Tape your socks down, kids, because I’m about to knock them right off! Ages ago, I read somewhere that photography is instinctive. You could learn technique, mechanics, aperture. You can even invest in a tripod and SLR, but at the end of the day you have to love your subject. And you have to wholly connect with every photo you take. Much like how I give a small piece of me away every time I commit pen to paper (or hand to keyboard, as is the fashion these days), I’m realizing that I love taking pictures of food. Simply because I love the tactile act of cooking, of creating something from nothing, and reveling in the finished product’s magic. And while I’ll go the distance for a muffin or a molten cake or a buttery blueberry almond crumble, I’m finding that the more I relax, let the days pass if you must, cooking has become easier for this Type-A girl.
Believe me when I say that akin to the epic butternut squash lasagna epidemic of 2007, you will worship at the ALTAR OF SQUASH after you hoover this delish dish. I first discovered this recipe from Giada De Laurentiis. I’ve fiddled with it a bit, and I’m presenting my adapted version below. To give you an idea of taste: picture macaroni and cheese with a bit of tang. The consistency is creamy, hearty and rich and you won’t even realize you’re eating a vegetable – it’s that divine. And after I inhaled BOWL #1, I chopped up some sundried tomatoes packed in olive oil and added that to bowl number two. I love texture and flavor plays, so you’ve the sweet basil against the tangy squash with the crisp chicken and chewy tomatoes. The cacophony of flavors will murder you. FAINTING OVER HERE, PEOPLE.
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus 3 tablespoons (for the chicken)
1 pound butternut squash, trimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon Kosher (or sea) salt, plus 1 teaspoon (for the chicken)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus 1/2 teaspoon (for the chicken)
1 cup chicken stock
1 pound penne (you can use rigatoni or any ridged pasta that can take the heft of the sauce)
1 pound chicken breast, diced (you can add more to suit your taste)
3/4 to 1 cup part skim milk
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup grated Parmesan, 2 tablespoons Pecorino Romano
1/4 cup sundried tomatoes packed in olive oil, chopped
Warm 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add the butternut squash, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Saute until the squash is golden and tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Add the vegetable stock, bring to a simmer, cover and cook until the squash is very soft, another 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer the squash mixture to a blender or food processor and puree.
Learn from Felicia: Before you start any endeavor in gastronomy, check to see if you have all the ingredients and that they haven’t expired. I was all fancy-free and fabulous until I realized my three boxes of chicken stock had expired this past JUNE. So I raced out (in purple pj’s) to my local market, while the squash was sizzling, to nab some stock. Don’t go to ruin. Prepare.
Bring a large pot of salted water (think salted like the Mediterranean) to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain pasta.
Meanwhile, warm the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Season your diced chicken with salt and pepper, and brown (4-5 minutes).
Once the chicken is cooked, add the sauce, milk, cheese, basil, sundried tomatoes and salt/pepper to taste. I tend to like a full-on pepper situation, but flavor to your needs. Serve pipping hot!