whole milk
  • 1/2 cup broth (vegetable, chicken, or beef)
  • 1 1/4 cup pumpkin purĂ©e (NOT pumpkin pie filling)
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 1/8 tsp cinnamon
  • 115g/4oz cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup parmesan, grated
  • 2 cups dry macaroni
  • salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
  • 1/4 cup roasted hazelnuts, chopped loosely

Directions


Melt the butter in a large pan over medium heat. Add the flour, and whisk to fully mix. Add the garlic, and continue to whisk until the garlic has turned fragrant and the flour as just started to turn golden brown. Add the milk in 1/2 cup portions at a time, whisking completely before adding the next amount. Add the milk until a cream sauce has formed, but not too thin. Cook until the sauce is thick enough to stick to the back of a wooden spoon. Whisk in the pumpkin, nutmeg and cinnamon, and salt and pepper to taste. Add the cream cheese and parmesan and stir until cheeses are completely melted and mixed into the sauce. Set a pot of heavily salted water to boiling. Cook the macaroni according to instructions. Drain the macaroni, then add to the pan with the sauce and mix well. Transfer to serving dish and sprinkle with hazelnuts. Serve.

And now for the details…

This dish could almost be viewed as an adult take on classic Mac and Cheese. Or, if you’re trying to hide fruits/veggies from your kids (or other members of your household… I do know some adults who aren’t fans of veg lol), you could tell them this is Mac and Cheese and not tell them about the pumpkin 😛 Although, if you are going to try and pull one over on your kids, be aware that the texture is a little less smooth than a typical Mac and Cheese because of the addition of the pumpkin, not to mention the addition of spices!

I came up with this recipe after I’d opened a large tin of pumpkin purĂ©e to bake muffins for my in-laws, then had a bunch of extra purĂ©e on my hands. I didn’t want to do more baking, so I figured, why not do a savoury take on pumpkin, and use it for a pasta sauce instead?

The cinnamon and nutmeg are subdued and delicate in the sauce, just a small addition to bring a teaser of pumpkin spice flavours. Then the addition of the cheeses brings this dish well into the savoury realm. The hazelnuts add a nice texture contrast, and I love their flavour up against the pumpkin cheesiness.

We are going to start out by making a béchamel, or white sauce. Melt the butter in a large pan over medium heat. As soon as the butter has melted, whisk the flour into the butter, and add the garlic. We are going to cook this, whisking constantly, until the garlic has become fragrant and the flour/butter has just started to turn a golden brown.

Next we will be adding the milk. We add the milk in small spurts, about 1/2 cup at a time, and whisking the milk in. The whisk is very important here! This will be hard if you try to using a different stirring utensil. The first couple of additions might worry you a bit. It will be very thick at first, almost paste-like. Fret not! Keep adding the milk a little bit at a time, whisking to fully mix each time, and soon you will have a nice, creamy sauce. Stop at about 2 cups, and see if you need to add any more. If the sauce is quite thick (think yogurt consistency), then you need to add some more milk. If it is closer to about syrup consistency, you’ve got it about right. We are going to cook the sauce for a bit longer after we’ve added all the milk, about 3-5 minutes, or until the sauce coats the back of a wooden spoon. A good way to test it? Drop your wooden spoon in the sauce, then pull it out and run a finger along the back of the spoon. If the line you’ve drawn with your finger stays in place without the sauce running back through it, your white sauce is done cooking. Turn the temperature down to medium-low.

Now is about a good time to get your macaroni a-cookin’. Boil some heavily-salted water, add the macaroni, turn down the heat on the pot to medium, and cook according to the pasta package instructions.

As the pasta cooks, let’s get our sauce finished up. Add the pumpkin purĂ©e, nutmeg, cinnamon, cheeses, and broth. When adding cream cheese to a sauce, it’s fastest to break it up into small-dish pieces so that it with melt a little easier. Allow the sauce to heat up until the cream cheese is fully melted and the sauce just starts to bubble. By now, your macaroni should be almost done cooking. Steal 1/4 cup of pasta water and add it to the sauce before draining the pasta, mixing the water in. This is going to help the sauce stick a bit easier to the pasta.

Drain your pasta, then add it right into the pan with the sauce. Stir well until every piece of macaroni is fully coated. Do one final taste test here and add salt and pepper to taste. We waited until the last minute for this, since the pasta water, broth, and cheese will have added salty elements, and it’s best to wait until all those are melded before adding any more salt.

Pour everything into your serving dish of choice, and then sprinkle the pasta with the toasted hazelnuts, and serve.

Happy eating.

Radicchio-usly Easy Salad (with Bleu Cheese and Dijon Dressing)

Radicchio-usly Easy Salad w/Bleu Cheese and Dijon Dressing

  • Servings: 1 meal, 2 sides
  • Difficulty: EASY
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Ingredients

  • 1/2 head radicchio, core removed and cut into small ribbons
  • 1 Tbsp dijon mustard
  • 1 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 2 Tbsps olive oil
  • salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
  • 2-3 oz. creamy bleu cheese, like Saint Agur
  • 1/4 cup toasted walnuts, chopped

Directions

Place the dijon and vinegar in the bottom of the salad’s serving bowl. Whisk with a fork until fully blended. Continue whisking as you pour the olive oil into the mix. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add radicchio to the bowl and toss with the dressing until coated. Pull the bleu cheese apart with finger into bite-sized pieced and sprinkle over salad. Sprinkle with walnuts. Serve.

And now for the details…

Oh MAN I love this salad. It comes together so quick and easy, I’m almost ashamed to share it. Almost. But it is also one of my favourite salads, so combine the ease of preparation with the satisfying tastiness of this salad, and it would be an absolute shame not to share it.

This salad was inspired by a similar salad we had in Paris at the Bouillon Chartier. Theirs uses endives, but… endives are expensive! The bitter flavour from the endives is mimicked here with the radicchio instead. Mix that bitterness with the salty, creaminess of the bleu cheese, the tang of the dijon dressing, and the crunch of the walnuts, and it is a match made in heaven.

Radicchio can be very bitter. It’s often roasted or grilled to soften the bitterness, or only added sparingly along with other greens for salads. In this case, though, we are embracing and celebrating that bitter flavour in it’s full glory, and pairing it with the other ingredients to provide nice contrasts of flavours and textures.

Without further ado, let’s make this salad! We are going to make everything in the same bowl out of which we will be serving/eating. This is the glorious part about this salad, it comes together so quickly and doesn’t dirty many dishes. It is one of my favourite lunches right now, since I can throw it together quickly, which is something important right now while I am working from home and need something in a hurry.

Start by placing the mustard and vinegar into the bowl, and whisking it with a fork (the same fork you plan on eating with? Why of course!) until the two are fully mixed together.

Next slowly pour the olive oil in with the vinegar and mustard, whisking as you pour, until the dressing is fully mixed and a homogeneous mix. Add salt and pepper to your preferred taste, and mix well.

Cut the core out of the radicchio and discard, then cut the radicchio into small bite-sized ribbons. Add the cut radicchio to the bowl, and toss with the dressing until the radicchio is evenly coated.

Tear the bleu cheese into bite-sized chunks and add them to the salad. This is not a place to be skimpy; use nice, big pieces, and make sure the salad is rife with cheese! Finally, loosely crumbled the toasted walnuts over the salad, and then it’s time to eat!

Happy eating.

Grilled Eggplant (Aubergine) Bruschetta

Eggplant Bruschetta

  • Servings: 2-4 (as appetizer)
  • Difficulty: medium
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Ingredients

  • 1 medium sized eggplant/aubergine
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, shredded
  • 10 cherry tomatoes, cut in 1/8’s
  • 1/4 cup basil, chopped
  • 2 Tbsps olive oil
  • 1/8 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
  • Baguettes or crostini, to serve

Directions

Preheat the grill to medium-high heat (~400ÂșF/205ÂșC). Poke holes in eggplant skin, using a toothpick or skewer. Place eggplant on grill, and cook for 15-20 minutes, turning every few minutes, until eggplant skin has been blackened and eggplant is soft. Remove eggplant to a strainer and allow to cool and any liquid to drain out while cooling. Add the shredded garlic, tomatoes, basil, olive oil, and paprika to a bowl and stir. Once the eggplant has cooled, remove and discard the skin. Cut the eggplant in quarters and place back int the strainer to drain for 5 more minutes. Slice the eggplant into small pieces, and add to the bowl with the tomato mixture. Stir, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with pieces of baguette or crostini.

And now for the details…

Oh the eggplant. Also know as aubergine and brinjal in different parts of the globe, this piece of produce is used in a variety of ways, all over the world. Some of us know this “vegetable” (it is actually technically a berry) as the emoji symbol that represents… not… culinary activities… But despite its phallic representation in more recent media, I have a more romantic view of this produce. Not that kind of romance…

Eggplants have such a variety of possibilities when it comes to cooking. Because they are fairly flavourless, but absorb flavours so well, they have an ability to be incorporated into so many different dishes in many different ways. The can be the star of a dish and be served up, lightly dressed, all on their own, or they can be added into sauces, curries, dips, soups, stir fries, and the list goes on…

The fruit itself has such an unusual look and texture. The skin is such a deep, vibrant, shiny purple, and then by contrast, the flesh is a bright, stark, and matte white. Add in the bright green foliage, and the fruit presents its own, unique colour palette.

While it is beautiful to look at, raw eggplant is a bit unpleasant to consume. It’s astringent, and has a weird, spongy texture. However, once cooked, eggplant loses a lot of the tannin-like taste, and the texture instead becomes soft and silken. We are going to use that to add a different textural “bite” to the bruschetta topping in this recipe.

Let’s get to cooking.

Start by preheating your grill. Set it to medium-high heat, so that the temperature will sit around 400ÂșF/205ÂșC.

Before we place the eggplant on the grill, we are going to poke holes through the skin all over the eggplant. This will allow the heat to get into the eggplant a bit more thoroughly, and provide a means for the water trapped inside to escape while the eggplant is cooking. You can use a skewer, toothpick, or even a fork to do this. Try to get a fairly consistent pattern of holes all the way around the eggplant, and they can be spaced about 2cm apart.

We are going to place the eggplant on the grill, and cook it for 15-20 minutes, turning every couple minutes to get the char and cook consistent around the whole fruit. Timing will depend on your grill (and its temperature consistency) and the size of eggplant you are cooking. The goal is for the skin to partially char the entire way around, and for the flesh to have cooked all the way through. How do you tell if it is cooked all the way through? You can make a good assumption that once it has gone from being plump skin and is springy to the touch to shrivelled skin and feels squishy that you have reached your end point. The photo below shows the eggplant when it has first started cooking versus the halfway cooking point. While the skin is shrivelled in the photo on the right, the flesh was still a bit springy when pushed, and so the eggplant was not quite done cooking yet.

Once the eggplant is done, remove from the grill, and place in a wire mesh strainer and allow the liquid to drain from the eggplant as it cools. We are allowing this drainage to happen for a couple reasons, one being that we do not want to bruschetta to have all that liquid… it will turn our bread into a soggy mess. And the second reason is that the liquid has a lot of that astringent/bitter taste, and we want to to drain that off. Now, admittedly, from what I understand, eggplant nowadays are not nearly as bitter as they used to be, and the draining is not as necessary as it once was, but there’s still reason number 1, so just let that sucker drain.

And now you have an… *ahem* flaccid… eggplant… Our next step will be to remove the skin and cut the flesh into little pieces. Thanks to all that cooking, the skin should peel off very easily. Cut the top off, and then peel and discard the skin. Cut the eggplant flesh into four pieces, and place back into the strainer to drain for a few more minutes while you prepare the rest of the bruschetta.

Cut the tomatoes into small pieces. Roma or beefsteak tomatoes can be used instead of cherry tomatoes; I used the cherry tomatoes because they were what I had available. Regardless of what kind of tomato you used, it should be about 1/2-3/4 cup of tomato pieces once they’re all cut up. Place the tomatoes, basil, shredded garlic, smoked paprika, and olive oil into a bowl, and mix well.

Finally, bring the eggplant back to the cutting board, and cut it into small pieces, about 1cm in size. Mix the eggplant in with the other ingredients, and add salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, you can either split the topping between the bread or crostini and serve, or you can bring the bowl to the table and allow folks to scoop their preferred amount of topping onto their own bread or crostini. Technically, to be a true bruschetta, the bread should be toasted or grilled in some way, but I got super lazy with this one, and instead I just tore a few pieces of fresh, crispy baguette and in half, and scooped the bruschetta topping right onto the bread pieces and sprinkled with a little Maldon salt. It was delicious.

Happy eating.