Lots of travel in November brought autumn vibes into my Florida-based life. Work took me to Chicago during the first week of last month, where everyone was high off of a Cubs win and the days were crisp but sunny. The following weekend, my husband and I went to New York City with a couple of friends, and we walked around Central Park marveling at the brilliant red and turmeric-yellow leaves. Thanksgiving took us, along with my parents and sisters, to the Midwest to spend the holiday with my in-laws.
It has been a cold but cozy few weeks. And while there was a lot of dining out, my weekends flirting with autumn made me want to cook something hearty when I got home.
This idea for a cozy dinner came around the time I discovered a new technique for baked pasta from J. Kenji López-Alt, author of the Food Lab column and award-winning cookbook of the same name. López-Alt soaks the pasta instead of parboiling. So while I prepared the sauce and filling, the pasta soaked and I didn't have to hover over a boiling pot of water.
There's usually a can of pumpkin puree lingering in my pantry this time of year, and I decided to use it for dinner instead of dessert. For the dish, I landed on Pumpkin Stuffed Shells, in which jumbo shells are stuffed with pumpkin puree that has been mixed with ricotta and sage-infused brown butter. The whole things gets topped with Marcella Hazan's famously easy and irresistible tomato sauce. And at the end, brown-butter-fried sage leaves serve as garnish.
It's a very cozy dinner situation for fall, whether it sticks around for months or comes in fickle but friendly cold fronts.
Ileana Morales Valentine lives in St. Petersburg with her husband. For more of their kitchen stories, visit her blog, ALittleSaffron.com. Say hello at [email protected]