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Pumpkin + Chicken Sausage Pasta

Overhead image of serving dish full or golden pumpkin chicken sausage orecchiette.

Are you ready for a true confession?

I rarely cook from a recipe. The first time I made this Pumpkin + Homemade Chicken Sausage Pasta there was no script. I tell you this so you understand my process of getting a recipe from my brain to your screen– one that I know will work for you at home and that you can trust. A recipe that will hopefully make it onto your table.

How an Idea Becomes a Recipe

A new recipe concept starts with thinking and dreaming about the flavors, colors, scents, and textures of ingredients. This work happens when I’m asleep and when I’m awake– all the time! All that I have learned in over 50 years of cooking and eating informs how a new recipe idea comes together.

Step One

Intuition led the way when I first made this marigold Pumpkin + Homemade Chicken Sausage Pasta, like with most things I cook. I found it warm and comforting. It was delicious enough to share, and didn’t take a fortnight to make, and so on to trial number two.

Step Two

The second run is where I pay keen attention to quantities, timing, and cooking nuances you might want to know that will ensure success. Paper and pen are right next to me noting details as I work it through. At this stage I ask myself some hard questions: Is this really the kind of recipe you might want. Does this recipe create a solution for you? Will it delight you and your family and guests? Is it a thing you might really make at home? How can I instill confidence and cheerlead you through the steps?

Pumpkin + Homemade Chicken Sausage Orecchiette in a serving dish on table with table runner and napkins.
Pumpkin + Homemade Chicken Sausage Orecchiette

Step Three

When I agreed with my initial idea that you might really like this recipe, I moved on to a third Pumpkin + Chicken Sausage Pasta trial. Once again I prepare the recipe again from my notes, writing down any new thoughts or learnings that come. This is the step where I photograph the process using natural light and no filters– no spin or tricks. Then off I go to write up the recipe in standard format for you.

Lastly and most importantly, I invite your feedback. If a recipe step is unclear, if there is something that you loved or that didn’t go right, or if you have an idea that you tried that made it even better, I’m all ears! Please email me at pam@101milekitchen.com. I warmly welcome your comments on the post, too. Every time you leave a star rating on the recipe you help others find it through the Google maze. I value that, as well. In short, you are at the center of my work.

Making the Pumpkin + Homemade Chicken Sausage Pasta

Please don’t let the idea of making sausage intimidate you. It is as fast and easy as adding a few herbs and spices to some purchased ground meat. Try it with ground pork or turkey if you prefer. I just happen to like the lightness of the chicken with this ample portion of pasta. Casings or fancy techniques are not called upon. This particular spice blend was borrowed from a recipe I wrote about years ago.

The sausage recipe is versatile. Roll it into meatballs. Brown it and use it on pizza, salad or in other pastas. Form it into patties to snuggle into a bun or next to your breakfast eggs.

Pumpkin puree is easy to do at home. Click here for link to a Facebook Live video of me explaining the easy process of making pumpkin puree from scratch. Laugh along with me at my very first and awkward Facebook Live tutorial! However, feel free to use canned pumpkin puree if that works best for you. The recipe uses two cans of solid-pack pumpkin puree (just one if you want to cut the recipe in half.) Recipes that aren’t scaled to use an entire can of something that will otherwise go to waste are simply annoying.

Wine Pairing with Pumpkin + Chicken Sausage Pasta

When you are looking for a wine-friendly autumn dish, Pumpkin + Homemade Chicken Sausage is it. A light Italian or Rhone red would be lovely, or any number of dry white wines. Award-winning Abacela Albarino 2020 from Oregon’s Umpqua Valley is just lovely with the dish. You’ll find this light and dry Albarino with no residual sugar and just 13% alcohol, to be a beautifully complimentary weight for this lighter pasta. Fresh fruit and floral aromas and a nice acidity bring the experience into graceful balance.

Other Pumpkin Recipes to Try This Fall

Savory Pumpkin Bread Pudding
Pumpkin Black Bean Soup Two Ways

serving dish full or golden pumpkin chicken sausage orecchiette

Pumpkin + Chicken Sausage Pasta

Course: Main Dish, Quick + Easy
Keyword: crowd pleaser, gluten-free option, pasta, quick and easy, weeknight recipe, wine pairing
Season: Bounty (August – October), Mist (November – March)
Dietary: Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free, Nut-Free
Total Time: 45 minutes
Servings: 6
Author: Pam Spettel
Little orecchiette ears cuddle bits of scratch-made chicken sausage and silky pumpkin sauce. Quick and easy, done in 45 minutes.
Print Recipe

Ingredients

Chicken Sausage Ingredients

  • 1 lb. ground chicken
  • tsp. dried oregano
  • tsp. fennel seeds
  • tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 to 1½ tsp. red pepper flake
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • ¾ tsp. salt
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil

Pasta and Sauce Ingredients

  • 1 lb. orecchiette or other small pasta use gluten free pasta if you choose
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 large shallot, minced
  • 3 cups pumpkin puree (two 15 oz. cans)
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 1 bunch curly or lacinato kale, large ribs removed, chopped into 1" pieces
  • salt + pepper to taste

Instructions

Make the Sausage

  • Crumble the ground chicken into a mixing bowl. In a small bowl, mix remaining herbs and spices. Sprinkly the herbs and spices over the ground chicken and drizzle with the olive oil. Rinse your hands in cold water and gently knead the spices into the ground chicken until thoroughly combined. Set aside.

Make the Pasta and Sauce

  • Put a large pot of generously salted water on to boil for the pasta. While the water comes to a boil, in a wide pan brown the sausage mixture in olive oil– enough to cover the bottom of the pan. Stir frequently, breaking up the sausage into bite-sized bits. This should take 6-8 minutes. Remove cooked sausage and juices to a plate and set aside.
  • In the same wide pan heat another swirl of olive oil. Saute the minced shallot in the olive oil until tender and translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the pumpkin, white wine, and salt to taste. Stir together and heat until gently bubbling.
  • When the water is boiling, add the pasta and cook according to package directions. This may happen before or after the pumpkin mixture has come together.
  • When the pasta is cooked al dente (it will finish cooking in the sauce, so don't overcook it!) reserve 2 cups of the pasta cooking water and drain the pasta. (Don't forget this step, as it helps make a beautiful silky sauce!) Drain the pasta and return it to its cooking pot.
  • Add the chopped kale and cooked sausage and its juices back into the pan with the pumpkin mixture and stir in one cup of the pasta water. Scrape the sausage/pumpkin mixture into the cooked pasta and stir. Add enough more of the reserved pasta water to create a smooth, silky sauce that evenly coats the pasta. The pasta will continue to absorb the liquid, so be generous. Adjust salt and pepper. Serve in a large serving dish or in individual pasta bowls.

Notes

It is conceivable to garnish this dish with grated Parmesan or Romano cheese, however my cheese-loving husband says this is the “cheesiest pasta with no cheese” he’s ever eaten! Omitting it makes the dish dairy-free. 
If you’d prefer, you can use store-bought hot Italian chicken sausage, but this is such an easy and delicious sausage recipe I do hope you’ll give it a try. 
 

Parsnip Poutine + Rich Mushroom Gravy

Platter Parsnip Poutine + Rich Mushroom Gravy on table with wine glasses and bottle of wine.

Parsnip Poutine + Rich Mushroom Gravy involves roasting quartered parsnips until partly chewy, partly crispy. A brown gravy smothers all good poutines. This one is a rich mushroom gravy redolent with shallots and herbs. Top the poutine off with Beaver Classic cheese curds, a project of Oregon State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences, or any cheese curd or melting cheese you chose.

This recipe is designed for a very special group of people who started out as neighbors and became dear friends. Ever since we moved to the 101-Mile Kitchen we gather frequently to relax, shoot the breeze, eat and drink. This recipe is a thank you to these amazing souls who have kept my heart from drooping during the last 20 months of living in an upside down world, and to the universe for putting us in each other’s paths.

Besides being funny, smart, and caring, our neighbors all enjoy cooking great food and drinking nice wine. (There might be a splash of bourbon here and there, too.) Sometimes we have a full-on meal, but most often we meet over easy noshes, charcuterie, spreads and dips, and casual dishes. I can’t wait to make this poutine for them.

Overhead closeup photo of Parsnip Poutine with Rich Mushroom Gravy.

What is the Best Pairing?

While it makes a terrific main course at its heart poutine is bar food and doesn’t need a precious pairing. I’d suggest a Southern Rhone style blend. This time I served the poutine with a very inexpensive ($13) 2017 Château Saint-Estève Cuvée Classique Corbières Rouge— a nice old world 60% Grenache- 40% Syrah blend. It is lively, with whispers of herbs and deep fruit that compliment the umami and herbal flavors in the gravy.

Quady North GSM from Oregon’s Rogue Valley and Reininger Helix SoRho from Washington are some of our favorite American GSM producers.

Of course most ales and beers are also delightful with poutine.

Making the Poutine + Gravy

Image of all the ingredients needed to make the parsnip poutine + rich mushroom gravy: parsnips, dried mushrooms, rosemary, shallot, flour, thyme, garlic, and cheese curds.

Parsnip Poutine + Rich Mushroom Gravy is another of those one-hour wonders. It takes maybe ten minutes to prep the ingredients, 16 minutes in the oven to get the parsnips on their tender and crunchy way while the mushrooms rehydrate, and another 15 or 20 minutes to make the gravy while the parsnips are finishing off. A foil-lined sheet pan, a large pan, a knife, and a bowl are the only tools used so clean-up is speedy.

Parsnips and shallots grow just about anywhere, so they should fit in to most people’s imaginary 101-mile sourcing radius. You can find dried Porcini mushrooms at many groceries and online. My favorite source is Pistol River Mushroom Farm in Southern Oregon. Dried mushrooms seem expensive until you realize that one ounce of dried mushrooms is equal to 8 ounces of fresh. The dark color of the soaking liquid becomes the intensely flavored broth for the gravy– something a fresh mushroom just can’t do.

As an aside, tuck this mushroom gravy recipe away to use in many other ways. I can’t wait to ladle it onto a split and fluffed baked potato one cold winter’s day.

Parsnip Poutine with Rich Mushroom Gravy on a platter, surrounded by wine bottle and glasses.

Parsnip Poutine + Rich Mushroom Gravy

Course: Appetizer, Main Dish
Keyword: bar food, gluten free,, parsnip recipe, poutine, rich mushroom gravy, umami, vegan option
Season: Bounty (August – October), Mist (November – March)
Dietary: Dairy-Free, Egg-Free, Nut-Free, Vegetarian
Preparation: One Pot/One Pan, Roasting
Total Time: 50 minutes
Servings: 4 to 6
Author: Pam Spettel
You'd never know there was no meat in this rich silky poutine gravy, and the crunchy, chewy roasted parsnips take it to new but familiar places. A fantastic main or "bar food" course for vegans and omnivores alike.
Print Recipe

Ingredients

  • 3 lb. parsnips
  • 2 teaspoons fresh rosemary leaves
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 oz. dried porcini mushrooms, or other dried cooking mushroom
  • 12 oz. shallot, approximately 4 large peeled and sliced ½" thick
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves, plus more for garnish
  • tablespoons GF 1-for-1 flour, rice flour, or all-purpose flour
  • salt and pepper
  • ¼ lb. cheese curds, or goat cheese

Instructions

For the Parsnips

  • Preheat the oven to 400° convection and line a baking sheet with foil.
  • Trim and peel the parsnips. Quarter them lengthwise, and if they are especially thick, cut them again into eighths. Lay them out on the foil lined baking sheet, and drizzle them generously with olive oil. Toss them with your hands to evenly cover them in the olive oil, and spread them out flat at much as possible. Sprinkle them lightly with salt and black pepper. Bake for 16 minutes, and them flip them over. Reduce the oven heat to 350°. Sprinkle again with salt and pepper, and drizzle olive oil on any parts that look parched. Sprinkle the rosemary leaves over the parsnips and return to the oven for another 16-20 minutes. Check them often for doneness– the thick tops will be browned and tender, the thin ends will be well browned and somewhat crispy.

For the Mushroom Shallot Gravy

  • As soon as the parsnips are in the oven, place the dried porcini in a 4-cup measuring cup or bowl, and cover with hot tap water to the 3-cup mark. Set aside.
  • Heat enough olive oil over medium-high heat to generously cover the bottom of a sauteuse or large pan. Slide in the sliced shallots and leave without turning until the bottoms are browned. Stir, flipping them over, and again allow them to brown. After the first ten minutes add the minced garlic, thyme, and a 4-finger pinch of salt. Continue the browning process until the shallots are completely tender but not mushy, and have a good amount of browned caramelization throughout.
  • Stir in the flour, and continuously stir until the flour is well incorporated and beginning to stick to the pan. Stir for about three minutes.
  • Gradually ladle in the soaked mushrooms and their dark brown soaking liquid, stirring between ladlefuls, until it it incorporated. You will see the gravy begin to thicken immediately– stir throughout this process to avoid any lumps.
  • Stirring frequently, bring the gravy to a boil, and add some more salt. There should be about one teaspoon total in the gravy, or to taste. Add a very generous amount of black pepper to season. Allow the gravy to bubble and thicken for about 6 minutes.

Bring it All Together

  • Arrange the roasted parsnips on a large warmed platter in a spiky spoke-like fashion. Ladle the hot gravy in the center. Arrange the cheese curds over the gravy, and top with a bunch of thyme for garnish. Serve while piping hot.

Turkey Meatball + Roasted Lemon Zucchini Pasta

Close up of Turkey Zucchini Meatball Pasta + Roasted Lemon Sauce.

Turkey Meatball + Roasted Lemon Zucchini Pasta is one of the tastiest recipes you can have in your weeknight toolbox. Pop these juicy meatballs into the oven and they’ll be done in twenty minutes– as long as it takes to get the rest of the dinner together. This fun and exciting weeknight meal is ready in under an hour, but is definitely company-worthy.

Lemon slices roast alongside the meatballs, then are chopped and added to the sauce with briny chopped olives to give this simple dish huge flavor for the amount of effort it takes.

Our household is not yet ready to make the shift to an entirely plant-based diet, but we make incremental steps in that direction. This turkey meatball and roasted lemon pasta is chock full of zucchini. The turkey meatballs hold a lot of zucchini which lightens the meatballs. Reduce and replace the volume of turkey with even more zucchini if that’s where your dietary choices are taking you. In the future I’ll be experimenting with replacing the turkey with mashed beans for a completely meatless “meatball.”

Making the Turkey Meatball + Roasted Lemon Zucchini Pasta

First, form the meatballs and lay them out on a sheet pan with the sliced lemon which will go into the sauce after it roasts. The meatballs and lemon roast together while a pot of water boils for the pasta and a simple robust mediterranean sauce sautes. Then toss together the pasta and sauce with some of the pasta cooking water. Then top it off with the meatballs, and viola– dinner is served.

Ingredients needed for Turkey Meatball and Roasted Lemon Zucchini Pasta.
A few common ingredients are all it takes for this easy weeknight pasta.

What Wine Shall I Serve?

Bowl of Turkey Meatball and Roasted Lemon Zucchini Pasta and glass of wine.
Turkey meatballs and roasted lemon zucchini pasta is perfect with Anne Amie 2019 Pinot Gris.

The mediterranean flavors in the sauce– garlic, condensed roasted lemon, and Kalamata olives– were perfect with the Willamette Valley wine producer Anne Amie 2019 Pinot Gris. 15% of the Pinot Gris barrels in this vintage were fermented in neutral barrels and aged on the lees, giving it a soft, round mouthfeel not often found in a Pinot Gris. This very enjoyable wine is found within our 101-mile sourcing radius!

In general, a dry white wine with some citrus and minerality will be a perfect match. Experiment and have fun finding those that you most enjoy.

Bowl full of Turkey Zucchini Meatball Pasta + Roasted Lemon Sauce

Turkey Meatball + Roasted Lemon Zucchini Pasta

Course: Main Dish
Cuisine: Italian, Mediterranean
Keyword: dairy-free option, gluten-free option, vegan option, weeknight recipe
Total Time: 55 minutes
Servings: 4
Author: Pam Spettel
Tucking a little zucchini into the meatballs lightens this hearty, comforting pasta dish that is loaded with delicious bright flavor. Less than an hour from start to finish makes it easy enough for a weeknight, but it's fancy enough for company.
Print Recipe

Ingredients

For the Meatballs

  • 1 cup panko or purchased bread crumbs both are available in gluten-free options
  • ¾ cup milk, dairy or plant
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 ½ cups grated zucchini squeezed of moisture in a clean kitchen towel
  • 1 pound ground turkey 94% lean will be juicier than 99% lean
  • 1 ¼ cup finely grated parmesan cheese reserve ¼ cup for serving. For dairy-free, replace this with 1-2 Tablespoons nutritional yeast.
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon onion powder, optional
  • 1 large or two smaller lemons, sliced ⅛" thin

For the Pasta and Roasted Lemon Sauce

  • ¾ pound spaghetti or bucatini or gluten free pasta
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 3-4 cups zucchini, diced in about ⅜" pieces
  • 1 shallot, finely diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flake
  • cup Kalamata olives or other black olives, roughly chopped
  • roasted lemon slices, above, chopped into small pieces the lemon slices will roast at the same time at the meatballs, so they are included in the above ingredient list
  • Chopped flat-leaf parsley or basil for garnish

Instructions

Make the Meatballs

  • Line a sheet pan with foil and spray it with oil spray. Preheat the oven to 375°.
  • In a large mixing bowl stir together the panko and milk and let rest for 5 minutes while the crumbs absorb the milk. Add the squeezed grated zucchini, turkey, 1 cup parmesan, garlic salt, and onion powder, if using. Mix everything together with you hands until thoroughly combined.
  • Use an ice cream or cookie scoop to form the meatballs, rinsing your hands in cold water to smooth the balls and place them on the sheet pan. (This makes 12-14 meatballs, depending on the size of your scoop.) Place lemon slices around the meatballs on the foil-lined sheet. Bake the meatballs for about 20 minutes, or until they are lightly browned and the lemon slices have softened. Some of them may have browned edges.
  • When the lemon slices are cool enough to handle, stack them up on a cutting board and cut them into quarters. Set aside for the sauce.

Make the Pasta and Roasted Lemon Zucchini Sauce

  • While the meatballs are in the oven, bring a pot of water to boil and cook the pasta according to package instructions. Reserve one cup of pasta water.
  • While the water is boiling, place enough olive oil to amply cover the bottom of your largest skillet over medium-high heat. It may seem like a lot, but the oil will become your pasta sauce so be generous. When the oil is hot add the zucchini, shaking the pan to settle the zucchini in to the pan. Leave it to brown without stirring for 2 – 3 minutes. Stir the zucchini around and shake the pan again, and add the shallot, garlic, salt, and red pepper flake on top. Adjust the temperature if needed to allow the browning to continue without burning, stirring every 2 minutes or so until all the vegetables are lightly caramelized and cooked through, about 8 minutes total.
  • With the heat still on the skillet, add the Kalamata olives and reserved roasted lemon to the zucchini mixture. Use tongs to lift the al dente pasta into the skillet with the sauce. Add ½ cup of the pasta water and use tongs to mix the sauce and pasta together. As the water absorbs you may want to add the rest of the water, tossing the pasta and sauce together as it becomes silky and coats the pasta.
  • Serve the pasta and sauce on plates or bowls, and the nestle in meatballs on top. Garnish with the remaining parmesan and parsley or basil. Drizzle with additional olive oil if desired.

Notes

For a dairy-free version, omit the parmesan from the meatball mixture and add 1 Tablespoon nutritional yeast. You may also sprinkle some nutritional yeast as a garnish to the finished dish. 
For a gluten-free version, use gluten-free bread crumbs or panko, and GF pasta.
For a vegan option, omit meatballs and just roast the sliced lemon alone.
Double the meatball portion of the recipe– The meatballs freeze well and can be added to any pasta and sauce, or make great meatball sandwiches. 

Other Cool-Weather Pasta Recipes and Zucchini Recipes

Zingy Lemon-Ginger Zucchini Cake

Humble Pasta with Beans and Mushrooms

Savory Pumpkin Bread pudding in a casserole dish

Come Together Over Savory Pumpkin Bread Pudding

Savory Pumpkin Bread Pudding in a casserole dish
Bread turns golden as it soaks up the pumpkin-based custard.

Pumpkin can’t seem to get away from the use of sugar and cinnamon-y pumpkin pie spices that relegate it to the sweets table. This Savory Pumpkin Bread Pudding– with things like onions and herbs– opens a whole new world of pumpkin possibilities.

Here, the dusky earthiness of pumpkin is the perfect match to lots of herbs, mushrooms, and two cheeses in the recipe. Think of it like a cheesy stuffing baked outside the bird, or like a strata.

Savory Pumpkin Bread Pudding Brings People Together

woman serving savory pumpkin bread pudding from baking dish.

The people who gather at my table represent a wide range of dietary needs and preferences and, if you live in America in 2021, this is likely the case for you, too. This bread pudding is easily modified to meet the challenges of nourishing a dietarily diverse crowd. And the challenges of the cook organizing meals for them!

Having dishes on the table that respect everyone’s needs can be a challenge that you likely know all too well. Above all, it is important to me that there be food that all my beloveds can share. I want no one to feel left out when the oohs and ahhs start happening!

This Savory Pumpkin Bread Pudding serves as a hearty main course for non-meat-eaters, and a tasty side dish for meat-eaters. Tailor it to your crowd by trading plant milk for dairy milk, and non-dairy cheese for the Parmesan and Fontina. Gluten-free bread is an easy swap that everyone will enjoy. However, egg substitutes have not been tested in this recipe.

Savory Pumpkim Bread Pudding in a baking dish.

Making the Savory Pumpkin Bread Pudding

Firstly, start with an artisan-style bread with lots of bubbles and holes in the crumb that create cozy spaces for the eggy pumpkin custard to rest. Day-old bread is even better, because it will soak up the custard best and bake up with a more firm sliceable texture.

After that, making pumpkin puree from scratch is really easy in an Instant Pot. Try making a batch or two to freeze and have on hand for all your pumpkin cooking and baking. The convenience of canned pumpkin is great, but there is a quality trade-off.

Click here for link to a Facebook Live video of me explaining the easy process of making pumpkin puree from scratch.

Ingredients needed for Savory Pumpkin Bread Pudding.
Things you’ll need to make a Savory Pumpkin Bread Pudding of your own.

The make-ahead nature of Savory Pumpkin Bread Pudding makes it a great addition to your Thanksgiving table, or any time. Assemble the bread pudding the day before you need it, then baked it off on serving day. I hope you enjoy having pumpin in this savory way!

Other Savory Pumpkin Recipes:

Pumpkin Black Bean Soup

Pasta with Creamy Pumpkin Sauce and Toasted Hazelnuts

Savory Pumpkin Bread Pudding in a casserole dish

Savory Pumpkin Bread Pudding

Course: Main Dish, Side Dish
Cuisine: Pacific Northwest
Keyword: crowd pleaser, customizable, mushrooms, pumpkin, stuffing, Thanksgiving
Season: Bounty (August – October), Mist (November – March)
Dietary: Dairy-Free, Nut-Free
Preparation: Casserole
Prep Time: 25 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 25 minutes
Servings: 8
Author: Pam Spettel
Maximize pumpkin's savory notes with a hearty bread pudding filled with aromatics, herbs, and mushrooms.
Print Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 cups pumpkin puree, made from scratch or canned See link for video tutorial on making your own in the Instant Pot.
  • 6 large eggs
  • 3 cups milk or your favorite non-dairy milk
  • 2 cups finely grated parmesan, divided (about 6 ounces) for dairy-free option, replace this with 2 Tablespoons nutritional yeast
  • 1 teaspoon grated or ground nutmeg
  • 1 pound artisan-style bread (the holes and bubbles capture the custard nicely, and stale bread is best) baguette, boule, pugliese, etc.
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil (for dairy-free version) or butter
  • 2 medium onions, in about ⅜" dice
  • 2 cups celery stalk and leaves, sliced about ⅜" thick
  • 1 pound mushrooms, slices about ⅜" thick
  • 4-6 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 small bunch lacinato kale, sliced about ⅜" thick, and roughly chopped through
  • 3 teaspoons fresh thyme, leaves removed from their stems or 1 teaspoon ground dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon fresh sage leaves, very finely minced or 1/2 teaspoon ground dried sage
  • 8 ounces fontina cheese, diced into about ⅜" cubes for dairy-free version, omit or replace with a firm dairy-free melting cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  • Oil a deep 9" x 13" baking dish or casserole. Preheat the oven to 350°.
  • Wash and dice the onion, celery, mushrooms, kale, and herbs. Dice the fontina and finely grate the Parmesan. Set aside.
  • Make a custard by first whisking the pumpkin puree and eggs together, then slowing whisking in the milk to combine. Add in about ¾ cup of the Parmesan, the nutmeg, 1 teaspoon salt, and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Set aside.
  • In a large skillet set over medium-high heat, add half the olive oil or butter. Add the onions and celery and sauté, stirring frequently, until the onions become translucent and soft without browning, about 5-7 minutes. While the onions are softening, in your largest mixing bowl, use your fingers to tear the bread into bite-sized chunks. Remove the crust only if it is especially thick and tough, otherwise include it. Lightly salt the bread and toss it.
  • When the onions and celery are tender, add them to the bread. Heat the rest of the olive oil or butter in the skillet and sauté the mushrooms until they have released some of their moisture and are beginning to brown, about 5-7 minutes. Add in the garlic, kale and ½ teaspoon or so of salt and a generous amount of pepper and sauté another 2-3 minutes until the kale has softened a little and the mushrooms are well-browned. Add them to the bread and onion mixture in the large bowl. Add the diced fontina if using, and give the ingredients in the bowl a good toss.
  • Pour the reserved pumpkin custard mixture over the bread and vegetables and gently stir with a rubber spatula, scraping down the sides and bringing the ingredients up from the bottom to evenly coat them with the custard mixture. Tip it out into the prepared baking pan.
  • Cover the dish tightly with foil. Bake for 45 minutes, remove the dish from the oven and remove the foil. Sprinkle the remaining Parmesan over the top, and bake for another 15 minutes until the cheese is browned and bubbling. Remove from the oven and allow to set for 10 minutes before serving. The pieces cut nicely into squares like lasagne, or can be spooned out with a large spoon.

Notes

Make It Your Own:
Add chunks of squash or pumpkin, use mustard greens or chard instead of the kale, try different cheeses and herbs. Follow your heart and use what you have!

flourless walnut spice cake on a platter.

Flourless Walnut Cake with Coffee + Spice Versions

Flourless walnut spice cake adorned with fall fruits and flowers.
Flourless Walnut Spice Cake with Fall Fruits and Flowers

Rustic Cake at Its Very Best

In my calculus, a rustic cake has a short list of ingredients, an interesting texture, and most importantly is adorned very plainly– a straightforward glaze, scoop of ice cream or whipped cream, a smatter of nuts or seasonal fruit is all it takes. This Flourless Walnut Cake and its coffee or spice versions deliver on a promise of simplicity.

What a cake like this misses in complexity is made up with a certain honesty. It’s like the fresh rosy-cheeked girl in a calico dress that smells of clothesline sunshine.

Flourless walnut cake on a cake platter.
Flourless Coffee-Walnut Cake with Coffee Glaze and Candied Walnuts

Or, our flourless walnut cake is like filtering your way through a crowded party, and meeting a gentle-souled person standing in the corner with whom to while the evening away.

Uncomplicated joy.

Multi-tiered, colorful swooped, swirled, and filagree-frosted cakes sometimes disappoint on the part that really matters– flavor. With flourless walnut cake or its coffee or spice versions, what you see is what you get. The beauty is natural, not forced.

Making the Flourless Walnut Cake

Woman holding place with flourless walnut cake.
Flourless Coffee-Walnut Cake, fresh from the oven.

Starting with room temperature eggs, like with most baking, is imperative to the success of this recipe. Sugar simply cannot dissolve into cold yolks. Cold whites don’t whip to their lofty heights. Here you spend a good deal of time building structure by dissolving sugar into yolks and stiffening the whites, so give yourself a guaranteed win by setting your eggs out in advance. (When I forget, I help the eggs warm up by placing them on a bowl of lukewarm water, changing it for more when it goes cold. Never try this with hot water or you make crack open a semi-cooked egg!)

Traditional recipes for this type of cake ask you to whip all of the whites into firm peaks at once. Here, I have you whip them to medium peaks at first, then add only a third of them to the yolk/sugar/nut mixture to lighten the batter. Then, you’ll go back and whip the remaining two-thirds of the whites into firm stand-up-at-attention peaks before gently folding them into the batter. I have found this greatly increases the structure of the cake, resulting in a taller cake with less shrinkage when it comes out of the oven. Even though our dear little flourless walnut cakes are humble, they still like to make a good first impression.

If you chose, top either version with a pile of candied walnut halves, made the same way Sarah at Sustainable Cooks makes her pecans. The only difference is that I add 1 tablespoon water to the skillet along with the sugar. Make extra! Candied walnuts are great in salads or on a cheese platter, too.

Both versions-- coffee-walnut and walnut spice cakes together on a table.
Choose plain walnut, walnut spice or coffee-walnut variations with this one simple recipe.

More Rustic Cake Recipes

Sweet Corn Buttermilk Cake + Blueberry Compote (gluten-free)

Zingy Lemon Ginger Zucchini Cake

Flourless walnut cake on a cake platter.

Flourless Walnut Cake with Coffee + Spice Versions

Course: Dessert
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: autumn dessert, coffee desserts, nut desserts, spice cake
Season: Bounty (August – October), Evergreen (April – July), Mist (November – March)
Dietary: Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free
Preparation: Baking
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 50 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 5 minutes
Servings: 12
Author: Pam Spettel
Flourless Walnut cake is tender and delicious just as written, but the addition of coffee or baking spices takes it next level– One recipe with three variations– plain, Coffee, or Spice– to suit your mood. Three primary ingredients, a few simple steps, and you'll have beautiful dessert cakes all winter.
Print Recipe

Ingredients

  • 2 cups walnuts, ground (instructions below) 8 ounces
  • 7 large eggs room temperature
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Flavoring Options

Coffee Glaze, Optional

  • 3 cups confectioners sugar
  • 1 teaspoon finely ground coffee beans
  • 5 Tablespoons warm or hot strong brewed coffee
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Instructions

Flourless Walnut Cake

  • Preheat oven to 350°. Generously butter and flour (or use very finely ground walnuts) a 9-inch springform pan. Wrap the bottom of the pan with foil to catch any butter that melts out in the oven.
  • In a food processor, finely grind the walnuts. This will likely take only 8 -10 pulses. Stop just as they begin to clump. (Any further and you'll make walnut batter, not quite what we are after). Set the ground walnuts aside.
  • Seperate the eggs, placing the yolks in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whip attachment. Beat the yolks with the sugar and salt 6-8 minutes until the mixture is fluffy and pale yellow. (You'll be glad you let your eggs come to room temperature for this– the sugar more readily dissolves in eggs that are not cold.)
  • If you are making a plain flourless walnut cake, move on to step five. If you are making either a walnut-spice cake or a coffee flavored cake, add the spice mix or the finely ground coffee beans now and mix in thoroughly.
  • Remove the mixing bowl from the stand mixer and with a silicone or rubber spatula, fold the ground walnuts into the yolk mixture.
  • In a separate clean bowl free of any oils or grease, whip the egg whites, cream of tartar, and vanilla to medium peaks. (The cream of tartar helps stabilize the whipped egg whites.) Gently fold about a third of the egg whites into the walnut mixture. Then, whip the remaining egg whites once again until they just reach firm peaks. Fold them gently into the walnut mixture in two batches, folding until no more white streaks remain.
  • Place the cake batter into the prepared pan. Place the pan on a baking sheet. Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until the cake is puffed, set (not jiggly) in the middle, and a cake tester (I use a bamboo skewer for this) inserted in the middle comes out clean.
  • Allow the cake to cool in the pan about 20 minutes before removing the springform ring. The cake will have sunk in the center and formed charming cracks and crags, perfectly normal for this rustic meringue-style cake.
  • Decorate with seasonal fruits, a dusting a powdered sugar, or the coffee glaze below. Seve with whipped cream.

Coffee Glaze

  • Place the sugar in a medium mixing bowl. Add the vanilla and coffee, tablespoon at a time, and whisk until a glaze forms. It should cling to the whisk and drip off in thick long ribbons. Adjust by adding more powdered sugar or water to make it thicker or thinner. Drizzle the glaze from the whisk around the edges of the cake, allowing some to flow toward the center of the cake and some to drip off the edges. Allow the glaze to set for an hour before covering or serving.

Notes

To make the Coffee Glaze a Spice Glaze, replace the ground coffee with one teaspoon of the same spice blend you use in the cake, and replace the brewed coffee with warm or hot water.
Garnish the spice cake with fresh fig halves, lightly roasted (6 minutes at 350, just to soften) plum prunes, tiny grape clusters, and/or unsprayed organic food-safe flowers or flower petals.  
One bowl of Pumpkin Black Bean Soup with spoon.

Pumpkin Black Bean Soup Two Ways + Leaning In

Bowls of Pumpkin Black Bean Soup, a loaf of bread, and wine on a table ready for a party.

Soup as Your Secret Weapon

In case you haven’t noticed, the world really needs us right now. The paradigm-looting pandemic isn’t over. Differing points of view are dividing friends and neighbors when we aren’t paying attention. It’s as though the collective pulse is slow, the heartbeat is going quiet. Bold acts of friendship are as important as they ever were.

Lean in and let Pumpkin Black Bean Soup be one of your secret weapons in the defense of friendship.

Closeup of a bowl of pumpkin black bean soup.

Lean In, Full and Strong

I’ve found that leaning in to my loved ones and community happens best when I first make my own self full and strong. Now is the time to follow the pilot’s directions. “Ladies and gentlemen, should the cabin lose pressure, oxygen masks will drop from the overhead area. Please place the mask over your own mouth and nose before assisting others.”

Simply put, if I run out of oxygen I cannot assist someone else with gaining theirs. If I’m gasping for air I am fairly useless in creating a safer, happier, nourishing place for others.

In this season known for its comfort food, let us remember this for ourselves. Eat reviving foods, feed ourselves well. Warm, spicy, hearty things that nourish not just our bodies, but our eyes and hearts and imaginations. And then share it with others out of our own fullness.

Overhead photo of bowls of pumpkin black bean soup, bread loaf, and wine glasses.

Make More Bean Soup Joy

Pumpkin Black Bean Soup is a stealthy way to make more joy. Make more festivity for Halloween night supper. Make more personal success– image your game-day touchdown by sharing this big pot of soup with loved ones. Or make this soup as an easy dinner party with whoever it is that makes up your pod these days.

Or in support to yourself, make the whole big pot and parcel out 2-cup portions for your freezer. That way you’ll always be fueled for your loving, life-giving actions even when you don’t feel like cooking. The joyfully act of making the soup itself is a beautiful life-giver.

More About Pumpkin Black Bean Soup

A wooden platter with the recipe ingredients mis en place.

Put together this rich and fragrant rusty-brown soup in a flash with canned ingredients from your pantry, or with dried black beans you cook yourself. (Beans from Rancho Gordo are the best ever, and their Midnight Black Beans are perfect here.) Directions for the easy way and the beans-from-scratch way are included. I love it both ways, depending on the amount of time I’ve got to give. Click here for link to a Facebook Live video of me explaining the easy process of making pumpkin puree from scratch.

Make it vegan by omitting the ham hock or pancetta for another delicious way to go, even for committed meat-eaters.

The aroma coming from the pot of this seasonal soup is so inviting and so comforting. Pumpkin gets a well-earned reprieve from its sugar and spice gig, making a happy marriage with the savory black beans and cumin. It really is the perfect thing for the chilly days ahead.

Oh, by the way, a perfect accompaniment to this warming soup is a huge loaf of Caraway Rye Black Bread. Together they make enough to feed a crowd of friends bent on making more joy, no matter what.

One bowl of Pumpkin Black Bean Soup with spoon.

Pumpkin Black Bean Soup

Course: Main Dish, Soup + Stew
Keyword: vegan option
Season: Bounty (August – October), Mist (November – March)
Dietary: Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free
Preparation: One Pot/One Pan
40 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes
Servings: 2 quarts
Author: Pam Spettel
Comfort food at its best, let Pumpkin Black Bean Soup be your secret weapon in defense of friendship. Pumpkin gets a reprieve from sugar and spice in this happy marriage of savory black beans and cumin.
Print Recipe

Ingredients

  • 4 15 oz. cans whole black beans, drained See Notes section for cooking beans from scratch.
  • 1 15 oz. can whole or diced tomatoes
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cups onion, diced (about 2 large onions)
  • 2 poblano chilis, diced
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced
  • 8 oz. pancetta or bacon, diced (optional) Omit for vegan option.
  • 3 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons Mexican oregano
  • 1 tablespoon Kosher salt
  • teaspoons ground black pepper
  • 2 15 oz cans pure pumpkin Or one 28 oz. can.
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 can Stout or other favorite beer (optional) I love Athletic Brewing Company's non-alcoholic All Out Stout for this.
  • 2-3 tablespoons red wine vinegar, or to taste at the table
  • pumpkin seeds, cilantro, green onion, and/or sour cream as toppings

Instructions

  • Blend together in a food processor HALF of the black beans and the canned tomatoes. Process until nearly smooth. Set aside.
  • Heat the olive oil in a large soup or stock pot to medium-high heat. Add the diced onions, poblano, garlic, pancetta (if using, salt, and pepper. Stir together, and allow the vegetables to thoroughly soften as the pancetta crisps up a bit, stirring frequently and adjusting heat to prevent them from browning, about 7 minutes. Add the cumin and Mexican oregano, stir, and allow to cook another 3 minutes or so.
  • Add the blended bean/tomato mixture to the sauteed vegetables and stir. Stir in the pumpkin, and then stir in the water and stout (if using). Simmer and stir frequently for 20 minutes or so to slightly condense and thicken, and to let the flavors come together. Stir in the remaining whole beans and serve. If you are making this in advance of serving time, add the beans in the last five minutes before serving to they don't overcook and collapse.
  • Right before serving, stir in the vinegar and taste to adjust seasoning. Ladle into bowls, serve plain, or garnish with your favorite combination of topping ingredients.

Notes

For cooking the black beans from scratch:
If you are cooking your black beans from their dried state, you can omit the pancetta and include a ham hock, which adds a lovely smoky flavor and a little smoked pork to the pot. For the vegan option, of course, do not add a hock.
You’ll need:
Soak the beans 4-6 hours covered by 2″ in water. Place the beans and their soaking water (I think this preserves some color, flavor, and nutrients, but you may also drain the beans and start with fresh water) and the ham hocks (if using) in a pot large enough to cover by 2″ of water. Bring to a rolling boil for five minutes. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 1-2 hours, with a lid set ajar. Stir every now and then, and begin tasting for doneness at the one-hour mark. Try your best to not overcook the beans– just cook until they are tender to the tooth, but have retained their shape. 
Proceed with the recipe as directed in step one. 
With this method, drain the beans through a colander and use the cooking liquid (pot liquor) to replace some or all of the water. This captures the extra flavor the cooking liquid offers into the soup. After the ham hock cools, pick any meat from it and reserve until step four, adding it back with the whole beans. 

Caraway Rye Black Bread for Fall

woman in sweater holds whole loaf of Caraway Rye Black Bread.

Even though school busses are rolling again, a blanket has been tossed on top of the summer sheets, and my favorite sweater has been brought out against the morning and evening chill, it is my first annual batch of Caraway Rye Black Bread that makes the welcome of autumn official at our house.

A loaf of caraway rye black bread in its Staub baking pot.

This black bread recipe originates with Dan Lepard’s phenomenal 2011 cookbook, Short & Sweet. My adaptations reduce a little sugar, simplify the process, and make it completely dairy-free/vegan. But the texture, flavor profile, and proportions are singularly Dan’s.

How to Use the Caraway Rye Black Bread

A table set for a party with soup-filled bowls, ine, and a loaf of caraway rye black bread.

This glorious rye bread is perfect for dunking into a thick bean or vegetable soup like this for Halloween supper. Or try two slices filled with your favorite cheese, thinly sliced apple, and grainy mustard and grilled in a hot skillet or panini maker as an after leaf-raking treat. Or chunked up as a fondue dipper and served with a Grüner Veltliner or Riesling, it wins a lot of points in the stay-at-home romance category.

But here is my personal favorite– A thick slice toasted, buttered, and with a generous schmear of butter or ghee and orange marmalade alongside a cup of hot coffee sings O Happy Day for breakfast.

About the Bread

A loaf of caraway rye back bread on a cutting board with sliced and a wedge cut from it.

Caraway Rye Black Bread is the lovechild of deli rye and pumpernickel. Deep dark richness comes from molasses, cocoa powder, and ground coffee beans or instant espresso powder. The unmistakable sweet warmth comes from a generous amount of caraway seeds typically found in a lighter rye bread.

The loaf is gorgeous and huge– HUGE– at nearly three pounds. Is that more bread than your household came consume at once? There’s the solution for that! The dough is easily divided into two smaller loaves baked either in boules as directed or in standard loaf pans. The dough also makes fantastic dinner or sandwich rolls, so you could make one loaf along with a pan of those. Well wrapped, the baked bread freezes beautifully for up to three months.

The Caraway Rye Black Bread recipe creates a silky dough that bakes up into a springy fine crumb. Its soft moisture comes from grated carrot, which I routinely swap for peeled winter squash such as butternut.

I’ve worked to simplify the steps, none of which are difficult. The hands-on time is fairly short. As your Saturday or Sunday self-care project, there is plenty of time to relax with a book or watch movies while the dough is rising.

I hope this heavenly bread recipe will become your welcome to autumn tradition.

Caraway Rye Black Bread on a cutting board

Caraway Rye Black Bread

Course: Bread + Rolls
Keyword: caraway rye, pumernickel, rye bread
Season: Bounty (August – October), Mist (November – March)
Dietary: Dairy-Free, Vegan
Preparation: Baking
Prep Time: 4 hours
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 4 hours 45 minutes
Servings: 1 3-pound loaf
Author: Pam Spettel
If a pumpernickel and a deli-style caraway rye had a baby, it would be this loaf. A fine-crumbed pumpernickel-style loaf flecked with carrot and caraway just right for cool weather soup dipping, panini, cheese plates, fondue dipping and good old sandwiches. This vegan/dairy-free version makes one 3-pound loaf, two typically sized loaves, or great dinner rolls.
Print Recipe

Ingredients

  • cups all-purpose flour
  • 1⅓ cups rye or dark rye flour Camas Country Schoolhouse Dark Northern Rye is my favorite.
  • teaspoons instant dry yeast SAF brand is my go-to.
  • 2 Tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 2 Tablespoons instant espresso powder or very finely ground coffee or espresso beans
  • 1 – 1½ Tablespoons caraway seeds
  • 2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
  • 1⅓ cups warm water (110°-115°) and more as needed
  • ¼ cup molasses, dark or blackstrap
  • 3 Tablespoons olive, avocado, or safflower oil
  • 2 cups carrot or winter squash such as butternut, peeled and grated a fine grate will make the carrot to disappear into the dough- a course grate will make pretty orange flecks in the dough, your choice.

Instructions

  • Combine the dry ingredients (all-purpose flour through salt) in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Alternatively, do this by hand in a very large mixing bowl.
  • Measure the warm water into a 2-cup measure. Add molasses and oil, and stir to thoroughly combine.
  • With the mixer on low speed, add the water mixture gradually to the dry ingredients. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the carrots and increase the speed to medium. Knead for about five minutes, scraping the sides of the bowl occasionally. Aim for a dough that is smooth, moist, and tacky, but pulls away from the bow. leaving just a few moist streaks on the bowl. If your dough is too soft, add additional AP or rye flour a tablespoon at a time. If it is too dry, add water a tablespoon at a time, allowing time for the flour to absorb it before adding more.
  • Oil a large lowl. With oiled hands, shape the dough into a ball and place it in the bowl. Flip it over a time or two to lightly coat it in oil. Leave it seam side down, covered with a dishcloth, to rest in a warm place for 1 -2 hours until the dough has just doubled in size.
  • After the first rise, gently press down on the dough. On a lightly oiled surface and with oiled hands, fold the edges of the dough into the center and press down. Do this again (twice total) to shape the dough into a tight, smooth ball. If you are baking it on a baking sheet, lightly oil the baking sheet and place the dough seam side down on the baking sheet. If you are baking your loaf in a Dutch oven (5-6 qt. is best) first place the dough on a sheet of parchment tucked into a small skillet or pan about the width of your Dutch oven, and place your Dutch oven into your oven. (This allows the dough to rise while your Dutch oven is preheating.) With either baking method, cover the dough with a dishcloth for its final rise in a warm place for one hour.
  • Preheat the oven to 425°/ 220C. Brush the top of the loaf with water and scatter another 1 teaspoon of caraway seed on top, if desired. With a very sharp knife and without deflating the dough, cut an "X", a line down the center, a half moon, or wheat-shaped dashes into the top. Or leave it to make its own fough gash as it expands in the oven. If you are baking the loaf in a Dutch oven, use the parchment corners to gently lift the dough into the hot Dutch oven. If you are baking it on a baking sheet, place the sheet in the oven.
  • Bake for 20 minutes at 425°/ 220C. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°/ 180C and bake for another 20-25 minutes. (Reduce the time if you've divided the dough into smaller loaves or rolls.) The loaf will be ready when it has a very well browned bottom crust and sounds hollow (like a drum) when you firmly pat it. Don't be afraid to give it more time in 5-minute increments– you definitely don't want it underdone.
  • Remove the loaf to a cooling rack. Allow the load to cool to the touch completely before cutting into it. Slicing into a hot loaf of bread turns it into a compressed gooey mess, so be patient for this most excellent reward.
Two plates of fajitas with avocado tomatillo salsa.

’80s Flashback: Tex-Mex Beef Fajitas + Tangy Avocado Salsa

A colorful plate of fajitas with green avocado tomatillo salsa.

Back in the ’80s we thought we were so cool to make fajitas at home. Tex-Mex was a new rage and it became a fun new party food. Back in those days, we made fajitas with a thick London broil, sliced and then marinated, each slice grilled individually. The peppers (only green bells were readily available in those days) and onion were flash-sauted on the stovetop. What did we know?

Thinking of fajitas immediately brings back the scents of onions and peppers cooking, the sounds of laughter with friends, little kids running around everywhere. It’s clearly time to revisit fajita making and zhoosh it up a little.

A colorful plate of fajitas and salsa, and a glass of rose.

The Marinade and the Meat

Swapping bavette steak (also called sirloin flap) for the London broil is a nice improvement from the way-back machine version. Bavette comes from the bottom of the sirloin section of a beef near the flank and has a texture very similar to flank or skirt steak. Its nice marbling offers a wonderful flavor, and it is infinitely more tender than the good ol’ London broil ever hoped to be.

To highlight the texture of the meat and ensure it’s tenderness, but sure to slice it thinly and against its grain. The dotted lines in this diagram show the inherent grain of the meat. The knife shows the direction the blade should cut through it to go against the grain. This way, it becomes much more enjoyable to chew.

A diagram of how to cut a steak agross the grain.

Bavette lends itself to a good bath in a marinade, absorbing its flavors well which this marinade delivers. Four easy ingredients– fresh lime juice, a handful of cilantro, garlic, salt, and a quick whiz in a food processor are all you need.

A very hot grill lets you achieve a flavorful sear without overcooking. The wind was blowing hard the day I photographed this and my grill grates just couldn’t get hot enough to lay down those gorgeous char lines. Such is the life of a home cook.

The Peppers and Onion

A rainbow of sliced peppers and white onion on a cutting board.
Use a good mix of peppers for a flavor, texture, and color explosion!

The updated version goes way beyond green bell peppers. The end-of-summer treasure trove of colorful peppers makes it easy to stuff your fajitas with a balance of flavor and color. Use all the colors! Reds, oranges, yellows, chartreuse, grassy greens and deep greens mixes means you’ll be including the array of sweet, hot, mild, earthy, bright flavors.

The onions should be white. Period. Clean and crisp is best here.

Now is the time to invest in a grill pan if you don’t already have one, as they should be on end-of-season sales. Cut your vegetables to size– a mix of strips and rings is fun and beautiful– and toss them into a pre-heated grill pan that has first been sprayed with a cooking oil spray. Blast them with a good amount of heat– you want them to begin to char without overcooking. Char for flavor, but still with some good crunch for texture.

The Avocado Tomatillo Salsa

A bowl of green avocado-tomatillo salsa.
Avocado-Tomatillo Salsa

Let’s straighten this out right away: This is not guacamole. One bite and you will see the difference. This simple element could easily be the star of the show. Avocado, tomatillo, and little cilantro if you want, garlic, and salt gets quickly pureed in the food processor happens in minutes start to finish. Because the base ingredients are the same, you don’t even have to wash the food processor bowl out first.

You’ll want to add this four-ingredient salsa to your go-to list. It is so good on everything. Everything. Rice bowls, snacking with chips, tacos, mixed with some chopped cooked chicken and a few crunchy vegetables for a new chicken salad, potatoes, eggs; you name it.

I’m so happy to have rediscovered homemade fajitas. A few ingredient additions, and grilling the peppers and onions fills the air with that unmistakable fajita scent. I’ll definitely make this new and improved ’20s version for gatherings coming up.

A colorful plate of fajitas with green avocado tomatillo salsa.

Tex-Mex Beef Fajitas + Avocado-Tomatillo Salsa

Course: Main Dish
Cuisine: Mexican
Keyword: crowd pleaser, salsa, Tex-Mex at home
Season: Bounty (August – October), Evergreen (April – July), Mist (November – March)
Dietary: Dairy-Free, Egg-Free, Nut-Free
Preparation: Grill
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Servings: 4
Author: Pam Spettel
Sizzling grilled beef and the aroma of grilled peppers topped with the best of salsas you will want to add to your repertoire. This zhooshed-up version of the '80s classic is easy to scale for gatherings, family meals, or just yourself.
Print Recipe

Ingredients

For the Meat, Peppers, and Marinade

  • 3 limes, juiced
  • 4-5 cloves fresh garlic, peeled
  • ½ bunch fresh cilantro leaves and stems
  • salt to taste
  • pounds Bavette (sirloin flap) steak, or skirt steak
  • pounds mixed peppers (red, yellow and orange bells, Hatch, poblano, Hungarian, banana, etc.) Use what the garden or farmers market is offering!
  • 2 medium white onions
  • 12 taco-sized flour tortillas

Avocado-Tomatillo Salsa

  • 3 avocados, ripe
  • 1 pound tomatillos, papery husks removed and washed
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic, peeled
  • ½ bunch fresh cilantro (optional)
  • ½-1 jalapeño, roughly chopped
  • salt to taste

Instructions

  • For the Marinade
  • Add the first four ingredients to the bowl of a food processor. Whirl, scraping down the sides of the bowl, until well blended and the cilantro is just shy of smooth. Place the Bavette steak in a one-gallon zip-lock bag and pour in the marinade. Place in the refrigerator and allow to marinate at least one and not more than four hours, turning and smooshing the bag occasionally to distribute the marinade.
  • Prep the peppers and onions and set aside until time to grill.
  • Heat a gas grill to high (about 500°) and let the grates get very hot. For a charcoal grill, build a bed of charcoal large enough to cook your grill pan of vegetables and the steak over hot direct heat. Place the grill pan on the grates while the grill heats.
  • Start the vegetables first: Spray your hot grill pan with cooking spray (stand back and be very careful to avoid flames) and scoot all the vegetables into it. Do not disturb the vegetables for 2-3 minutes to allow some charring before turning them. Do this several times throughout the cooking to get a nice char without overcooking the vegetables. depending on the heat of your grill, the size of your grill pan, and the amount of vegetables, this can take 10-20 minutes.
  • When the vegetables are about 5 minutes from being ready, spray the grates where the meat will cook, and place the meat on the grill. Again, do not disturb the meat to allow for great charring. After 2-3 minutes, check for char and flip. Repeat on the second side. It is very easy to overcook this thinner cut of meat, which may render it tough, so again, err on the side of caution.
  • While the meat is resting, heat a skillet to medium-high. Toast the tortillas until they are warm, soft, and beginning to blister, flipping once, about a total of 1 minute each. Slice the steak thinly across the grain. Pile peppers and onions and sliced steak into the tortillas and top with the avocado-tomatillo salsa. Serve!

For the Avocado-Tomatillo Salsa

  • Toss all ingredients into the bowl of your food processor. Pulse at first until the ingredients start moving freely, then whirl until a creamy pureed consistency. Refrigerate until serving. Don't be afraid to make a double batch, as this creamy/tangy salsa is divine on so many things. It keeps well for about three days in your fridge, if it lasts that long.

The Power of Threes: Beluga Lentil, Grilled Nectarine + Burrata Salad

Top down shot of wood platter with black beluga lentils, grilled nectarine halves, and white burrata dressed in vinaigrette.
Beautiful Black Beluga Lentil, Grilled Nectarine + Burrata Salad

I’ve been experimenting with the design Rule of Threes in my cooking. Used in graphic design, interior design, and fashion– really anywhere design concepts are applied– the principle is that things arranged in groups of three are more appealing, evocative, and satisfying.

Long ago, it is said, Nordstrom sales associates were required to dress this way– skirt, blouse, sweater; slacks, shirt, vest; dress, boots, scarf, etc. Accessories were the grace notes added to the rule of threes formula. I’ve begun to think this is true for the food on a plate as well.

Not only does this method of cooking work from a taste and visual point of view, but it is actually pretty easy to pull together a dynamic dish using this concept.

beluga lentil, grilled nectarine, and burrata salad arranged on an orange plate.

Beluga Lentil, Grilled Nectarine + Burrata Salad

In this 30-minute dish the triad of warm earthy lentils, smoky-sweet nectarines, and cool creamy burrata is more than the sum of its parts. Each of the parts requires very little or no preparation. The simple vinaigrette acts like the jewelry that ties the whole ensemble together.

The rule of threes concept worked perfectly in this recent red pepper, white bean, and feta recipe, too. The smoky bright red peppers, the earthy light white beans, and sharp tangy feta create a synergy that is tied together with a crown of herb sauce. Magnificent, yet simple.

Mise en place of ingredients for the beluga lentil, grilled nectarine, and burrata salad.

It only looks challenging! Make Beluga Lentil, Grilled Nectarine + Burrata Salad soon for an ever so delicious, beautiful, fancy-fast-easy brunch, lunch, or dinner. Make it vegan by omitting the burrata, and it is still delicious. Serve it alongside meat, or enjoy it as a vegetarian main course.

How can you use this Rule of Threes concept in your cooking and meal planning? I’d love to hear about your ideas and experiments!

Beluga Lentil, Grilled Nectarine + Burrata Salad

Course: Breakfast + Brunch, Main Dish, Quick + Easy, Salad, Side Dish
Cuisine: Pacific Northwest
Keyword: dairy-free option, easy, pretty salads, salad dressing, summer
Season: Bounty (August – October)
Dietary: Egg-Free, Gluten-Free, Nut-Free, Vegetarian
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 3
Author: Pam Spettel
This triad of earthy lentils, smoky-sweet nectarines, and creamy burrata is more than the sum of its parts. Quick to make but ever so delicious and versatile, make this soon for a fancy-easy brunch, lunch, or dinner. Make it vegan by omitting the burrata, and it's still delicious.
Print Recipe

Ingredients

For the Vinaigrette

  • 1 medium shallot finely mined
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 5-6 fresh thyme branches enough to make about 2 tesaspoons leaves
  • salt + pepper about 1 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste
  • 3-4 Tablespoons vinegar white balsamic, peach, champagne, sherry, or rice vinegars all work here
  • 3-4 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

For the Beluga Lentil, Grilled Nectarine + Burrata Dish

  • 1 cup black Beluga lentils
  • 1 bay leaf, fresh if possible
  • 3 ripe nectarines, halved and pitted
  • 1 stalk leafy celery, leaves finely slices, stalk finely diced
  • 4 ounces burrata, drained

Instructions

First Make the Vinaigrette

  • In a small jar with a tight-fitting lid, place the minced shallot and Dijon mustard. Stir gently. Add about half of the thyme leaves stripped from the stems, salt and pepper. Cover the shallot mixture with the vinegar of your choice. Eyeballing it, add enough olive oil to double the volume in the jar, or about the same in height to the shallots and vinegar. Shake until the salt is mostly dissolved and the mustard is thoroughly incorporated. Set aside.

Now Make the Beluga Lentil, Grilled Nectarines + Burrata

  • Light or preheat your grill for a hot, direct fire/heat.
  • In a medium saucepan, place the lentils, bay leaf, a pinch of salt, and 3 1/2 cups water. Bring lentils to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer. Cook uncovered, stirring every 5 minutes or so, for about 20 minutes or until the lentils are al dente, but not mushy and broken. Begin chcking their doneness at the 15 minute mark.
  • While the lentils are cooking, place the halved nectarines on a preheated grill over direct heat. Oil the grates first, and place the nectarine halves cut side down. Do not move them until the 3 minute mark, and check for rich grill marks. They may need another minute or so to become deeply marked. Flip them and grill another 3 minutes until the skins have grill marks, for a total of 6-7 minutes. Don't let the nectarines overcook– you just want them warmed through and kissed with flavor from the grill.
  • When the lentils are done, drain off any remaining liquid. Sitr in the diced celery and leaves, reserving some of the leaves for garnish. Mound this onto plates or a serving platter.
  • Arrange the nectarines on to mounded lentils. You may chose to halve some of them.
  • Place the burrata on top of the lentils. Sprinkle the remaining thyme and celery leaves over the top and serve.

Notes

This recipe serves three people as a main course, or six people as a side dish.
This salad is especially luxurious served warm, but equally delightful served chilled, especially if you need to make the components ahead of time.
Peaches would be just as lovely in this dish as the nectarines. Use what you have or prefer.
Recipe star ratings are very welcome and appreciated. Thank you for taking the time to provide your feedback this way. 

Offloading Zucchini: Zingy Lemon Ginger Zucchini Cake

Or how to say thank you for a huge bag of summer squash and mean it.

lemon ginger zucchini cake on a cake stand with a lemon next to it.

Why people grow so much zucchini is a perfectly legitimate question. As a species we just never catch on that just three zucchini seeds will feed the whole neighborhood. How do we possibly forget year after year? The jokes about the overabundance of zucchini and the lengths people go to get rid of it are only funny because they expose this human flaw.

Neighbors drop off squashes the size of baseball bats to your front porch, ring the bell and run so you can’t refuse it. Little old ladies give away brown paper grocery bags of zucchini at every church function. And if you grow a garden, you’re rolling in it by mid-summer.

Glazed lemon ginger zucchini cake on a cake stand.

Even using the grate-and-hide technique of sneaking zucchini into everything– meatloaf, chili, soups and stews, and baked goods, there is only so much one can be expected to eat.

A top-down photo of lemon ginger zucchini cake, glazed and decorated with lemon twists.

I worked out this brightly-flavored zucchini cake as a way to draw down an enourmous supply I was gifted from a generous neighbor. It completely suits my hankering for unassuming cakes, and its sunny lemon-ginger burst is a good excuse for turning on the oven in the middle of August.

Now I get a little happy when I’m gifted a huge bag of summer squash, and my thanks are sincere.

Why is this Lemon Ginger Zucchini Cake Special?

All the ingredients that go into the leamon ginger cake.
Mise en place for Lemon Ginger zucchini Cake

In this cake, I swap the typical butter for olive oil. Olive oil adds phenomonal rich flavor that sings with the lemon. The technique remains similar to that of a butter cake, but here the olive oil is added to the whipped eggs and sugar, turning it into a creamy fluff you just know will be good.

I used to make this cake with all-purpose flour only, but have recently added finely-ground almond flour to add a soft airiness to cakes, and it works really well here.

The copius amount of ginger in this cake comes in two forms– freshly grated and ground– to amp the gingery quality. Lemon and ginger are a match made in heaven, so I use a lot of lemon zest zing along with the double-dose of ginger. This large cake can hold all this flavor. It is a flavor bomb, not a flavor whisper.

The crunchy glaze– think glazed donut and you’ve got the idea– is due to the addition of granulated sugar to the typical powdered sugar. Just make sure and paint it on while the cake is still somewhat warm for this magic to happen.

Tips for Success

In this cake and all others, start with room temperature eggs.

A stand or handheld mixer is best for the eggs/sugar/olive oil steps. It is also good for gently beginning to incorporate the flour mixture, but stop there and pick up your spatula. Folding in the zucchini, ginger, and lemon zest by hand will automatically involve the streaky bits of flour without toughening the glutens in the all-purpose flour. Your tender result will make you glad you did.

All kinds of summer squash work. I’ve even made this with peeled young spaghetti squash to great success. If you’re using an older/larger zucchini, take out the watery seeds, and gently squeeze the grated squash over the sink to remove some of the moisture to avoid a heavy wet cake.

This turns out a large cake– 2″ tall and 9″ across, making 12-15 generous slices. If you want to take it easy on cake, or are like me in a small household, this recipe fits neatly into three 6″ round cakepans, with six slices each. This way we can have a little splurge, and stash two cakes in the freezer for on-the-fly entertaining or when the mood strikes again.

Use this method for releasing the cake from the pan without it breaking or crumbling.

Zippy Lemon Ginger Zucchini Cake

Course: Dessert
Keyword: crowd pleaser, summer cake
Season: Bounty (August – October)
Preparation: Baking
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 50 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
Servings: 15
Author: Pam Spettel
Made with olive oil, almond and AP flours, ginger in two forms, and loads of lemon zest, this bright rustic cake makes good use of excess garden zucchini. It's the perfect reason to use the oven on a hot summer day.
Print Recipe

Ingredients

Lemon Ginger Zucchini Cake

  • 3 cups zucchini or other summer squash, finely grated if large, remove seeds before grating and gently squeezed some of its water off over the sink
  • 4 lemons, zested grated reserve juice for glaze
  • 3 Tablespoons fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
  • cups almond flour, finely ground
  • cups all-purpose four
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 eggs, room temperature
  • cups granulated sugar
  • cups extra virgin olive oil

Cake Glaze

  • cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup confectioners (powdered) sugar
  • ¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

Instructions

For the Cake:

  • Preheat the oven to 350°. Generously butter a 9" springform pan, 9" x 2" round pan, or three 6" round pans. Dust the pan/s with flour and tap out any excess.
  • Grate the zucchini, lemon zest, and ginger and set aside.
  • Combine the flour baking powder, baking soda, ground ginger, and salt in a medium bowl and whisk together well. Set aside.
  • In a stand mixer with paddle attachement or with a handheld mixer, beat together the sugar and eggs until creamy and slightly fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  • Again turn the mixer to medium speed and add the olive oil in a steady stream. Continue mixing in the olive oil until fully incorporated and quite fluffy, another 3 minutes. Again scrape down the sides of the bowl.
  • With the mixer at low speed, quickly add the flour mixture one cup at a time, not waiting for it to fully incorporate. Turn the mixer off and remove the mixing bowl.
  • Add the grated zucchini, lemon zest, and ginger to the bowl, and gently stir with a rubber or silicone spatula, folding up from the bottom, until the grated ingredients are evenly mixed through the batter.
  • Pour the batter into the prepared cakepan/s and smooth the top and bake. For the 9" pans, bake for 50-60 minutes until the top springs bake when gently pushed and the edges are just beginning to pull away from the pan, and a bamboo skewer or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. for the 6" pans, bake 35-45 minutes. It is easy to underbake this cake, especially the larger pans, so take extra care to make sure they are done in the center.
  • Allow the cake to cool 15 minutes before inverting on a cooling rack. While the cake is cooling, make the glaze.

For the glaze:

  • In a small mixing bowl, whisk the granulated and powdered sugars to break up the powerded sugar clumps. Whisk in the lemon juice until smooth and no tiny bits of powdered sugar remain. Invert the cake onto the cooling rack and place a peice of parchment, wax paper, or a large plate directly under it to catch the glaze drips and make cleanup easier. While the cake is still warm, generously paint on the glaze with a pastry brush. Allow the cake to completely cool before slicing.