Most fantastically orange

You know the way Kraft dinner macaroni and cheese tastes on a camping trip? Well, I think I've figured out how to recreate it. It feels sort of like it did when I was fourteen and spent six days paddling the Petawawa, only without all the mosquitoes and the wet sleeping bag. Oh, and we've been eating with my grandmother's silver.

And while generally, as a rule, KD macaroni and cheese tastes better off of bent stainless steel sporks and tin plates, so far, we haven't let that get our spirits down. We also haven't been deterred by the fact that it isn't raining, that we don't have any sandwich bags full of wet, clumpy lemon pepper to sprinkle on top, and that we no longer spend our summers at Camp Northway Lodge. Which, in case you are wondering, is in Algonquin Park, Ontario and is North America's oldest wilderness camp for girls. It was founded by Fannie L. Case in 1906, and there is no electricity or running water, and to this day, every meal is cooked over a big, pot-bellied woodstove.

(Also, in case you're wondering, we has been referring to both me and Alex, and no, he did not attend. He has learned a few camp songs, though, and although he doesn't like to admit it, I'm pretty sure he secretly sometimes practices them on his own.)

At any rate, although neither Alex or I have done any class four rapids recently, and although we don't own a cedar strip canoe, and even though it is only about 18 degrees out and fairly prohibitive of camping activities in general, we have been enjoying quite a bit of macaroni and cheese. Not actual KD, mind you, or even traditional macaroni and cheese, but a pumpkin penne with spinach and goat cheese that will fool you so completely that you may never go back. It's hard to believe, I know, but if you sauté some red onions in a pat of butter, add some pumpkin puree and some milk and salt and a little dash of Sriracha sauce and throw it over penne, you get a big bowl of pasta that tastes alarmingly similar to the warmest, cheesiest, most fantastically orange macaroni and cheese you've ever had. It makes me feel cozy just to type all those adjectives up.

You can imagine how nice it is to actually dig in.

Happily, it's a snap to make. It's the kind of thing you can throw together in fifteen minutes for a working Monday lunch, or even a last minute dinner for company. The key is to have the squash—either a pie pumpkin or a butternut or something in that vein—already baked, so that all you have to do is boil water for pasta and sauté. Recently, we've been keeping a jar of pureed squash on hand at all times in the fridge, partially because some of the pie pumpkins in the basement have been getting soft spots, but also because of how quickly, now that we have this recipe, pureed squash disappears. I don't know about you, but there are only so many sweet squash pies and butternut soups I can eat. This opens up a whole new world, this putting pumpkin on penne.

Oh! and we've been putting crumbled up goat cheese on top, which has made things pretty new and exciting, too, and spinach from the greenhouse. Since we're not fourteen any more, I thought a little green might be nice.

I could go on and on, in case you can't tell, about the merits of what we've taken to calling Pumpkin Penne alla KD. I could also tell you a fair bit about rapids, and what it's like to tip over in them every day for six days in a row while it rains and your shorts and t-shirt and underwear are constantly wet, and even what it's like to resort to eating fried uncooked soggy pasta because it has turned back into dough, but I'm not sure any of that would be a good idea, for anyone.

So for your own good, I'm going to sign off, and let you get to your kitchen and your squash and your food processor, and let you start recreating your own camp memories lickety-split. Have fun, everyone.


For the original idea for this recipe, I have to thank Mr. Mark Bittman. As you probably know, he's into doing more with less, and he decided for his book The Best Recipes in the World to try and recreate the taste of Italian squash filled ravioli without having to actually do all the tiny finger work. He thought maybe it would have the same effect to just put the squash filling on the outside of the pasta, as a sauce for penne instead, and boy-oh-boy, it did. The only flaw I could find with the whole thing was that he spiked his sauce with sugar and nutmeg in a way that made it taste more like pumpkin pie filling and less like a savory dish. So instead, I went in a butter-milk-Sriracha-salt-spinach-goat cheese and sauteed red onion direction, and it came out absolutely perfectly—a lot less like pie, and a lot more, in the best way possible, like camp style KD.

2 tablespoons butter
1/2 red onion, chopped
1 cup pureed pie pumpkin or butternut squash
3/4 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
a pinch of nutmeg
a dash of Sriracha or another spicy chili sauce
salt to taste
1/2 pound pasta—penne, macaroni, or any other bite size shape—cooked and drained
1/2 pound baby spinach, washed and dried
4 ounces goat cheese

Heat up the butter over medium-high heat in the bottom of a medium size, heavy-bottomed pot. Add the red onion and sauté for 8 to 10 minutes, or until it becomes soft and translucent. Turn the heat down to a simmer and spoon in the pureed squash, stirring constantly, along with about a third of the milk. Keep adding the milk in splashes (and keep stirring), until it has all been added and absorbed. Now season the sauce with the white pepper, nutmeg, Sriracha, and salt. Add the pasta to the pot and stir it into the sauce, until all of the pieces are completely coated. While the pasta and the sauce are still hot, stir in the spinach. It should wilt a little bit, and sort of melt into the mix. (If it doesn't seem to be shrinking down, try putting a lid on the pot and turning the heat back on low for a minute or so. The steam should do the trick.) Serve the pasta hot, with a few crumbles of goat cheese on top.


Anonymous said...

Wow, this looks SO good -- and SO easy! I think I'm looking at tonight's dinner. The only change I'm going to make is to use arugula (which I have on hand) instead of spinach (which I don't have). Gotta go take some pureed squash out of the freezer now. Bye! ~Liz P.

PS: Whether it comes from our CSA or our own garden, I think pureed squash/pumpkin is one of the best things we put up in our freezer. Besides soup, pie, and now this, it's also great in muffins and quick breads.

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

Elspeth -- Your post makes me feel just the tiniest bit guilty about my fondness for canned pumpkin. The Libby kind. A bad experience with a nasty, bitter "sugar" pumpkin was seminal, I think.

I go through a lot of the stuff, and it's just fine. So, if you run out of your own squash before the new crop comes in ... it'll be our little secret.

Anna said...

This post left me craving the infamous Northway KD! Remember when we used to try to recreate it outside of the cold/rainy/dirty/smelly camp environment? This sounds like a much more suitable replacement.

Now trip chocolate...that's a food that stays delicious outside of camp.

Elspeth said...

Liz P:

Winter squash pureed and frozen is indeed one of life's most handy things. I was excited about this recipe since I feel like we're constantly using ours for sweet things—pies and breads and muffins—or soup. This was our first branching out into the pasta realm, and I thought it was a very good experiment. Arugula, I'm sure, worked just as well. Yum!

Tamar, I actually had a similar experience a while back with a friend who tried to make a pie not only out of a pumpkin, but not even a sugar pumpkin. It was absolutely the most hideous thing I have ever eaten—stringy and not at all creamy or sweet. BUT, try try again. Or, better yet, just use butternut. You can't fail with that, and no one will ever know it's butternut pie and not pumpkin. In the meantime, though, I won't tell anyone about the cans...

And Anna, I know. Really, the experience can't be recreated, but this is definitely a very good "grown-up" replacement. As for the trip chocolate, I am assuming you mean it is as good as ever, because I still eat some every day!

All the best,


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