Jessica’s recent post about the deeply satisfying, yet boeuf-less, mushroom bourguignon got me thinking about meatless mains. As a category of entrée, I find them a little risky. Before I try a new vegetarian recipe, I wonder if it’s going to make it across the “satisfying” line. Some lucky people can happily pat their bellies after a heaping helping of gazpacho or pasta al pomodoro. I, and I think a lot of other people, need something more to make a meal without meat satisfying: nuts, cheese, butter, cream, etc. Of course, “meaty” vegetables like eggplants and mushrooms (especially when deep and dark and bourguignon-ed) can often carry a meal across the line.
The threshold for what makes a vegetarian meal satisfying is personal and hard to predict. For example, I thought the pasta I made last week—a creamy, lemony tribute to end of season squash and beans—ran across that satisfying line with flying colors. The walnuts and cream provided richness and there was a lot to crunch and chew. During the recipe development stage (read: me grilling Ed about whether the dish was worthy of the internet), it came to my attention that the pasta was good, but could be great with a “side of sausage.” I was skeptical. I didn’t think it needed sausage.
When I found myself with yet another quickly fading squash this week, I decided to test the sausage theory. To get an accurate comparison, I stuck pretty closely to the original recipe, just swapping zucchini for yellow squash (it’s what I had) and dialing back the cream (for thigh reasons). The verdict: Ed thinks he’s right. I’m still not sure. Both versions were really good. I ate all the leftovers of both versions and I’d make this again, either way, next week. I’ve shared how to make it either way below. You can choose whether to take or leave a sausage link as your satisfaction threshold demands.
This pasta was inspired by three recipes I adore. The outcome was a marrying of some of my favorite flavor combinations: lemon and green beans, squash and walnuts, lemon and squash, cream and anything. Here are the recipes that inspired me. They are fantastic.
- Green Beans and Walnuts with Lemon Vinaigrette (Bon Appétit, November 2009…I’ve liked this one for a long time): Bookmark this right now for Thanksgiving. Pull it out again for Valentine’s Day, Fourth of July, and next Tuesday. Its tangy crunch makes it the perfect contrast to heavy holiday meals and its simplicity makes it perfect for any day you find yourself with some green beans.
- Fedelini with Summer Squash, Walnuts, and Herbs (The Art of Simple Food, Alice Waters. The link here is from Pink of Perfection, which means it comes with a great story, too.): I made this recipe a few times this summer and was repeatedly surprised by how the simple ingredients and techniques could yield so much flavor. One trick here is to make sure your pasta water is good and salty.
- Penne with Zucchini and Mint in a Lemon Cream Sauce (If You Can Make That, You Can Make This.): This pasta is the backbone of the recipe below. I could eat that lemon cream sauce on pencil shavings and ask for seconds.
End of Season Pasta with or without Sausage
(makes 4 large servings)
10 oz green beans, trimmed and cut into 2 in. pieces
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
1/2 lb pasta (casarecce, penne, fusilli, or bowtie)
1 lb sweet italian chicken sausage links [optional], cut into ovals.
1 medium to large zucchini or yellow squash, cut into 2 in. matchsticks
3 cloves garlic, minced
zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1 lemon
1 cup heavy cream [you could dial it back to 3/4th cup if making with sausage]
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
Some basil for garnish, if you have it
- Blanch the green beans: bring a big pot of water to boil, add a couple of generous pinches of salt. Boil green beans for about 2 minutes. Skim beans from pot and set aside.
- Bring the pot of water back to a boil and add more salt. Toss in the pasta and cook a minute or two less than called for by the box’s instructions. Save about a half cup of pasta water and drain the pasta, leaving some water still clinging to the pasta.
- Meanwhile, toast the chopped walnuts in a skillet over medium heat for 8 or 9 minutes. They should smell amazing and be toasty, but don’t let them burn. Take nuts off heat and set aside in a small dish to cool. Wipe out skillet.
- [Sausage step.] Add a couple of glugs of olive oil to skillet and add sausage. Let it brown on one side, then flip. Remove from pan and set aside.
- Add a bit more olive oil to the pan, if necessary, and turn up heat to medium-high. Add squash, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook until it starts to brown.
- Add half of zest and all of the garlic, the green beans, and the sausage [if using] to the squash. Toss around and add the lemon juice. Let it cook for a quick minute.
- Turn heat down to low and add cream and remaining lemon zest to the bean, squash [and sausage] mixture. Season with salt and pepper.
- Add in pasta and toss all around. Add the parm and toss some more. Add the walnuts and toss again. If things are looking drier than you’d like, add pasta water a little at a time. Season again, if necessary. Serve it up and garnish plates with basil and pepper and/or parm.