Creamy Pumpkin Penne Recipe
Recently my vegan, sugar free, soy free, corn free, and of course gluten free son was here for a visit. I will admit I was struck by a moment of panic when contemplating what to make for a family dinner. And then I remembered. I am a recipe developer.
So I do understand when people who are not gluten free come to me and are freaked out about having to make something for a gluten free friend. Their trusted go-to dishes may not be appropriate or they don’t know how to adapt them. I get it. Here are a few things I have learned about cooking for people with diets with which one is unfamiliar.
First, keep it simple. There may be a time and place for fancy schmancy dishes but this isn’t it. You don’t need to make a dozen difficult dishes and stress yourself out to the max to let people know you care. A main dish, a salad, and a dessert are perfect. As far as dessert goes, it is hard to go wrong with perfectly ripe fruit artfully arranged. You can add things such as whipped cream, nuts, a cheese platter, or some chocolates on separate plates and then everyone can choose from what they can eat to create their own dessert masterpiece.
Secondly, stay with the familiar. I happen to know everyone in my family likes pasta so that was where I started when it came to coming up with a main dish. A hearty pasta dish with a nice salad is perfect for a family dinner or any dinner for that matter.
In the case of my dinner, once I settled on pasta as my main dish I decided to go seasonal and use pumpkin to create a “creamy” sauce with no dairy. From there it was just a matter of thinking about what seasonings go with pumpkin. Cinnamon and nutmeg were a no-brainer; they are not just for sweet dishes. You can use this same principle with any ingredient – just think of what seasonings are familiar with your ingredients. I wanted some saltiness in my dish and since Parmesan was not an option, I added some nutritional yeast.
The main thing to remember when creating a dish for people with special diets is to start with what the person CAN eat. Stop focusing on the restrictions – that just makes the whole process daunting. By focusing on the HAVE instead of the HAVE NOT you will allow your creativity to begin to flow. It’s like a river – when you take the dams down, the water just flows!
When I am serving something really simple for dinner as in this menu, I put a little extra attention to the table settings; flowers, candles, pretty napkins, they all help to create a mood of festivity. For my dinner I played up on the casualness of the dinner by putting flowers and candles in mason jars. I poured water and wine into bottles and carafes and placed them on the table. I pulled out some mismatched vintage silverware and the entire effect was casually elegant, fun, and funky – just like us.
Having people over for dinner should be more about the conversation and connection, not about stress. Relax, smile and have fun. At the end of the day, that’s what people will remember.
Recipe notes: I used organic brown rice gluten free penne from Pastariso, it went well with the earthiness of the rest of the ingredients. To keep things easy I used organic, canned pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie mix!) and for extra flavor and wholesomeness I tossed in some fresh kale – it added color as well. I think that a little vinegar compliments kale so I added just a touch to the recipe – I used white balsamic but white wine vinegar would be good too. For some crunch, a few roasted pumpkin seeds make a nice garnish. If you don’t have to be dairy free or vegan, this recipe would be great made with gluten free chicken stock, parmesan cheese and just about ¼ cup of heavy cream stirred into the sauce.
- Kosher salt
- 1 pound organic brown rice penne
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium onion chopped
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes optional
- 1 bunch kale ribs removed and chopped
- 2 cups gluten free vegetable broth
- 1 (15 ounce) can pure pumpkin puree
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 2 teaspoons nutritional yeast
- 1 teaspoon white balsamic or white wine vinegar
- Freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ cup roasted and salted pumpkin seeds
Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Cook the penne according to the package directions. Reserve 1 cup of the starchy pasta water, drain the penne, rinse with hot water, and reserve.
While the pasta water is boiling, heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper if using and cook for another 30 seconds. Add the kale and cook, stirring, until tender, about 3 minutes. Add the vegetable broth, pumpkin puree, cinnamon, nutmeg, yeast, and vinegar, and stir until heated through, about 5 minutes.
Add the drained pasta to the sauce, stir and add in some of the reserved pasta water to thin the sauce a bit. Taste and adjust seasoning with more salt and pepper if needed. Cook until everything is heated through and serve with pumpkin seeds.
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