I read a passage in a book about arugula recently. It wasn’t a food-focused/cooking book. It was a novel, actually. The narrator of the moment is enjoying a bowl of pasta after being welcomed into an old friends home with some abounding and uneasy circumstances. He enjoys a bit of the dish, goes into a second helping, and the process of flavour/societal recognition begins: “…it had olives and some sort of salad green in it. Yes, arugula: he was safely back in the bosom of the gentry.”
I had a tiny laugh. I also felt like a piece of shit. The implications of yuppie-dom glaring from the page. My mind went to the organic arugula on the top shelf of my own fridge.
I generally dismiss most artisanal/gourmet foods as frivolous kitchen fodder, things that take up space and generally come in tiny/way too festered packaging. Gourmet food shops are a source of annoyance for me, watching people examine and buy small-batch jams, grinders, artisanal waffle mixes and ceramic crocks of herbes de Provence–things no one needs, thought-to-be foodie merit badges, the like. I will clarify that my annoyance lies with the thought that these items are somehow necessary/worth the money; not the consumer as a human being. I like people, seriously, I do.
Despite the presence of some semi-unusual ingredients that I sometimes call for here (‘sup extra virgin coconut oil and smoked paprika!), I’ve always enjoyed more down-to-earth food on the whole: things that are good in nature, made better by a bit of salt and some ability in the kitchen. My grandmother has always liked arugula and bitter/peppery greens. This fondness has worked its way down to my tastes over time. So having grown up with it, it’s carried the connotation of home-y/grandmotherly food. Greens have been a humble and easy thing, there on the plate just when you need them with a sprinkle of chili flakes; not some upper class bullshit thing to feel shameful about.
There are different lives, different approaches to nourishment and the thoughts that surround. Our world is vast and complex with many extremes; this is certain with food also, a necessary across all walks.
Accessibility with food is more widely discussed from a socio-economical perspective–perhaps a lower income neighbourhood with poor fresh food accessibility will see higher rates of type 2 diabetes in teenagers for example. Knowledge and development of skills is a more sensibly approached facet of the accessibility issue to me. It is a pursuit that requires time, certainly, but the reward is so great. The “teach a person to fish…” route. That’s the amazing thing about the computer age: every bit of knowledge is there for the taking. From guides to starting tomato seedlings at home to practical advice on how to serve them once they come into full, gorgeous ripeness (a heavy sprinkle of salt, maybe a chopped herb, some kind of soft cheese and good, toasty bread–just sayin’), there is a resource available to anyone.
So I guess that’s why I’m here? In some teeny way, I’m trying to teach a few people how to fish. Which is to say that I’m trying to teach you how to make a delicious and easy pasta with some humble squash and the noble greens of today’s discussion. There’s toasty nuts, pecorino, garlic, thyme and my favourite pasta shape: orecchiette. It’s not always the most practical shape choice, but it translates to “little ear” and that is just too sweet to pass on for me. It all comes together pretty easily once the squash is roasted, which is exactly what I was aiming for. Shall we go fishing?
butternut orecchiette with arugula and pine nuts
notes: If you don’t have a blender/food processor for the sauce-pureeing step, just mash the squash and garlic up with a potato masher and the stock in the saute pan. Switch to a whisk to get it real smooth if you like.
1 small butternut squash, halved lengthwise
1 tbsp grape seed oil
salt and pepper
handful of thyme sprigs (optional)
2 tbsp olive oil (or more grape seed or whatever you like)
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
2 sprigs of thyme, leaves removed and chopped
chili flakes (optional)
juice of 1/2 a lemon
1 cup vegetable stock
2 cups dried orecchiette (or other small pasta)
1.5 cups cooked chickpeas
big handful (1/2 cup) grated pecorino, or parmeggiano or grana podano etc.
2 big handfuls of washed arugula
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Scatter the handful of thyme sprigs across the paper. Rub the halves of squash with the grapeseed oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper and lay face down on the thyme sprigs. Place squash in the oven and roast until very tender, about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool.
Once you can handle the squash, scoop the cooked flesh from the skins into a bowl, discarding the thyme sprigs. Set aside.
In a large soup pot, heat the remaining 2 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, thyme and chili flakes, stirring constantly until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the roasted squash and stir it all up, mashing the squash down into the sautéing aromatics. Add the lemon juice and the vegetable stock, stir until roughly combined and remove from the heat. Puree the squash and garlic mixture in a blender or food processor, adding more liquid if necessary.
Return the squash sauce to the soup pot over medium heat. Season with a fat pinch of salt and lots of pepper at this point.
Cook pasta according to package directions. Reserve 1/4 cup of cooking water before draining.
Once squash sauce is simmering, add cooked pasta, chickpeas, pecorino, arugula and pine nuts, reserving a bit of each for garnish if you like. Add some of the pasta water of you want to loosen the mixture up a bit. Serve hot.