Boston got hit with a big ol’ blizzard yesterday, leaving us all a little bit buried. And as I stare out of my bedroom window onto the adjacent roof tops all covered in a hefty helping of heavy snow, I can’t help but think about what it means to feel stuck.
I’m pretty sure there is no such thing as “stuck”. We make it up so we feel better about not being able to decide what to do with ourselves. When we’re surrounded by a feeling of heavy wetness that prevents us from even leaving the house, it’s easy to feel as if we have no choice but to stay put. We forget how we used to stomp around when we were kids, bundled up to our eyeballs in snow gear, having snowball fights and building igloos with any other kids that happened to be nearby.
We forget how to unstick ourselves.
I’m blabbering on about this because honestly, I’ve been feeling pretty stuck lately. Stuck in between what I want and what I think I should want. I’m in a transition period between jobs/schools/life chapters, and I’m paralyzed by what feels like a multitude of inadequate choices. They’re all fine directions to take, but each comes with a downside that I’m not fully prepared to deal with.
So I’ve decided to unstick myself. I’ve decided to look for the obvious alternative that only a child could conceive. Maybe that means figuring out how to combine my choices to get the best of all worlds, or maybe that means I have to let go of everything I think I want and go back to the drawing board. No matter what, it means I’m going to find a way to play.
I get stuck when thinking of new recipes all the time. (By now you probably know that I am far from having my shit together.)
This time, I stopped analyzing ingredients and recipes and just thought, “what would I really enjoy making?”. The answer that emerged from my not-so-subconscious was an instant and emphatic “PASTA”.
I didn’t have enough semolina for regular pasta. I’ve made cavatelli before, and that was fun, so I figured I’d try that. What if I could use something other than cheese to make it? The butternut squash that had been staring me down from my kitchen counter for the past week basically rolled over and jumped into my lap.
I checked my go-to pasta resource, Pasta by Hand by Jenn Louis. Fortuitously, she had a recipe for winter squash cavatelli. A few tweaks and I had a solid recipe ready to test. (I swapped in some whole wheat flour because it gives the cavatelli a nice earthy bite, but feel free to skip that and use all-purpose or semolina flour instead if whole wheat isn’t your thing.)
For the sauce, I knew I wanted something that would still let the squash shine, but that matched the cavatelli in the comfort-food department. Caramelized onions are a personal fave, so that was a no-brainer. I cooked them with balsamic vinegar for a nice tang and then blended them with some basil for a little pop of freshness. This dish is hearty, even as a small portion. If you’d rather serve the cavatelli in a light sauce, I suggest butter and salt, or olive oil and a sprinkle of parmesan. Sometimes the simple things are the right things.
So, friends, the next time you’re feeling stuck, just remember: pasta can be made with squash, and onions can turn into a sauce. What can your life become?
Butternut Squash Cavatelli & Balsamic Caramelized Onion Pesto
- 1/2 cup butternut squash roasted (yielding 427g or 1 cup squash puree)
- 4 eggs
- 276 g (2 cups) semolina flour
- 460 g (3 1/4 cups) all-purpose flour
- 64 g (1/2 cup) whole wheat flour
Caramelized Onion Sauce:
- 3 oz (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 large yellow onions thinly sliced
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3-4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 2 cups fresh basil leaves
- salt and pepper
For the cavatelli:
After peeling, cutting, and roasting the butternut squash at 400F until soft, process in a food processor or thoroughly mash it with forks until smooth. Add this to a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, or a large bowl if you’re doing it by hand.
Add eggs and mix until combined.
Combine the semolina, all-purpose, and whole wheat flours in a medium bowl, then add to the squash mixture. It will seem like too much flour, but don’t worry. Keep mixing until it comes together in a ball of dough. It should not be sticky - if dough is sticking to the sides of the bowl, add more flour by the tablespoon until it comes together.
Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest for 30 mins at room temperature (or overnight in the fridge, as long as it comes back to room temperature before you shape it). Now is a good time to prepare your sauce!
For the sauce:
Heat the butter and oil in a large, heavy saucepan on medium heat. Add the onions, salt, and balsamic vinegar and stir. Lower the heat and stir every 10 minutes or so for 45-60 minutes, or until onions are dark, soft, and caramelized. Check out step by step pictures here.
Transfer the onions to a food processor and process until broken down slightly - it won’t become a totally smooth paste. Add the basil and any salt and pepper to taste and process. Cover and set aside for later.
Shape the cavatelli:
On a lightly floured work surface, cut off a small sliver of the dough and roll it into a long, thin rope about 1/2 inch in diameter. Keep the remaining dough wrapped in plastic.
Prepare four sheet pans dusted with semolina or all-purpose flour. Cut off little pieces of dough about 1/2” wide, then shape these pieces by pressing them on a gnocchi board if you have one, or at the base of the tines of a whisk. Press the dough with your thumb and sort of flick it away from you so that the dough rolls into a shape with a ridged surface on one side and a slight indentation on the other (where your thumb was).
Place the cavatelli on the floured pans, making sure they don’t stick together. (If you want to store them for later use, freeze them on the sheet pan and then transfer them to an airtight container or freezer bag. They should be boiled straight from the freezer.) Otherwise, they can be cooked fresh.
Boil a large pot of heavily salted water. Add the cavatelli and cook for 4-6 minutes, or until they rise to the top and you test the inside for doneness, then remove them with a slotted spoon. Reserve some pasta water for finishing.
Whisk the pasta water into two tablespoons of the caramelized onion/basil paste until it becomes a thick sauce. Serve immediately by coating the cavatelli in this mixture, serving it onto individual serving dishes, and topping with fresh basil and maybe some parmesan cheese.