In 1966, I was 10 years old and feeling far more sophisticated than I had any right to feel, tucked away in my room with my little record player (not even a stereo) and the songs that would come to define a generation, like “I Want You,” “Just Like a Woman” and “Visions of Johanna,” all of which appeared on Bob Dylan’s double album Blonde on Blonde, said by many to be one of the most important albums ever produced.

In 2018, I will turn 62, still listening to Dylan and still being moved, transported and inspired by those early masterpieces, from the remastered original recordings to covers by new artists. Believe it or not, when I decided to construct a plant-based main course pasta dish that would also use up the last (sigh) cup of pureed pumpkin from the holidays, my first thoughts were “this is going to be blonde on blonde.” I wondered if it would work—everything was coming out orange and cream, no tomatoes, nothing much Italian, nearly everything local, except olive oil and pasta (nod to Italy) and parmigiana reggiano (double nod to Italy).

While it may not be the dish of a generation, my version of Blonde on Blonde did turn out darn good, if I do say so myself. The more I thought about it, I realized I’d created squash-based monochrome menus before, like Showstopper Squash Bowls with Pumpkin, Lemon and Rosemary Rissotto and Pumpkin and Potato Gratin. These all pair squashes in somewhat unusual ways, giving us opportunity to honor original genius like pumpkin pies and squash soup while creating new classics like this one…

Blonde on Blonde Pasta with Butternut Squash and Pumpkin Cream Sauce

Prep Time: 1 hour

Cook Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes

Total Time: 2 hours, 15 minutes

Yield: 4-6 servings

Serving Size: one and one-half cups

Blonde on Blonde Pasta with Butternut Squash and Pumpkin Cream Sauce

Ingredients

  • One-quarter cup olive oil
  • One large yellow onion, chopped (about 2 cups)
  • Two to three large garlic cloves, chopped rather large (to keep them from browning during the sauté)
  • One small butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cubed
  • Two to three tablespoons pesto (I have my own frozen in ice cube trays, but commercial would work, too.)
  • One cup pumpkin puree
  • One-half cup unsweetened plain almond milk (Yes, you could substitute whole milk or even cream, if you wish. But if you do, you may run the risk of it curdling once it meets the lemon juice. I really liked the almond milk here.)
  • One-quarter cup fresh lemon juice
  • One-half cup grated parmigiana reggiano, plus more for garnish
  • Infused pepper oil such as Baklouti for garnish, optional
  • Sea salt and white pepper to taste
  • One package pasta of choice (Spaghetti works really well.)

Instructions

  1. In a large chef’s skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the onion, garlic and a good sprinkle of salt. Reduce the heat to medium-low so that you don’t brown the garlic and continue to sauté for 15 minutes with an occasional stir.
  2. Once the onion has begun to sweat, soften and turn translucent, add the cubed butternut squash and another good sprinkle of salt. Stir well, cover and cook on low for about 30 minutes, until the squash cubes are getting tender. Continue to check and stir the skillet to make sure nothing is sticking. If things start to dry out more than you’d like, add a splash of olive oil.
  3. While the squash mixture is cooking, whisk together the pumpkin puree, the pesto and the lemon juice. Add this mixture to the skillet once the squash is tender, with the heat still on low, and simmer uncovered for about 15 to 20 minutes, giving the sauce time to come together. Be mindful and stir often because this mixture will thicken and can still stick.
  4. This is a good time to start your pasta. You can use a little of the boiling pasta water (spoonfuls at a time) to loosen your sauce a bit, as it is likely to be a little thicker than you want.
  5. When your sauce is thick and bubbly, whisk in the almond milk and continue cooking on low until the sauce becomes creamy—about two minutes.
  6. Once the pasta is al denté, drain it but don’t rinse. You want it going into the pasta al denté and warm so that it can absorb the flavors in the sauce.
  7. Add the pasta to your creamy sauce and let it cook for a minute or two to absorb the sauce’s rich flavors. Turn off the heat and stir in the half cup of parmigiana reggiano and a good dash of white pepper.
  8. To serve, use a large plate and mound in the center. Sprinkle with additional parmigiana reggiano and a drizzle of hot pepper oil, if you wish.

Notes

What really makes this dish work is balance, the combination of sweet squash and salty cheese, the touch of creaminess from the almond milk, the pop of acidity from the lemon juice, and heat from the white pepper and splash of pepper oil. You can keep this dish vegan by omitting the cheese, but I advise against it.

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Delicious Living graphic of hippie with lettuceBack in the 1960’s, when Bob Dylan and I were just getting started on who we would become (OK, It does take balls to write a phrase like that, doesn’t it?), something else was finding a new place in the world: vegetarianism. And though this lifestyle option has gone in and out of fashion for literally centuries, it’s on a comeback today, both as a way to eat healthier and as a way to live greener. For most people, a vegetarian diet is more of a frequent food choice option rather than a strict regime, but even small changes—like a meatless Monday—can improve our health and the health of the environment.

Check out the cool timeline provided by Delicious Living Magazine in their article on “The Plant-Based Movement” and see how us old hippies learned to love our veggies…and how you can, too.

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