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Beat the Winter Blues: Rotini with Butternut Squash, Sausage, and Sage

I went to college at Sewanee: the University of the South. If you’ve never seen Sewanee, you need to because no words can truly capture the beauty or spirit of the Sewanee community. For a first time visitor, there is a peculiar sense of mystery that is evoked by the campus and the students wandering along the stone sidewalks. Everywhere who has loved Sewanee in their lives seems to be part of a brotherhood. There’s an insider’s knowledge that says, “Yes, I have experienced life at a place that is different from your world. I have loved and danced and laughed in Arcadia.”

But until you can stop through the Mountain, just imagine Hogwarts. The dorms and academic building, the dining hall and library all have Gothic architecture and build from beautiful, rough Warren Point sandstone and Sewanee Conglomerate. Of the many unorthodox traditions of Sewanee, the wearing of gowns by the Order of the Gownsmen is one of the oldest. Many members even buy Hogwarts House badges to sew onto theirs. And there’s the fog that looks like it is part of the special effects for a dementor scene in the Harry Potter movies. Fog comes rolling onto the Cumberland Plateau like a slowly cast shadow that grows to cover the entire campus – sometimes for days and weeks. So while Sewanee is a beautiful place, those winters can be dark and deep.

I have been in a funk for the past week. I wasn’t sad, I just felt…bleh. I blame it on Mardi Gras-induced lack of sleep, but as I caught up with sleep, the feeling kept nagging at me, making me want to pull a pillow out in front of my computer and rest my head on my desk while my fingers kept typing. I finally realized that I hadn’t seen the sun since Mardi Gras day. New Orleans went gray and, almost, chilly for a week. Looking out the window while I worked did nothing to lift my moods; it only made me wonder whether I could run or get to the grocery store without being soaked by a storm.

Once I realized the reason for my constant desire to curl up under a blanket and be read sad stories, I knew the cure. When the fog rolled in at Sewanee and threatened to send an entire campus into bouts of Seasonal Affected Depression, my friends and I took ourselves to eat at one of the four restaurants on the Mountain. It was always proof that great food and best friends can cure the foggy blues.

On Monday, I roasted bright orange butternut squash, tossed it with bright fresh sage, poured it over multi-colored rotini and Italian sausage, and covered it all in sage butter. My funk has been shaken and the sun is shining over the Crescent City once more.

Pasta with Butternut Squash, Sage, and Pecans
Adapted, just barely, from an Emeril recipe at Food & Wine
Serves 6

2 ½ lbs. butternut squash, halved, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes
3 tbs olive oil, divided
salt and freshly ground pepper
freshly grated nutmeg
1 tbs chopped sage, plus 20 whole leaves
½ cup pecans, coarsely chopped
3 tbs unsalted butter
1 lb. hot Italian sausage
1 lb. rotini
¼ cup grated Pecorino, plus more for serving

Preheat the oven to 400°. Put the cubed squash on a large, rimmed baking sheet and drizzle with 2 tablespoons of olive oil; toss. Spread squash into a single layer and sprinkle with slat, pepper, and nutmeg. Bake until just tender, about 25-30 minutes. Add chopped sage and toss.

Put the pecans in a pie plate and toast in the oven for 4 minutes.

In a large skillet, melt the butter. Add the whole sage leaves and cook for one minute on each side. Then, remove leaves to a dish and pour butter into a bowl. Add remaining tablespoon of oil and the sausage to the skillet. Cook over moderately high heat for 7 minutes, using a spatula to break up sausage.

In a large pot of salted, boiling water, cook pasta until al dente. Drain, reserving 1 cup of cooking water. Return pasta to the pot. Add sausage and melted sage butter. Slowly stir in the pasta cooking water. Gently fold in the squash, cheese, and pecans. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to a bowl and top with sage leaves. Serve with more cheese.

1 Comment

  1. I really enjoy the pictures of Sewanee next to the butternut squash pasta. My favorite things..food and sewanee.

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