Why oh why oh why is pasta the perfect autumn comfort food? Why do I crave pasta above every other carb (even bread — gasp)?
I can eat plain pasta right out of the bowl — absolutely plain, no butter, no salt, no nuthin’. Is that weird?
The kid in me wants to eat pasta out of the bowl all the time — two-fisted, left-right-left-right — but my adult sensibilities know that responsible people use utensils and temper carb overload with lots and lots of veggies.
It’s all good: carbs, fall veggies. And together — a la autumn vegetable pasta — equals one amazing meal.
This autumn vegetable pasta came about thanks to an abundance of fresh herbs and veggies on a cool, sunny October Saturday: cabbage, leeks, broccolini, red bell peppers (I know folks think of peppers as being a summer veggie, but mine tend not to ripen to sweet, sweet red perfection until September and beyond — it’s mid-October and I still have bells, poblanos and serranos ripening in the garden). Meaty cremini mushrooms round out the roll call, promising a hearty meal.
Instead of topping it off with a creamy, über-cheesy sauce, I borrowed a few techniques from risotto and fideua to boost flavor and creaminess naturally. The pasta is toasted — dried — in oil before being sizzled with white wine and doused in a bath of flavor-boosted veggie broth (thanks to leek trimmings, mushroom stems, herbs and big pinch of homegrown saffron). The starch exuded by the pasta creates a thick, creamy, and savory sauce that drapes delicately over the autumn vegetables.
Autumn Vegetable Pasta
This recipe borrows risotto-making techniques to lend a toasted, nutty flavor to the pasta, and to coax starches into the vegetable broth, making for a naturally creamy, savory sauce.
4 cups vegetable broth
1 cup water
2 sprigs thyme
3 sage leaves
pinch of saffron
1 palmful flat leaf parsley
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large leek, white and light green parts sliced (dark green flags washed and reserved)
8 ounces cremini mushroom caps, thinly sliced (stems removed and reserved)
1 small red bed pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small head green cabbage, shredded
1 bunch broccolini, florets only
16 ounces pasta (campanella or penne)
1 cup white wine
1 cup shredded parmesan cheese (for serving)
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. Heat vegetable broth and water in a 2 quart sauce pot over medium. Add the thyme, sage, parsley, saffron, and reserved leek leaves and mushroom stems. Bring to a boil then reduce heat to maintain a light simmer.
2. In a large dutch oven, heat 4 tablespoons oil over medium until shimmering. Add pasta and stir well to coat. Cook for several minutes, until the pasta is golden brown. Pour in the wine and continuing cooking, stirring every now and then, until most of the liquid has evaporated.
3. Strain the vegetable broth, discarding the solids, and add the liquid to the pasta. Adjust heat to bring the broth to a steady, gentle simmer, stirring occasionally.
4. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil over medium until shimmering. Add the sliced leeks, sliced mushrooms, bell pepper, garlic and a big pinch of salt, sauteeing until all are soft and fragrant. Add the broccolini and cabbage, giving the pan a good stir to mix everything together. When the broccolini turns bright green, reduce heat to low and hold until the pasta is ready.
5. When the pasta has absorbed most of the broth (about 10 minutes), stir in the vegetables. Taste, and adjust salt and pepper to suit. Plate, and top each serving with Parmesan cheese.