Cappellacci di Zucca – Pumpkin Pasta with Sage, Pumpkin Butter, Pine Nuts

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This is cheat post. It’s a cheat post because I’ve posted about similar dishes before. Well, so what. We love this dish and its ilk and I try making it every fall a few times. I really love making fresh pasta and filled pasta as well so why not post about it (spoiler warning: the next post is also a filled pasta dish).

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It is a dish I make relatively often but honestly I never make it the exact same way twice, especially with the filling. This time I think is one of the favorites. The small sugar pumpkin I used was delicious on its own and I decided not to mask it with a ton of other flavors. In Mario Batali’s first book (my favorite of his really), Simple Italian Food: Recipes from My Two Villages,  has a recipe for this dish and his filling is very simple. It’s nothing more than the pumpkin, an egg, some Parmesan and a grating of nutmeg. I went with that and it was perfect. Usually I would use butternut squash for something like this, but I really am glad I gave the small “pie”pumpkin a try this time. The flesh was dry and had great flavor and sweetness.

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Sage with this dish is classic and so is butter. Both are here but with a couple of extra layers of flavor. I put all the pumpkin seeds and pulp into a pot with a bunch of butter and let that gently melt and simmer. After draining I had a nice half cup or so of golden delicious pumpkin butter.

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I boiled the pasta while I got butter browning in a pan and then tossed in sage leaves. For another texture and layer of flavor I threw in a handful of excellent quality pine nuts. These are great pine nuts that I picked up from Lebanon wen I was there a couple of months ago. After the nuts got a good color on them and the sage leaves were a bit crispy I tossed the dumplings into the pan and added a few spoons of the pumpkin butter. Served with a handful of Parmesan and anointed with more pumpkin butter it was lovely.

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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (David Yates – 2016) B+

I’m very glad we have JK Rowling in this world. I’m glad she is not just sitting on her butt and swimming in her cash like Scrooge McDuck. Fantastic Beasts takes place decades before Harry Potter turns 11 and goes on his adventures. It’s set in New York in the 20s and mostly covers new ground although it fits in the bigger Harry Potter Gellert Grindelwald story line. He is most likely this new series’ (5 movies are planned I believe!) Voldemort. It looks beautiful, the setting, the roaring 20s, New York and the attention to detail of those weird creatures is great. We have interesting and likable new characters, interesting villains and a whole American wizarding government to keep track of. So many cool scenes and setups here, like Tina and her flirtatious sister Queenie preparing dinner or the magical speakeasy. Going back to the wonderful Rowling wizarding world is a journey I am very much looking forward to.

Dr. Strange (Scott Derrickson – 2016) B

Definitely one of the coolest and most useful superhero cape to ever exist. This was a fun film. Lots of unique fight scenes and set pieces in a movie that adds another dimension to the Marvel-verse. As is the norm, this one also manages to have a lot of humor (delivered deftly by Cumberbatch) and balances it well with a sorcerer superhero and crazy plot.

The Neon Demon (Nicolas Winding Refn – 2016) B+

A sweet young pretty girl new to LA and is trying to get into the modeling world. Soon she is discovered and befriended by a make-up artist and a couple of other “older” models. She is soon going on photo shoots with a weird photographer and parties and things might be promising….but this is not that kind of movie. It is not a traditional rags to riches, or a Hollywood story of success and tragedy or really any form of typical narrative. This goes dark and weird to places figuratively and literally that I did not expect. It does it in style with gorgeous shots and flamboyant dizzying colors. Let loose and stick around for the ride.

Wiener-Dog (Todd Solondz – 2016) B

Solondz movies are unique, weird and uncomfortable. They are tonally off-putting usually where you are not sure if he is serious or going for laughs (both really). They walk a fine edge between tragedy and bizarre black comedy. This one does not disappoint in all these areas as it follows a dog, a dachshund, as it changes various owners from a wealthy family with a small child to an old lady in her final days before it ends up in an art gallery of sorts. At each step the dog is not more than a prop, it’s not the focus. The conversations and the different people are. The kid we see in the beginning is smart, lonely and full of questions about life and death. The old lady on the other hand is on the opposite side of the equation, she is looking back at her regrets and prior decisions as she pets the dachshund and waits to die.

Greens, Pumpkin and Rice Torta

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If I had to pick all time favorite vegetarian meals they would have to be Mediterranean. They probably focus on lots of greens and wrapped in thin flatbread or dough (proper Falafel is probably on the top of that list). This Italian gem of a recipe from Paula Wolfert is one of those recipes and I’m happy to write about it at this time since it seems very autumnal.

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Ligurian cuisine is famous for the emphasis on herbs and greens. That’s where the beloved basil-pine nut pesto comes from, herb studded olive oil soaked Focaccia and all manner of simple pasta and seafood dishes. So, it is not surprising that Wolfert’s Ligurian recipe relies on large amount of greens sauteed in generous doses of olive oil and filled in a pastry enriched with more olive oil.

I prepared the dough first by mixing flour, water, olive oil and salt. The dough is very nice and pliable. It smells great due to the fruity extra virgin olive oil in it. That gets divided into two equal portions and can sit in the fridge wrapped in plastic for up to a couple days. It could seep some oil in that time but that is ok.

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Spinach and swiss chard made up the greens portion of the filling. The most important step is to make sure these are very very well washed. There is nothing more irksome than grit in an otherwise delightful dish (same goes for removing the poop “vein” from shrimp…I hate it when lazy cooks leave it in and we get nasty grit!) Anyways, back to the filling. I shredded a few handfuls of a small pumpkin using the coarse side of the grater and tossed these in some salt for a bit. The same salting treatment was used for the coarsely chopped greens. The salt draws out some of the water and helps reduce the astringency of the raw greens.

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After rinsing and draining the greens I sauteed them with onions and olive oil until wilted but still retained their firmness. I tossed in the shredded pumpkin and cooked that for a few minutes too. Once the mixture is cooled, I added a bit of short-grain rice that was soaked in water for 30 minutes, Parmesan cheese, fresh mozzarella and a couple of eggs. I rolled the dough into large 14-inch rounds and topped one with the filling before covering it with the second round. I debated building the whole thing on a pizza peel and sliding it on my baking steel directly. I decided against that and went with building and baking the torta on a round metal baking pan. Next time I might give baking it directly on the baking steel a shot and see what happens (hopefully no burnt dough or a huge mess). My favorite way to enjoy this pie is at room temperature, sliced into wedges and eaten by hand. It is delicious, satisfying and keeps well. It makes lovely meals for days if you do not polish it off the first night.

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Ghostbusters (Paul Feig – 2016) C

Not that bad and really does not deserve all the bad press it got. Is it a great movie? Not by any stretch and does not come close to being the classic the original film is. It has some really funny moments and is fine to watch on cable on a Friday night with the kids.