Recipe: pasta with pumpkin, zucchini, and a secret ingredient

Mark Bittman’s article in the NYT about cooking pasta risotto-style left distracting images of pasta swirling around in my head all day. To someone who would much rather stand over the stove for 20 minutes than wash an extra pot, the idea is utter brilliance. So I bought a box of rigatoni on my way home from the gym and got to work. I knew pumpkin and zucchini would work, and it seemed only natural that the trusty trio of garlic, onions, and butter should get the ball rolling. Ah, and the secret ingredient? As I folded in the pureed pumpkin and egg to create that luscious, silky sauce, it occurred to me that the pasta needed something to elevate it. Something crunchy and cheesy, and in my pantry…and then it hit me: CHEEZ-ITS!!! @^%#%^%$*^^%#@#$*!!! Smacking genius.

It turns out pasta never knew a better topping. I had parmesan and garlic flavored cheez-its but I’m sure even the regular kind would work wonders. The dish was a delight: nicely cooked pasta draped in rich, orange velvet robes, and the crushed cheez-its, with their sharp, crunchy, distinctly artificial cheesiness, providing a playful, contrasting touch. Like a king wearing an off-kilter baseball cap. A soft warmth tingled the back of my mouth, probably from the chili powder; and even though the finished product wasn’t visually appealing, essentially a muddled collection of various yellows, it gave me supreme satisfaction to eat and put a dorky smile on my face. Maybe on paper cheez-its and pasta shouldn’t make sense but they do, at least to me, at least for tonight. Now if I can just remember to bring some cheez-its to work tomorrow..

(Picture after the jump.)

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Pasta with pumpkin and zucchini
– serves one, with leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch –

1/2 lb rigatoni or any short pasta
1 cup chopped zucchini (about 2 medium-sized)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 a large onion (or 1 small to medium one), diced
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 to 1 cup pureed pumpkin (depending on how much sauce you like)
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon chili powder
plenty of salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Melt the 2 tablespoons of butter in a pot over medium-high heat.  Add onions and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and saute for another minute.

2. Add the pasta to the pot and stir well to coat with the butter and onions.  Add hot water to the pot one-half cup at a time, being sure to mix often.  When the liquid is almost all absorbed, add another half cup of water.  Continue until pasta is al dente or cooked to your liking. (I ended up adding about 3 cups of water; toward the end, I added less and less each time to make sure that there was enough water to make a sauce but not overcook the pasta.)

3. Fold in the zucchini, pumpkin, and egg and mix thoroughly.  Add in chili powder and lots of salt and pepper, more than you think you need.  Continue to cook for 3 or 4 more minutes.  Serve sprinkled with crushed cheez-its.

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