Squash and Swiss Chard Pasta Bake
We spent Thanksgiving weekend with my family in San Diego, and although I had some kind of notion that I would have something to share with you all here, I slipped firmly into vacation mode when I got down there, and barely even touched my laptop the whole weekend. I was far to busy being entertained by my favorite little person. I did cook Thanksgiving dinner with my brothers, as usual (they smoked a turkey this year!), but I didn’t get as intense about the meal as I have in the past. I didn’t come up with a cooking schedule, I didn’t try to manage every corner of the kitchen, I didn’t even have recipes for some of the side dishes we made. And while things might not have come out to the table as perfect as a Martha Stewart photo shoot, I was considerably more relaxed than usual. And that was definitely something to be grateful for (so was that smoked turkey; it was incredible).
We drove back on Saturday, and the drive was not so much something to be grateful for. I think in the future I’ll be much more willing to fly home for Thanksgiving; the traffic could have been worse, certainly. But my back still hurts from 10 hours in the car. And as soon as we got home, we were thrown into a very busy week. I’m just glad my mom sent me home with leftovers, because otherwise we wouldn’t really have anything to eat.
Before we left last week, I made this baked pasta dish, and I’ve been waiting to share it with you ever since. I refuse to call it a casserole, lacking as it is in some kind of creamy casserole glue soup concentrate. And although it’s topped with a sprinkling of cheese, which gets nice and melty and golden and delicious, it’s overall a very healthy, but hearty dinner; perfect, I think, after the overindulgence of Thanksgiving. (My Thanksgiving week included not just the giant meal itself but a perfect carne asada burrito, an In-n-Out Burger, a mini brewery tour, and some very cheesy pizza at Pizza Port with friends.)
What really makes this dish a winner is the dill. It adds just the right amount of bright flavor, and pulls together the creamy sweetness of the squash and the barely bitter crunch of the chard. It also did not hurt that I sprinkled a bit of truffle salt over the top, though this dish is still very, very tasty without that particular indulgence.
Cooking, peeling, and cutting the squash adds some time to this recipe. Feel free to buy already peeled and cut squash if it’s available. I love pre-peeled and cut squash, but it doesn’t come that way from our CSA, darn it. I think it’s easier to bake the squash first, then peel and cut it, although you have to pay closer attention to make sure you don’t overcook it and let it all collapse. That makes it harder to get the skin off. I’m always looking for the absolute best way to prepare squash, and I have to admit, I haven’t found it yet. If you have tips, I’d love to hear them.
I used penne for this, but any short shape will work well. I think farfalle would be especially nice. Don’t cook the pasta all the way before mixing it and baking it: It will finish cooking through in the oven. We used a kabocha squash for this, because it’s what we had, but a butternut squash or pumpkin would also be perfect.
Squash and Swiss Chard Pasta Bake
- 1 medium winter squash
- about 1/2 pound of penne pasta, or other pasta you like
- a large bunch of swiss chard
- about 1 tablespoon olive oil
- about 1 cup chopped leeks
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- a big handful of chopped dill
- about 1/2 cup vegetable broth
- about 1/2 cup gruyere, cheddar, or gouda cheese (I used a combination)
- salt to taste
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the squash in half and scrape out the seeds. Place the squash cut side up on a baking sheet, and bake for about 20 minutes. The squash should be soft and easy to pierce with a fork, but not collapsing. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and cook the pasta for about 6 minutes. Meanwhile, remove the stems from the chard and chop into bite-size pieces. In the last minute of cooking the pasta, stir in the chard (and the sliced ribs, if you like), just enough to blanch them. Drain the pasta and chard, and return the empty pot back to the stove.
Once the squash is cool, carefully peel it and cut it into one inch pieces.
Heat the empty pasta pot over medium heat, and add the olive oil. When it’s warm, add the chopped leeks. Saute the leeks for a few minutes, until they soften. Stir in the lemon pepper, the nutmeg, and a bit of salt to taste. Stir in the drained pasta and chard mixture, the squash, and the dill. Add a bit of vegetable broth to loosen things up a bit and add some moisture.
Pour the mixture into a baking dish, and sprinkle the cheese over the top. Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes in a 400 degree oven, or until the cheese is melted and bubbly. If you’re feeling fancy, sprinkle a little truffle salt (or regular sea salt) over the top once it comes out of the oven. Let it rest for about five minutes before serving.
The holiday season is firmly upon us, and I’m finding myself this week with not a lot of cooking time. But I have some fun kitchen projects planned for the next few weeks. And! We’re cooking a goose for Christmas, which should be a total adventure. I can’t wait to share it with all of you.