Whenever I can, I try to use fresh ingredients when I cook. This wasn’t always the case. I used to be a much less confident and accomplished cook. I also was at one point a poor student, and was thrilled just to get a month’s worth of groceries for under $100, even if most of them were canned. Over this year, as I’ve adjusted to my new role (housewife *shudder*) and my new home (Europe *high five*), I have also adopted new methods in the kitchen. Europeans eat seasonal and fresh food as often as possible. While processed food is available to an extent, it’s not a crutch or a supplement like it is in America. They value artisanal products, farm stand produce, and locally-sourced meats. They support and even prefer their own regional specialties, whereas in America we value and integrate foreign cuisine almost more than our own.
Although I can appreciate the sense in eating what’s in season and supporting local growers, there are some recipes I brought with me from the States that simply require a canned product. One such recipe I rolled out for Thanksgiving recently: a pumpkin cheesecake that works best with canned pumpkin. Last year I tried to buy Libby’s 100% Pure Pumpkin at the American Market, but must have underestimated the amount of Americans living in Geneva, because they were sold out for weeks. I improvised and used fresh pumpkin, but the consistency was not how I remembered it from my childhood. This year, I was determined to get to the Market early enough and barely made it: I snagged the last can in their stock. I used half the can for my creamy dessert, and stuck the rest in the fridge with no immediate plans for its use.
Now we come to the heart of this post. What do you do with leftover pumpkin? I’ve already made pumpkin butter this year, and after the pumpkin cheesecake, I was feeling for something more savory. So I found some handmade spinach-ricotta tortellini at a gourmet food store, and whipped up a pot of surprisingly light pumpkin Alfredo sauce. There is no heavy cream or cream cheese or mozzarella or any of those other normally fatty additions to Alfredo sauce. Instead, the creaminess comes from a touch of low-fat Greek yogurt and some freshly grated Parmesan, and it’s thickened by a roux and the natural starch in the pumpkin. This sauce would be great over any kind of pasta, I imagine, but especially a stuffed one like ravioli, tortellini, or agnolotti. I would suggest keeping the pasta filling vegetarian, sticking with a straight cheese or spinach-cheese mix. To make it exotic, I garnished it with some Hawaiian black lava salt. The color contrast of the orange sauce and the black crystals was very pleasing. If you don’t have this particular type of salt, I would suggest using some form of large-grained finishing salt; the crunch and flavor dimension it adds could elevate it from a family-friendly weeknight meal to an impressive date night offering.
Pumpkin Alfredo Sauce with Spinach-Ricotta Tortellini
Yield: 4 servings
2 Tbsp butter
1 shallot, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves
2 Tbsp flour
2 cups chicken stock
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
salt and white pepper, to taste
1 cup pumpkin purée
1/3 cup low-fat Greek yogurt
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
Store-bought cheese tortellini
Hawaiian black lava salt, to garnish
Cook tortellini according to package. Set aside, keep warm.
In a medium pot, melt the butter, and once sizzling, add the shallots. Cook for about 3 minutes, stirring regularly. Add the minced garlic and cook for another 3 minutes, making sure the shallots don’t brown. Add the thyme leaves and stir together for 1 minute. Whisk in the flour. Cook for 2-4 minutes, until flour is foamy and the roux begins to pull away from the bottom of the pot. Slowly whisk in the chicken stock a 1/4 cup at a time. Add the spices and let thicken for about 5 minutes. Add the pumpkin purée, making sure it’s well incorporated and warmed throughout, then add the Greek yogurt. Bring to just below a boil. Remove from heat and stir in the Parmesan cheese. Spoon the sauce over the pasta and toss to coat. Garnish with additional grated Parmesan and black salt, if desired.