Baked Butternut Squash Rigatoni

Butternut squash rigatoni baked

It’s the first weekend of October – hooray! Colder days, but not too cold. Pumpkins, apples, baking. Halloween! However, it looks like the rain this weekend is going to squash my plans to hang spooky skeleton hand lights in the trees, decorate the front porch and go apple picking. Perfect weather for a comforting casserole, though, so I thought I’d recycle a favorite fall recipe from the early days of my blog. After all, sometimes you don’t need MORE recipes, just a reminder of the good ones you already have. Right?

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Fideyos (Comfort Noodles)


Living thousands of miles away from family is hard. I can’t just pop over to Mom’s with a basket of fresh-baked scones on Mother’s Day, grab a quick latte with my little sister, or be there to support aunts, uncles and cousins in times of need.

What I can do to feel connected to family is cook foods that remind me of home – of childhood memories, family traditions and happy times. The perfect comfort food candidate? Fideyos, or toasted angel hair pasta cooked in chicken broth. My grandma Margaret used to make this ages-old Sephardic noodle recipe for us when I was little, and it was always one of my favorite dishes. (Meant to be a side dish, but for me it was the meal.)

Grandpa Joe and Grandma Margaret

Grandpa Joe and Grandma Margaret

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A Winning Slow-Cooker Brisket Ragu

brisket raguI mentioned in my last post that I’ve been doing a lot of whining lately. On the road towards positivity, I thought I’d spin that into a win-win, wine-themed post: a fall-apart tender, red wine-enhanced brisket ragu with cellentani (corkscrew) pasta, and a chance to win tickets to the NYC Wine and Food Festival! I’m feeling more upbeat already. Continue reading

Sausage and Sun-dried Tomato-stuffed Mushrooms


Looking for a crowd-pleasing appetizer that can also score as a quick weeknight dinner? The extra filling for these addictive stuffed mushrooms can be frozen and later turned into dinner in the 10 minutes it takes to cook a pound of pasta. I’m a big fan of epicurean efficiency.  (And also of all teams from Seattle – Go Seahawks!)

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Wild Mushroom “Fondue”


This New Year’s Eve, I intend to make a few toasts. As in, toasted baguette slices, slathered in creamy Wild Mushroom Fondue and drizzled with a little black truffle oil. One last holiday hoorah before the austerity of the New Year begins.  Then it’s back to carrot sticks and kale salad for a while.  Continue reading

Tomato Caramel

Did September swoosh past anyone else? It seems like just yesterday we were chasing the ice cream truck and agonizing over First Day of School outfits, and now we’re cracking open the candy corn and planning Halloween costumes.

Well – the month is almost over, and with it comes the end of one of the best tomato seasons in recent years here in the Garden State.  (Or at least in our garden, and this is a nice consolation since I’m sorry to report that the zucchini plants never fully recovered from their vine borer surgery.) Needless to say, we’ve been eating a lot of tomatoes lately, and some of us are happier about this than others. . .

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“Smashing” Peanut Noodles and Thai Crunch Salad

Subee is a nickname I’ve had since 10th grade, when I decided to turn out for the Curtis High School tennis team. Our coach, Mr. Webb – a revered biology teacher who used to give extra credit for turning in “mutant” M&M’s® – had a strict policy that everyone on the team have a nickname. My maiden name is Benveniste, so you can see how I quickly became Sue B., or Subee.

That's me, front & center with the big hair.

Mr. Webb did all kinds of things to make his “tennis ladies” feel special, but one of the highlights was his match day morning ritual. If you were starting in a match that day, you would be “surprised” by a varsity football player interrupting your homeroom class, getting down on one knee and delivering a long-stemmed rose and a kiss (on the cheek). Talk about motivation!

After high school I shelved the tennis racquet (yet oddly kept the big hair and perms going well past college). Last year my love for the sport was rekindled, and with nary a football player in sight. After 8 straight years of childrearing, I think I just needed to get out of the house and do something that didn’t revolve around kids. (Precious as they may be.) Plus, the women on my league teams (indoor winter and outdoor spring) are supportive as well as fun. I think they put up with my less-than-stellar record because I bring tennis ball cookies and good post-match lunches when it’s my turn. Since today was my turn, I broke out the racchette pasta that I found in a grocery store months ago. Normally I make peanut noodles with spaghetti, but I couldn’t resist the racquets for this occasion. Along with some grilled chicken and a “Thai Crunch” salad, it was an ace of a meal. If only my matches could be as successful!

To make all the components for this is a bit of a process (and you’ll feel like your entire pantry is out on your countertop), but  a) it’s worth the effort, and b) you don’t have to do everything every time. For example, use shredded rotisserie chicken instead of grilling your own. Or use crunchy rice noodles instead of frying wonton strips. (Though the crispy wonton strips are usually everyone’s favorite part, and they’re very quick to make.) Or make only the salad, or only the peanut sauce and noodles. You get the idea. If you’re going to make the marinated chicken, salad dressing and peanut sauce, get out all of the ingredients and try to assembly-line the process since many of the same ingredients are called for. The good news is that everything can be made well in advance and then just assembled prior to serving. (I made everything for today’s lunch yesterday.) And if you have an immersion blender, making the 2 sauces is a snap.

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Baked Campanelle with Mushrooms (and Chicken)

While my 9-year-old has always had a taste for adventure, she’s not been known for her adventurous tastes. No sauces, limited vegetables, no comingled ingredients – you get the idea. Then one day she blew me away by asking if she could please have a salad. A few days later when I was sautéing mushrooms for this recipe, she asked if she could try one of those things in the pan that smelled so good. What?! Aliens have abducted my firstborn and replaced her with a vegetable-craving clone! Fortunately, my 7-year-old is still subsisting on bread, butter and milk products so all’s right with the world.


Back to the mushroom pasta. The inspiration for this dish was all the stuff in the fridge that needed to get used up before a President’s Week ski trip: a box of crimini (baby portabella) mushrooms, half a block of cream cheese, a little cream, and half a box of chicken stock.  If I had had some rotisserie chicken, I would’ve added it for a complete meal-in-one. (Meal-in-one = fewer dishes to wash!) For those of us happy with vegetarian meals, this dish is already a meal-in-one. With or without the chicken, I’d serve it with a simple green salad (and perhaps a glass of pinot noir). It reheats well for leftovers and probably would freeze well also.

Every time pasta goes on sale, I stock up in all shapes and sizes. One of my favorite shapes is campanelle, aka bells or lilies. I’m a sucker for the little ruffles, which get nice and crunchy on the top layer of a baked dish. I also love how the bell shape traps the sauce or filling. Feel free to use any shape pasta – even spaghetti would work.

Baked Campanelle with Mushrooms (and Chicken)

Serves 6-8

  • 1 box (16 oz.) campanelle (or any shape dried pasta)
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 large shallots or 1 small onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
  • 3-4 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 lb. white or brown (crimini) mushrooms, sliced (stems trimmed or removed)
  • ½ teaspoon dried or 1teaspoon fresh thyme (optional but complements the mushrooms nicely)
  • 1 clove fresh garlic, minced
  • Splash (¼ cup) dry sherry (or white wine)
  • ½ block cream cheese (optional)
  • 2 cups chicken broth (16 oz. or ½ box)
  • 1 chicken bouillon cube or 1teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 ½ cups finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, divided
  • Optional: 2 cups (+ / -) rotisserie or leftover chicken, shredded or cubed
  • Kosher salt and black pepper

Cook the pasta according to package directions (using 1-2 teaspoons kosher salt in the pasta water). Drain and set aside. (Reserve some plain pasta for picky eaters.)

Preheat oven to 375ºF. In large nonstick skillet or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, sauté shallots in butter until softened. (2-3 minutes)

Add sliced mushrooms; stir to coat and then let sit in the pan for a few minutes to develop some color. (This really does make them taste better!)

Stir in thyme and garlic and cook 1-2 minutes more.  Add sherry or wine and stir to deglaze the pan. Stir in cream cheese (if using), chicken broth, bouillon cube or salt and cream.

Bring to a boil, then remove from heat and stir in chicken, if using, and 1 cup parmigiano cheese. Taste and season with salt and pepper if necessary.

Combine sauce with cooked pasta and pour into an ungreased casserole dish or lasagna pan. Sprinkle remaining parmigiano cheese over top. Bake 20-30 minutes, or until top is lightly browned and sauce is bubbling.

Can be made up to a day ahead (though add about ½ cup more chicken stock if you do). Reheats well for leftovers.

As a side dish side note, the sautéed mushroom mixture would be delicious on its own – even without the pasta and cheese. Omit the chicken stock and reduce the cream to 1/4 cup or omit altogether. Serve as a vegetable side dish, or as a topping for steak, burgers or chicken.


Baked Butternut Squash Rigatoni with Rosemary and Bacon

In a normal year, late November would be when I bring my big herb pots inside for the winter. But here in northern New Jersey it’s a balmy 65 degrees outside, so I think I’ll leave the pots of rosemary and bay laurel out on the patio for a little while longer. (Or at least until the weekend when I can put “Move heavy pots” on someone else’s To Do list.)

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