Creamy Pumpkin Pasta with Mushrooms and Leeks

Canned pumpkin and coconut milk seem like an unlikely duo, but when blended with herbs, spices and bit of citrus, it makes a rich, creamy and complex pasta sauce. Top with sauteed leeks, mushrooms and peas to make it a meal.  

Since my teenage years, on a semi-regular basis, I've been mistaken for Italian. I've got German, Scottish and Latvian blood, but not a speck of Italian, at least to my knowledge. There's been some awkward moments, like when I was walking through Little Italy and a little old lady spoke to me in Italian...then gave me a death stare when I couldn't respond. Then there was that time a woman in Williams Sonoma asked me how I make pasta from scratch, to which I replied "uhhh, I put it in boiling water." And of course, we can't forget the rumor that went around in high school that my dad was in the mafia. Don't even ask how that one started.

I always presumed it was my olive complexion and dark hair, but after creating this dish, I think I've figured out the source of confusion. Rumor must have somehow got out about my excellent pasta sauce making skills.

If you've made my pasta primavera with cauliflower sauce, dairy free mac and cheese or horrendously photographed but amazingly delicious almost cheeseless pasta casserole, then you know this rumor to be true. This creamy pumpkin sauce blows them all out of the water.

This bowl of pasta was one of the most comforting things I've ever experienced, right up there with fleece-lined leggings and snuggles from my fur babies (one of which is doing a little better - thanks for all your well wishes!). Comfort food to the max. Plus, it's got the whole carb and carb thing going on - never a bad thing in my opinion.

I've used pureed pumpkin in pasta sauces before, most notably my vegan mac and cheese (one of the most popular recipes on this blog). But for this sauce, I wanted it to be almost alfredo-like and silky smooth. And for that, you need fat and lots of it!

I used two sources of fats to create this sauce. First, coconut milk, which adds only a faint hint of coconut flavor that actually melds together really nicely with this sauce. I also mixed in a couple tablespoons of almond butter, although you could use cashew butter or tahini even if you have it on hand. Both of these fats lend a nice mouthfeel to the sauce, but also a complex flavor as well.

Dairy Free Pumpkin Pasta with Mushrooms and Peas
Dairy Free Pumpkin Pasta with Mushrooms and Peas

Speaking of flavor, there's so much going on in this bowl! I added lots of sage, picked from our "herb garden," aka sage garden because that's what took over! Fresh orange juice brightens the sauce and sweetens it a bit as well. The turmeric adds a little peppery flavor, but mostly I added it in for the health benefits and gorgeous color.

Creamy Pumpkin Pasta with Mushrooms and Leeks

Serves: 4

Ingredients

Sauce: 

  • 14-ounce can pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable broth
  • 2 garlic cloves, pressed or minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh sage, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • Juice of 1 orange
  • 2 tablespoons almond butter

Remaining Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 leeks, white and light green parts only, rinsed and chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 8 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 4 ounces shiitakes, sliced
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 8 ounces 100% whole grain spaghetti (I used quinoa spaghetti)

Instructions

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add spaghetti and cook according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
  2. In a medium pot, whisk together sauce ingredients. Season with salt and pepper. Simmer 10 minutes to let the flavors combine.
  3. Heat olive oil in a large skillet on medium-high heat. Add leeks and saute 5-7 minutes until tender. Add garlic and saute until fragrant, about 30-60 seconds. Add mushrooms and cook until their liquid has released and reabsorbed, about 5-7 minutes. Stir in peas and cook until defrosted and warm. Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Toss spaghetti with the sauce. Top with vegetables and serve.

Cure a Cold Gingery Green Soup

Give your immune system a boost to fight off that cold with a warm bowl of gingery green soup, packed with immune supporting ingredients like ginger, turmeric, green leafy veggies and garlic!

Does it seem like everyone is sick right now? We hosted supper club this Sunday and about half the people there were just getting over something, myself included. Of course, now the other half are probably currently sick from being in my germ infested house. Sorry guys. Hope the coq au vin was worth it!

Whenever I catch a cold, it usually runs it's course in a couple days, but this one has lingered almost a week. Yesterday morning I was fed up after I woke up feeling congested and groggy yet again. So, I decided to whip up a soup with all the immune supporting ingredients!

Although I do still believe in the curative powers of chicken noodle soup, I wanted to take this recipe in a different direction. I chose this recipe from 101 Cookbooks as a base, which I've had stashed in a binder for years only to stumble across it again last week. Perfect timing, no?

This soup basically has every food known to enhance immune function packed into each bowl. Okay, so maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but it's definitely has it's fair share of cold and flu fighters! Here's a look at what's inside:

Green leafy veggies // Citrus fruit is probably what comes to mind when you think of vitamin C, but green leafies are a pretty good source too. Green leafy vegetables have also been shown to help lymphocytes, a type of immune cell, function properly. 

Ginger // Ginger tea is one of my favorite tricks for a sore throat. I'm actually drinking it as I type! This gingery broth helps soothe a sore throat. Plus, ginger is an effective way to reduce nausea, so this light, brothy soup would be perfect if you've got a stomach flu.

Garlic // Garlic has been used medicinally for years to treat everything from gangrene to the plague. However, there's actual scientific evidence showing garlic's benefits for colds. One study found people who take garlic supplements were less likely to catch a cold, and those who did recovered faster.

Turmeric // Powerfully anti-inflammatory turmeric is fantastic for immune system support. It helps to boost a protein called CAMP, which helps the immune system fight bacteria and viruses.

Yogurt // Did you know the majority of your immune system is located in your gut? Beneficial probiotics from fermented foods like yogurt are a critical part of that system.

So, how do I feel now? My fingers may be permanently stained yellow from turmeric, but I feel much better! If you're feeling under the weather, I'm sending healing thoughts your way and a warm bowl of this soup!

Cure a Cold Gingery Green Soup

Serves 6

For a vegan version, simply mix the turmeric into the broth at the end of cooking. It will turn the broth quite yellow, but it will be delicious. Or, you could substitute a plain coconut milk yogurt, which I think would taste pretty great with the Asian flavors in this soup. Adapted from 101 Cookbooks. 

Ingredients

Soup:

  • 1 large yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled and chopped small
  • 1 bunch kale, chopped
  • 1 large leek, white and pale green parts chopped
  • 3 tablespoons minced ginger
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 cups water
  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 bunch spinach, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1-2 tablespoons soy sauce

Turmeric yogurt:

  • 1/2 cup plain, organic yogurt
  • 1 small nub of fresh turmeric or
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder (optional for color)

Instructions

  1. First, make the turmeric yogurt. Using a microplane grater, grate the turmeric into the yogurt or whisk in turmeric powder. Season with salt. Refrigerate until ready to use.
  2. In a medium skillet, heat olive oil on medium-high heat. Add onion, a pinch of salt and saute until lightly browned and tender, about 5-7 minutes. Reduce heat to medium and saute 25 minutes until caramelized.
  3. Place sweet potato, kale, leek, ginger, and garlic in a pot with water, broth, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer 30 minutes until tender. Add spinach, cover and simmer another 5 minutes until wilted. Add lemon and soy sauce to taste.
  4. Serve topped with a dollop of yogurt.

Millet and Quinoa Crust Pizza with Pesto, Spinach and Grilled Squash

This gluten free millet and quinoa crust pizza is made with soaked whole grains and topped with pesto, spinach, grilled squash and scallions. 

For me, cooking is more than a chore or the means to produce something yummy to eat - it's a creative expression. Food is art, and not just for experienced restaurant chefs. Combining and layering different flavors, creating new dishes, and reinventing old are all expressions of creativity for the home cook as well. And for me, as someone who has pretty much zero artistic skill, it's my main creative outlet.

It's well established that art affects the brain in positive ways. It improves memory, resilience and mood. Children who engage in arts have been shown to do better in school and have better social skills.

Although the research has been done for more typical forms of art, like music, art and dance, I think cooking would demonstrate similar results. Really, it's such a similar mental process. And it's much more approachable than picking up a paintbrush or signing up for a glassblowing class :) 

I once read the average family has only seven recipes they recycle each week. This makes me sad. I know many people don't get the same kick out of trying new things as I do, but I won't accept eating the same seven dishes over and over again. .

When I try to get clients to step out of the box, we usually start by remaking a favorite dish. They're excited to create something they love in a healthier, but equally satisfying way. 

This pizza is a perfect example. With a crust made from soaked quinoa and millet blended with water, it couldn't be further from a traditional yeast and wheat dough. The crust is thin and crispy around the edges with a tender middle. The grains start to ferment an even sprout a bit, which adds a complex, fermented taste to the dough - kinda like traditional wheat dough!

Millet and Quinoa Crust Pizza with Pesto, Spinach and Grilled Squash

Makes 2 small-medium pizzas, serves 2-4

Adapted from The First Mess

Ingredients

Crust:

  • 3/4 cup quinoa, soaked 24 hours in water
  • 3/4 cup millet, soaked 24 hours in water
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup lightly packed basil

Topping:

  • Heaping 1/4 cup pesto , homemade or store bought
  • 1 summer squash or zucchini, cut lengthwise into 1/2-in slices
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 bunch small leeks or green onions
  • 1 bunch spinach, chopped
  • Pinch crushed red pepper
  • 1/4 cup crumbled feta
  • Fresh basil to garnish

Instructions

  1. First, prepare the toppings. Heat a grill to medium-high. Spray the squash and leeks/green onions with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill about 3-5 minutes per side until lightly charred and tender.
  2. Heat olive oil in a large skillet on medium heat. Add spinach and red pepper flakes and cook until wilted. Season lightly with salt and set aside in a bowl.
  3. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
  4. Rinse grains in a fine-mesh sieve then scrape into food processor. Add water, 1 tablespoon olive oil and salt. Blend until you get a thick, pancake batter-like consistency. Add basil and another 2-4 tablespoons water if needed to thin (I added another 3 tablespoons water).
  5. Put two (oiled if not nonstick) cake pans in the oven for 4 minutes to heat. Remove from oven and divide remaining tablespoon of olive oil between the two pans. Place back in the oven to heat the oil 1 minute, without letting it hit it's smoke point. Remove from oven and divide the batter between the two pans, quickly spreading it even with a spatula. Return to the oven and bake 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, carefully flip the crust, and return to oven to bake another 6-8 minutes. Remove crusts from the oven and set aside to cool slightly.
  6. When cool enough to handle, spread pesto evenly on the crust. Top with spinach, squash, feta cheese. Place back in the oven to reheat the ingredients if needed, just for a minute or two.

Mediterranean Giant Beans with Spinach, Tomatoes and Olives

Mediterranean Giant Beans with Spinach, Tomatoes and Olives

Mediterranean giant beans with spinach, tomatoes and olives makes for a super satisfying vegetarian meal! It’s packed with veggies, and flavor! Budget-friendly using frozen spinach, canned tomatoes and dried beans. Make extras and freeze for later!

Read More

Hazelnut and Cremini Loaf

You won't miss the meat in this vegetarian and gluten free hazlenut and cremini loaf, packed with flavor from sauteed veggies, herbs and a rich vegan gravy. 

This vegetarian hazelnut and cremini loaf is the kind of vegetarian comfort food I love! If you like meatloaves, you'll love this version made from grains and nutty hazelnuts. It kinda tastes like Thanksgiving stuffing to me, but in loaf form. If I were you, I might serve this as a vegetarian main on Thanksgiving if you're meatless. 

Hazelnut and Cremini Loaf

Serves 4-6

We served this with blanched green beans tossed with a lemon - dijon dressing sweetened with a bit of honey. Adapted from Green Kitchen Stories

Ingredients

  • 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 8 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced
  • 2 cups hazelnuts, roughly chopped
  • 2 medium to large leeks, white and light green parts sliced
  • 1 tsp thyme, minced
  • 1 tsp rosemary, minced
  • 4 eggs, preferably pastured eggs
  • 1/2 cup organic milk, unsweetened plain soy milk or almond milk
  • 1/2 cup brown rice, boiled and cooled (yields about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • zest from 1/2 lemon
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

Vegan Onion Gravy: 

  • 2 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons whole wheat flour
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable broth
  • 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a large loaf pan with olive oil or line with parchment paper.
  2. Heat olive oil in a large saute pan on medium heat. Add the mushrooms, leeks, and garlic. Stir. Add thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper. Cook about 10 minutes, stirring every so often, until the mushrooms have released and reabsorbed their liquid. Remove from heat and let cool about 10 minutes.
  3. Mix eggs, milk, nutmeg, zest, salt and pepper together in a bowl. Stir in brown rice. Stir in the cooked nut and vegetable mixture. Pour this mixture into the loaf pan and bake about 45 minutes.
  4. Once cooked through, remove loaf from the oven and let cool about 10-15 minutes before slicing. Since the loaf is chunky, cut it into thick slices, otherwise it will fall apart.
  5. While loaf is baking, make the gravy. Heat olive oil in a small pot on medium-high heat. Add onion and saute until translucent. Add flour and stir to coat. Cook a couple minutes to take the raw edge off. Add soy sauce and stir to deglaze. Slowly pour in broth while whisking. Continue to whisk away all the clumps. Stir in nutritional yeast. Cook until thickened, 5-10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.