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A plate of valentines cookies, a book of poetry, and a photo of young lovers

Making food for people, especially these Valentine Shortbread Heart Cookies with Blood Orange filling, is an act of love. Mr. Fred Rogers, my truest childhood hero, said, "Love isn't a state of perfect caring. It is an active noun like struggle. To love someone is to strive to accept that person exactly the way he or she is, right here and now.”

Love is showing up, on repeat, day after day. It's the things you never knew you'd do. Like spending nights in the NICU next to your newborn's incubator. Or forgiving the hurt of a friend over and over again until you don't remember it anymore, which you hope is soon. Sometimes you are the target of your own love when you allow yourself to let go of guilt, grief, or fear.

"I know the secret of life: If you want to have loving feelings, do loving things."

Anne Lamott
Valentine Shortbread Heart Cookies on a plate with poetry book.

Messing Up is OK

The wonderous thing about love, is that you will mess it up. That's just part of it.

Just like the verb cooking, loving calls for a lot doing. Trial, practice, mistake-making, and what can feel like wasted time and resources. But your flops are exactly how you learn to love better. The trick is to not give up. Keep practicing. Your acts refine as you practice them. Your acts become who you are. With a little tenacity your love eventually looks more like the soufflé you'd hoped for and less like the dog's breakfast.

Remember all this when you make these pretty little Valentine heart shortbread cookies for your beloveds. Each time you press your pinky into the dough, you imprint the part of yourself that is set on loving. The soft, unchilled dough gives way to make adorable little heart shaped vessels that hold a tad of sweet blood orange goodness you also have made.

Unfilled Valentine Shortbread Heart Cookies on baking tray, before baking.

As you form the little Valentine hearts, they will remind you of your beloveds. Some, like a crotchety uncle, hide their tenderness in crooked wrinkles. Some, like an emotional 8th grader, absolutely cannot contain their contents. Others are the picture of every-hair-in-place perfection. The likeness of each heart says they belong together on the plate. Their uniquenesses make the plateful interesting. Just like you and your beloveds.

Other Sweet Treats Your Valentines May Enjoy

Strawberry Sorbet and Strawberry Dairy-Free Ice Cream: Get the recipe here.
Chewy Hazelnut Meringue Cookies: Get the recipe here.
Flourless Walnut Cake, with plain, spice, and coffee-flavored versions. Get the recipe here.

Finished Valentine Shortbread Heart Cookies grouped together on a platter.

Pinkyprint Valentine Shortbread Heart Cookies with Blood Orange Curd

Course: Dessert
Season: Mist (November - March)
Dietary: Nut-Free
Preparation: Baking
Prep Time: 50 minutes
Cook Time: 14 minutes
Chilling Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 3 hours 4 minutes
Servings: 40 cookies
Author: Pam Spettel
A simple shortbread base, filled with love and pink blood orange curd. No need for perfection here-- just celebrate each cookie's unique heart, just as you do your beloveds.
Print Recipe

Ingredients

Blood Orange Curd

  • 3 egg yolks, whites saved for another purpose
  • 3 large eggs
  • ½ cup blood orange juice freshly squeezed
  • ¼ cup lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • 1 Tbsp blood orange zest finely grated
  • 1 stick unsalted butter cut into small cubes

Vanilla Shortbread Dough

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • cups AP flour

Instructions

For the Blood Orange Curd

  • Make a double boiler by simmering 3" deep of water in a large saucepan. In a medium/large stainless steel bowl, whisk together eggs, yolks, and sugar until sugar just starts to dissolve.
  • Whisk in both juices and zest.
  • Set bowl over saucepan of simmering water. Cook curd, stirring with a rubber spatula almost constantly, until it begins to thicken. It should have the consistency of loosely whipped cream. Remove from heat.
  • Stir in butter cubes all at once, stirring until butter is completely melted and fully incorporated. Strain through a fine mesh strainer to remove bits of zest and any solid egg proteins.
  • Chill at 2 hours before using in the cookies. This makes about 1 ¾ cups-- you will only use about ½ cup for the cookies. Store the rest for another purpose.

For the Vanilla Pinkprint Cookie Dough

  • Line two baking sheets with parchment or non-stick mats.
  • Using an electric mixer, beat the butter, sugar, and salt on medium-high until light and fluffy, 2 - 3 minutes.
  • Beat in the egg and vanilla until fully incorporated and fluffy. On low speed, blend in the flour until just incorporated.
  • Using small scoop, scoop up a bit of dough and roll into a 1" ball with your palms. Place on the baking sheet. Using your pinky, press down near the top of the ball, making an indentation. Make another indentation right next to it. Make a third indentation centered in the hollow just below the first and second indentations to begin making a heart shape in the dough. Use your fingers to elongate the edge at bottom of the ball, and to make a dent in the edge of the top of the ball. Repeat, making fun little heart shapes, each with their own personality, using up the dough. You should have close to 20 hearts on each baking sheet.
  • Chill dough hearts until they are very firm, at least an hour. This part is critical, or you'll end up with a puddle in the end.

Putting the cookies all together:

  • Preheat oven to 350°. Bake one sheet for 7 minutes. Working quickly, once again use your pinky to depress the heart shape that has puffed up. It will be hot, so use caution. Using a very small spoon, like a baby or demitasse spoon, fill the depressions with cold blood orange curd. Don't over flow!
    Place the cookies back in the oven for another 5 - 7 minutes, keeping a close eye. You want them fully cooked and just barely beginning to go golden on the bottom, but not browning on the cookie itself.
    Allow to cook for two or three minutes on the baking sheet, to set up, them remove to a cooling rack to complete cooling. Store in an airtight container for up to a week, if they last that long.

Notes

Make It Your Own:
Use store- bought lemon, lime, or raspberry curd instead of making your own. Easier yet, fill them with any red or pink jam.
Save time by simply using your thumb to make an indent. No need to make a heart to make these cookies pretty and delish all year long.
Wooden platter holding three wintry nutty chocolate port sundaes.

The holiday season is a wrap and the dust of 2021 has settled. Perhaps you are back to a work grind, or find yourself buried in winter snow. Or maybe you're sad that your family has left, or maybe elated that your family has left. As great as it was, maybe you are relieved to be past it all. Just because holiday treats are in the rear-view mirror doesn't mean you don't deserve a special little zero-effort dessert. Maybe you need a quiet post-holiday celebration. Maybe you need a nutty Chocolate Port Ice Cream Sundae.

If this Chocolate Port Ice Cream Sundae were an actor in a musical, it would make its quiet sultry entrance stage right, while the whole noisy chorus of holiday desserts shuffle-flapped off, stage left. The Sundae (let us call her Sundae) would glide across the stage to a stool waiting under a soft bath of light. Sundae, dressed in a slim black turtleneck and tailored trousers, would lightly park on the stool, one long leg outstretched. Slowly she would look up and raise the mic.

While the holiday dessert chorus is in the back peeling off sparkly garish costumes and wiping off melted greasepaint, Sundae begins her ballad. One part Louis Armstrong, one part Norah Jones, equal parts gravel and smoke, Sundae's song lifts the corner of your mouth and quiets your spirit.

The intimate moment with Sundae passes, but you are never the same. You'll think of this Sundae at the oddest times for years to come. So it is with this little winter dessert recipe.

wooden platter holding glasses of wintry nutty chocolate port ice cream sundaes.

Other Wintry Desserts You'll Love

Flourless Walnut Cake with Coffee or Spice flavored versions: Get the Recipe.

Douglas Fir Tip Sorbet: Get the Recipe.

Three Nutty Chocolate Port Sundaes on a wood platter

Wintry Nutty Chocolate Port Sundae

Course: Dessert
Season: Mist (November - March)
Preparation: Fast + Easy
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 10 minutes
Servings: 1
Warm melted pure chocolate, a splash of nutty port, a handful of toasted nuts on vanilla ice cream, and a few drops of flavorful bitters. An adult dessert of the best kind.
Print Recipe

Ingredients

Ingredients Per Person

  • 1.5 ounces high quality dark chocolate
  • ½ Tbsp. toasted nuts, crushed with the flat of a chef's knife almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, or walnuts, or a mix of what yu like
  • 2 scoops vanilla ice cream
  • 1 Tbsp. port, good sherry, or bourbon
  • 2-3 drops Angostura or black walnut bitters (optional)
  • 1 piece crystallized orange (optional) or a wedge of fresh orange
  • pinch Maldon or other finishing salt

Instructions

  • Finely chop the chocolate and put it in a small heatproof bowl over a small saucepan of barely simmering water.* Stir frequently until the chocolate is about 85% melted, about 3-4 minutes, and remove from the heat. Stir every minute or two to allow the residual heat to finish melting the chocolate. Be cautious about multi-tasking during this step to avoid overheating the chocolate and causing it to seize.
  • If they aren't already toasted, put the nuts in a small skillet over medium heat and stir frequently until they are aromatic and ever so slightly browned, stirring very frequently, about 3-4 minutes. Be cautious about multi-tasking during this step to avoid burning the nuts. Cool slightly and crush the nuts with the flat side of a chef's knife, or roughly chop.
  • Scoop the ice cream into a small bowl or cocktails glass. Spoon the warm chocolate over the top, followed by the liquor. Top with the crushed nuts and crystallized orange. Sprinkle with a few drops of bitters and a pinch of crunchy Maldon salt. Serve immediately. Sit back and swoon.

Notes

*Alternatively on a convection cooktop, melt the chocolate directly in a small saucepan on a very low setting.  On my convection cooktop, chocolate melts beautifully on 1.5.
Many kinds of nuts would be perfect here: Almonds, hazelnuts, pecans, and walnuts. The very best might even be those from a can of fancy mixed nuts.
I'm famous for burning nuts! Don't let that happen to you! 
Experiment with the liquor and or bitters you chose. There are so many kinds available these days. 
This is a happy way to end a dinner party, especially if you've knocked yourself out before the dessert comes. It's the easiest show-stopping winter dessert I can imagine. 
Platter of Roasted Mushroom, Grain, and Spinach Salad.

Feasts, cookie platters, cocktail parties, and office holiday goodies, oh my! As fun as it is, it doesn't take long to feel the overwhelm of holiday system overload, just when the mood of the day calls for merry and bright. As a remedy to seasonal splurges, include a salad of roasted mushrooms, warm grains, and baby spinach into your menu this week.

Making the Roasted Mushroom, Grain and Spinach Salad

plate of spinach and mushroom salad with a bite on the fork.

This quick little main-course salad starts with four easy-to-come by ingredients and a light but flavorful lemon vinaigrette. The vinaigrette is made even better by using Meyer lemons, just coming into peak season.

Here I go on about celery again. Celery adds an essential textural crunch to this dish, and a bit of delicious freshness that you will welcome to your winter plate. I view this as this as a subtle necessity.

In the extraordinary Pacific Northwest food playground we have easy access to an array of cultivated and wild mushrooms. One trial of this recipe I used a shiitake-only approach. Another trial used a melange of chestnut, oyster, shiitake, and crimini mushrooms. I loved it both ways. If you can only access white buttons or brown criminis, please use them! Your dish will be as delicious as ever.

You have a lot of running room when it comes to the grain you use in your roasted mushroom salad. I used Purple Valley Barley, an organic product from my local Lonesome Whistle Farm. Lonesome Whistle also carries wheat berries, emmer (a farro) and oat groats that would be perfect. If you are new to this type of thing and eat gluten, I suggest starting with pearled barley, or just jump right in and try one of the above grains. If you eat gluten-free, give buckwheat groats or brown rice a try.

What Wine Should I Serve with Roasted Mushroom, Grain, and Spinach Salad?

2013 Artisanal Wine Cellars Oregon Pinot Noir Dukes Family Vineyards, Eola-Amity Hills.

I started off suggesting a mushroom, warm grain, and spinach salad as a detoxifying healthy choice, so maybe through the holidays consider a tonic of pomegranate juice and sparkling water? Or not! I highly suggest the Artisanal Wine Cellars 2015 Dukes Family Vineyard Pinot Noir. Tom and Patty Feller, and their daughter, Mia, are a family operation dedicated to handcrafted expressive wines. The grapes in this bottle were grown by Pat and Jackie Dukes of Dukes Family Vineyard. We view the Artisanal's Pinot Noirs to be beautiful wines at incredible values.

Other Holiday Self-Care Recipe Ideas

Humble Pasta with Beans + Mushrooms: Get the Recipe
Healing Chickpea + Orzo Bowl in Ginger Broth: Get the Recipe
Deconstructed Borscht Bowl: Get the Recipe

Roasted Mushroom, Grain, and Spinach Salad

Course: Main Dish, Quick + Easy, Salad, Side Dish
Cuisine: Pacific Northwest
Dietary: Dairy-Free, Egg-Free, Gluten-Free, Nut-Free, Vegan
Preparation: Fast + Easy, Roasting
Prep Time: 40 minutes
Servings: 4
Roasted mushrooms, warm chewy grain, and fresh spinach dressed in the best ever lemon vinaigrette. This fantastic fast and easy layered salad is hearty enough for satisfying cool weather meals, light enough to counterbalance seasonal feasts and spurges.
Print Recipe

Ingredients

  • lb. mushrooms of your choice, singularly or in combination crimini, shiitake, chestnut, chanterelle, hedgehog, button, etc.
  • 5 stalks celery, and leaves if your head has them
  • 1 cup whole grain of your choice, prepared according to package directions and kept warm* barley; emmer, spelt, or einkorn farro; wheat berries; oat or buckwheat groats; brown, black, purple, red, or wild rice, etc.
  • 8-10 oz. fresh baby spinach
  • lemon vinaigrette, recipe below
  • zest of 2 lemons, in strips

Best Ever Lemon Vinaigrette

  • ½ cup lemon juice, Meyer lemon preferred, zested first about 2 large lemons
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed or very finely minced
  • 1 shallot, finely minced
  • tsp. maple syrup
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 400° convection. Line a baking sheet with foil and spray it with oil or non-stick spray.
  • Begin cooking your chosen grain according to package directions. (For example, quick-cooking par cooked farro from Trader Joes takes 10 minutes to cook; unhulled barley takes up to 40 minutes.) Once it is cooked, keep it warm while the other steps come together.
  • Prepare the Best Ever Lemon Vinaigrette, recipe below.
  • Wipe mushrooms clean and trim them if necessary. If you are using shiitakes, remove the stems. Leave the small ones whole, cut the medium-sized ones in half, and the largest ones into quarters for similarly sized pieces that will roast at the same rate. Place them in a heap on the prepared baking sheet. Spoon about ¼ of the lemon vinaigrette over the mushrooms. Use your hands to toss the mushrooms in the vinaigrette, coating each piece lightly and evenly. Spread the mushroom pieces out on the pan, and place in the oven. Roast for 12 minutes, remove from the oven and stir. Spread them out again and roast them for another 10 minutes or so until they are deeply colored and their juices have almost evaporated. Don't leave them much longer than this or they will lose their tenderness.
  • While the mushrooms are roasting, thinly slice the celery and set aside. When the grains are cooked and drained, stir in ¼ of the vinaigrette and continue to keep gently warm. Place the spinach on the platter or individual plates.
  • When the mushrooms are done roasting, add the sliced celery and give it a good toss. Spoon the dressed grains in the center of the plate, and top with the mushroom/celery mixture. Drizzle a little more of the vinaigrette over the layered salad.** Garnish with strips of lemon zest, which are not only eye-catching, but add a delicious flavor note. Serve while warm.

Make the Best Ever Lemon Vinaigrette

  • Combine all ingredients on a pint-sized jar with a tight fitting lid. Shake until the salt and maple syrup are dissolved. Shake before each use.

Notes

*I've made this recipe using organic locally-grown barley, with buckwheat groats, and with a package of "10-Minute Farro" sometimes found at Trader Joes. Follow the package directions for any grain you use for both serving size and cooking times. 
**You will have a little of the vinaigrette left over. Don't be sad about this-- use it on your next kale or lettuce salad, on top of baked or broiled fish, or to dress a pan of roasted vegetables. 
When Meyer lemons are in season, be sure to use them. The typical Eureka or Lisbon lemons are wonderful, too, but Meyers offer a step up in flavor.
I recently found that the water that remains when cooking whole-grain barley is delicious as a sipper. Cook the barley "pasta-style" floating freely in a pot of water, and reserve the water. It's as tasty as any stock, and can be used as a soup base or warming cup. 
This recipe is easily halved and easily doubled. If you double it, use two sheet pans to roast the larger amount of mushrooms. 
 

I am always surprised at how many people don't enjoy winter vegetables and the glorious things you can make with them, like this simple deconstructed Borscht Bowl. Here is my theory why.

Overhead image of a bowlful of deconstructed borscht on table.
Deconstructed Borscht Bowl

Not all that long ago, people ate whatever the seasons offered. Storage vegetables sustained us into the cold winter. Parsnips, potatoes, carrots, rutabagas, turnips, cabbages, and beets were familiar and welcome.

Then the frozen food explosion of the early 1950s came. Supermarkets full of freezer cases exploded into cities and suburbs. We now have over three generations of people who have had the luxury of eating sweet peas in January as though it is natural. Consequently, we have lost our taste for hearty winter vegetables.

Frozen food technology is great, really. But to allow it to shake us lose from the joys of seasonal eating? To let go of a whole swath of foods designed to provide what we need in cold weather? What a shame. Let's fix that with some borscht-y goodness.

Rustic, Warming, Healing, and Delicious

Deconstructed Borscht Bowl in a bowl on the table.

Our deconstructed Borscht Bowl is inspired by Eastern European borscht made of beet, potato, cabbage, sour cream and dill. Here, we just arrange the components a little differently. It is the perfect thing to eat on a dark winter's evening, a chunk of caraway rye black bread and perhaps some browned sausages alongside.

I love the short-day season at the dinner table. Nearly every night we light candles and dim the overhead lights. The glow of candlelight on the face of my beloved dinner companion casts him in his one-and-only kind of charm. Dinner topics move from what happened outdoors today to what it happening in our souls today. These dinners help our roots sink deeper.

In the same way, one of my favorite things is to wrap my hands around a warm bowl of wintery food. Try filling your bowl with a fluffy, crusty baked potato. Ladle over rosy beets and broth. Pile on store-bought or homemade sauerkraut, full of beneficial immunity-boosting bacteria. Dollop on horseradish-laced sour cream. Embrace eating with the season.

Making the Deconstructed Borscht Bowl

Image of the ingredients you'll need: stock, sauerkraut, beets, horseradish, olive oil, fresh dill, sour cream, and potatoes.
Ingredients you will need.

The crackly-skinned, fluff-filled baked potato in the bottom of the bowl adds heft and makes a good excuse to warm your space with the oven. Best of all, it mops up the delicious bright pink broth.

The beets and their broth are made quickly on the stovetop or in a pressure-cooker while the potatoes are baking.

The cabbage in this bowl comes in the form of sauerkraut-- either homemade or store-bought. Fermented foods are so good for us! Pile it on and toast to your health!

Finally, we stir some horseradish, freshly grated or prepared, into some sour cream along with a lot of fresh dill to dollop over the Borscht Bowl, and give it a snowy dusting of dill over the top. Yes, please.

Other Wintery Ways to Dress a Baked Potato:

Use the rich mushroom gravy component of this recipe over a baked potato for another easy and wonderful winter dinner!

Deconstructed Borscht Bowl

Course: Main Dish, Soup + Stew
Season: Mist (November - March)
Dietary: Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free, Vegan, Vegetarian
Prep Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour
Servings: 4
Deconstructed Borscht Bowl is inspired by Eastern European borscht made of beet, potato, cabbage, sour cream and dill. Here, we just arrange the winter vegetable components into a bowl for a hearty warming winter meal.
Print Recipe

Ingredients

  • 4 Russett potatoes, scrubbed
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 5 cups vegetable, beef, or chicken stock homemade, purchased, or made from bouillon
  • 1 ½ pounds beets, cooked and peeled
  • 2 cups sauerkraut, homemade or purchased
  • 8 ounces sour cream or cashew sour cream (recipe below) for dairy-free/vegan option
  • 2-3 teaspoons horseradish, freshly grated or prepared
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh dill, packed
  • salt + pepper to taste

Cashew Sour Cream

  • 1 cup raw cashew pieces (no need for the more expensive whole nuts here) Where available, Trader Joe's is a good source for most nuts, including cashews.
  • ½ cup water
  • Tbsp. lemon juice or apple cider vinegar, or a mix of both
  • ½ tsp. salt

Instructions

Deconstructed Borscht Bowl

  • Preheat oven to 400°. Rub the potatoes with olive oil and place them on a baking sheet. Sprinkle them with coarse salt, and with a sharp knife, cut a 2"-3" slit in the top of each potato. Roast until a knife inserted into the center offers no resistance and they give in to a little squeeze. Depending on your oven, this may take 40 minutes to an hour.
  • Bring the stock to a simmer in a large saucepan. Cut the beets into chunks and pulse them 12-15 times in a food processor to a fine irregular mince. Stir the minced beets into the simmering stock. Taste for salt and add more to the broth if needed, along with some freshly cracked black pepper. Squeeze most of the brine from the sauerkraut and gently warm it in a microwave oven or small saucepan. Stir together the sour cream or cashew sour cream, horseradish to taste, and most of the dill, reserving some dill for garnish.
  • Place each potato into its own wide bowl, and crack it open along its slit by pinching the potato together and toward the center like a Chinese fortune teller (cootie catcher.) Ladle the hot beets and broth over each potato. Place a big dollop of herbed sour cream on the potato. Pile on the sauerkraut, and garnish with the remaining dill. Serve piping hot.

Cashew Sour Cream

  • Cover cashews in boiling water and soak at least one hour up to overnight, and drain, OR (my favorite method) place the cashews and cover with water in an electric pressure cooker and cook on high for 8 minutes. Allow to cool, and drain.
  • Place the drained cashews the lemon juice and/or apple cider vinegar, and salt in a blender. Blend on high until it is completely smooth, scraping down the sides often. Taste for sourness, and add more lemon juice/apple cider vinegar to taste. Store in the refrigerator. Cashew sour cream will thicken as it chills. It will keep in your fridge about one week, and it can also be frozen. Stir well between uses. Makes about 14 ounces.
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
Season: Bounty (August - October), Mist (November - March)
Dietary: Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free, Nut-Free
Total Time: 45 minutes
Servings: 6
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 or ground turkey
  • 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. 
 
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
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
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 One-for-One 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.
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
Total Time: 55 minutes
Servings: 4
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 1/2›" 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 1/4" pieces
  • 1 shallot, finely diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flake
  • 1/2 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 nestle in the 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
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
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
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 1/4" dice
  • 2 cups celery stalk and leaves, sliced about 1/4" thick
  • 1 pound mushrooms, slices about 1/4" thick
  • 4-6 cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 small bunch lacinato kale, sliced about 1/4" 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 1/4" 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 sauted, 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 sauted 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 sauted 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 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
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
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 butter, not quite what we are after). Set the ground walnuts aside.
  • Separate 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.  

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
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
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. 

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You’re in the right place!  I’m Pam Spettel, home cooking expert and guide, and I’m here to show you how to break up with cooking and hospitality anxiety, learn how to use recipes as guides rather than strict rules, and let your cooking intuition and confidence soar.

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