I opened the refrigerator in search of dinner last night and was confronted by leftover portions of ingredients that seemed anxious to be combined together into one epic dish. Seasonal produce conveniently seems to work that way, doesn’t it? As I pulled various items out onto the counter–half an onion, some mushrooms, half a box of spinach–a dish started to materialize in my mind. The freezer coughed up half a bag of frozen sweet potato cubes and the pantry matched that with half a pound of whole wheat pasta. I was itching to stir.
I should pause here to point out that while I’m no slave to a recipe or a measuring spoon, when I try to cook completely without a net, well, result may vary. But I was feeling bold, plus I was home alone, so I just kept crashing forward. The cat looked worried, but I figured I could cook the various pieces and then pull the dish together with a little cream and butter. In the end, I was mostly hoping it looked good enough for me to plate it and try out my new photo lighting system.
Though I was nagged by the thought that this impulse I was following was completely ignoring some essential thing that I would only realize once the meal was prepared and I tried to actually eat it, no drama ensued. I just ended up with a nice autumn pasta dish that effectively consumed all my leftovers into something classy. Mission accomplished.
Considering how the dish was made, there are obviously no hard and fast ingredients or proportions. However, this was my approach:
Autumn Pasta with Mushrooms, Sweet Potatoes, and Greens
1 T olive oil
1/2 cup chopped white onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pint cremini mushrooms, sliced
1 cup frozen sweet potato cubes
4 cups spinach or leafy greens of your choice
1/2 cup vegetable broth
1/2 lb. whole wheat pasta
4 T butter
1 cup heavy cream
2 tsp chopped sage
1/4 cup parmesan cheese, freshly grated
salt and pepper to taste
Heat olive oil over medium heat and sauté onion until softened and translucent. Add garlic and mushrooms and continue cooking until mushrooms release their juices. Add sweet potatoes, greens, and broth to the pan and, without stirring, place lid over top and allow vegetables to steam for six minutes. At this point, the greens should have begun to wilt and the potatoes to soften. Toss the vegetables and continue cooking until potatoes are tender.
Meanwhile, in a large pot, cook pasta according to package directions. When complete, drain and return to pot, adding the cooked vegetables and any cooking liquid in the pan. Stir to prevent pasta from sticking together.
In your (now empty) saute pan, melt the butter and add the sage, cooking for a minute or two. Add the cream and cheese and stir until melted and heated through. Return pasta and vegetables to the pan and toss to coat with the sauce and rewarm the pasta. Season with salt and pepper to taste as needed. Garnish with a few chopped nuts (I had a few toasted hazelnuts on hand–leftover, of course) and enjoy.