The Times They Are A-Changin...

Yes, winter (and to a slightly lesser extent, fall) are my favorite seasons. That doesn't mean, however, that I am not looking forward to the dawn of spring. The main reason? Longer days. I can handle the snow, and the cold, but if there is one thing that brings me down in the winter, it is the endless parade of days when I trudge to work when the sun is just weakly starting to cast its first tentative rays, and I trudge home after it has already gone to bed for the day. Since my office has no windows, I can go the entire day without seeing natural light. It starts to get old.

Recently, however, the days have started to get longer, and it hasn't gone unnoticed. Every day that I leave the museum and the sun is still above the horizon is like a tiny gift. Today, it was even still up by the time I got home -- a minor miracle! For some reason, it makes me really content when I can sit in my living room and watch the sun set over the city's southwest side. Even when the sunsets aren't full of deeply vivid hues, they make me happy anyway. You just have to take your happiness wherever you can find it, I suppose...

Nonetheless, this harbinger of warmer temperatures reminded me that I should take advantage of the season while I still can. Although seasonality has never been one of my chief concerns in menu planning, and canned pumpkin is available year-round anyway, I decided that pasta with pumpkin and sausage sounded like a particularly tasty dinner option. I first came across this recipe when I was in college, and would come home from class to find a double-header of Rachel Ray's 30 Minute Meals on Food Network. Even though I find Rachel Ray's voice and personality to be extremely grating, I actually have several recipes of hers in my repertoire, that I've adapted to my own tastes. Not that that's something I would ever admit to in the company of foodies...

I mentally filed the recipe away and promptly forgot about it until I was making pumpkin muffins a couple years ago. It always bothered me that the muffins didn't require the full can of pumpkin puree, and I was always too lazy to freeze the remainder, such that perfectly good food was going to waste. I remembered this unconventional pasta recipe, and decided that it would be the "green" solution to my problem. I gave the recipe a spin while maintaining very low expectations, after all, as delicious as it had looked on television, the pairing of flavors was decidedly unorthodox. Shockingly, I was very pleased how it turned out. So much so, that I whip up a batch these days without even making muffins first. It's that good.

Pasta with Pumpkin and Sausage
adapted from Rachel Ray

4 links hot Italian sausage
2 cloves of garlic, finely minced
1/2 white onion, finely minced
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon dried sage
1 c. chicken stock, divided into two 1/2 c. portions
1/2 c. canned pumpkin puree
1/4 c. heavy cream
a pinch of cinnamon and a pinch of nutmeg
1/2 lb. whole-wheat rigatoni pasta
salt and pepper to taste

Add sausage links to a large, deep nonstick skillet, cover with one inch of water, and bring to a boil for fifteen minutes. Pour off the water, reduce heat to medium high, and brown the sausage on the outside. Remove the links to a paper towel-lined plate, and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pan, then the onion. Saute 2 to 3 minutes until the onions are tender, then add the garlic and saute 1-2 minutes more.

Add bay leaf, sage, and 1/2 cup of chicken stock to the pan. Reduce stock by half, about 2 minutes. Add remaining stock and pumpkin and stir to combine, stirring sauce until it comes to a bubble. Slice sausage into 1/4 inch rounds, and return to pan, reduce heat, and stir in cream. Season the sauce with the cinnamon and nutmeg, and salt and pepper, to taste. Simmer mixture 5 to 10 minutes to thicken sauce. While sauce simmers, cook rigatoni according to package directions.

Remove the bay leaf from sauce and pour drained pasta into the sausage pumpkin sauce. Combine sauce and pasta and toss over low heat for 1 minute. Serve with red pepper flakes on the side for those who like things extra-spicy!

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