Test Kitchen: WTF Happened to this Winter Pasta

So, sorry to ruin the magic but I have no idea what the hell I’m about to get myself into 99% of the time that I enter my kitchen. I generally never outwardly express this anxiety of the unknown to my guests at home because my mom does enough of that for the both of us. This kind of blind culinary ambition had led to great successes in the past, including my Accidental Leg of Lamb and a college gourmet breakfast of savory oatmeal with beets, herbs, and a Laughing Cow cheese wedge. However, for every win there are twelve mortifying failures that I refuse to document to save face.

That is, until now.

I’ve decided that in this new year wherein I hope to embark on cookbook assembly that it’s only fair to share the proverbial (and literal) burnt toast from my kitchen as a self-taught lesson in true recipe writing. I also welcome this as a means of audience participation from my skilled readers who would like to offer their suggestions to a flailing Lifestyle Amateur who's just tryna’ eat.

Let me set the scene for this first food flop: It was winter break, which means that my sister Marla is home from school. Marla does not like soups, stews, chili, steak, pork chops, white fish, most general vegetables, anything with rice, anything with curry, and anything that smells “like a Chinese restaurant”. Case in point: Cooking dinner is no fun because I’m restricted to either pasta or pancakes.

I went out on a limb with this one. We had leftover meat from a roasted turkey breast, two acorn squash, a bag of kale, and bowtie pasta. Visions of a light, yet flavorful pasta dish that combined all of these elements into a yummy winter meal flashed before my eyes, so I began taking the assumed necessary steps towards this mirage of pasta excellence with one thumb up my ass.

I started with the acorn squash by splitting those babies in half, rubbing them down with Herbes de Provence olive oil, and seasoning them with salt, pepper, and oregano. They went into an oven heated at 425° for about 30 minutes, until they looked like this:

Meanwhile, Marla tore the turkey meat into shreds and our dog Lily assumed wrongfully that it was for her.

Then I cubed the squash when it was cool enough to handle and set it aside before putting a large pot of salted water on the burner to come to a boil.

While this was happening, I began to toast 1/2 cup of Italian breadcrumbs in a pan with olive oil until it was brown and delicious and crispy, and moved it off of the heat. At this point, I added the bowtie pasta into the salted boiling water to cook until al dente.

I steamed the kale in the microwave, drained it, then sautéed it in olive oil with salt and pepper

I added the shredded turkey, added more olive oil and salt and pepper, and tossed until it was all combined. Then, I reserved about a cup of the starchy water before draining the pasta to use for combining purposes. 

Then I added the squash cubes, the cooked pasta, about a quarter cup of the starchy liquid, and a palmful of grated parmesan cheese. I tossed in the breadcrumbs and some chopped parsley and coated it all with a little more olive oil before serving it to my starving family.

They were underwhelmed and so was I. The squash was soggy, pasta lost it’s al dente magic, and it was generally pretty dry. The winter flavors were all there, but it was far from the vision of nourishment that I had at the start of my quest.

Here are a few considerations that I would change upon attempting this dish again, but I’d like further suggestions:

  • Cube the squash first before roasting it so that it’s equally crispy on all sides
  • Rethink the pasta to turkey ratio
  • Create a sauce in a separate pan and combine it all at the end
  • Adapt it into a casserole-type dish for the oven, where the bread crumbs and parmesan cheese would become crispy on top
  • Adapt it into a soup with squash dumplings when Marla’s not home
  • ???

Please weigh in with ideas below in the comments section because I am quite stumped.


Analyze & Discuss:

What will Marla eat?