Winter Vegetable Pastas with Walnuts

Two recipe titles that caught my eye recently were Caramelized Cabbage and Walnut Pasta and Creamy Butternut Squash Pasta with Sage and Walnuts.  Two favorite winter vegetable plus walnuts?  Yes!  Some January King cabbages were still thriving in the winter kitchen garden and a few of the many butternut squash I grew last summer were still left in the storage vegetable closet, so I tried both recipes. Each is even better than it sounds.

Caramelized Cabbage and Walnut Pasta

Serves 4

The introduction to this recipe says that the cabbage “becomes jammy and sweet when cooked with aromatic leeks and garlic for 15 minutes…Cumin seeds add just the right amount of earthiness along with a subtle citrus tone…The walnuts balance out the sweetness of the cabbage and leeks and introduce a slight bitterness and crunch.” All true.  I made a half batch for the two of us.  There could have been some great leftovers even from this half batch if we hadn’t simply eaten it all because it tasted so good.


  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 3 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 2 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 2 leeks, white and tender green parts, thinly sliced into rings (yellow onion would work too)
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 pounds finely sliced green cabbage
  •  Kosher salt (Diamond Crystal)
  • 1 pound spaghetti or other long pasta
  • 4 ounces pecorino cheese, grated, plus more for serving
  • 2 to 3 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
  • 3 to 4 tablespoons lemon juice (from 1 large lemon)
  • 1 to 1½ cups toasted walnuts, roughly chopped
  •  Handful of chopped chives (optional)


  1. Heat a large Dutch oven or pot over medium. Add the olive oil and butter. When the butter has melted, add cumin seeds and bloom for 15 seconds, then add the leeks, garlic, cabbage and 2 teaspoons salt, and stir for 3 to 4 minutes until wilted. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low and cook for 10 minutes without stirring. Check every few minutes to make sure the bottom is not burning. If needed, give it a stir.
  1. After 10 minutes, remove the lid from the cabbage and stir. Cover and cook for another 4 to 5 minutes, until it is super sweet and tender. Taste and season with kosher salt.
  1. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the spaghetti and cook according to package instructions. When the pasta is ready, do not drain, but use tongs to drag the pasta out of its cooking water and straight into the pot with the cabbage. Add about 1 cup of pasta cooking water, along with the pecorino and the black pepper. Toss well to combine.
  2. Add lemon juice. Taste, adjust seasonings with more salt, pepper or lemon if needed. To serve, scatter with walnuts and finish with more pecorino and chopped chives if using.

Creamy Butternut Squash Pasta with Sage and Walnuts

Serves 4

The introductory summary of this recipe says: “butternut squash gets roasted, puréed, then tossed with Parmesan to make this nutty, creamy pasta sauce. Each serving is topped with crispy fried sage leaves, a hint of lemon zest, and toasted walnuts, adding a crunchy contrast to the squash.”

The sauce really is creamy and the crispy sage, lemon zest and toasty walnuts are perfect contrasts.  I made a full batch and saved half to serve as a side dish the next day.  The leftover half would also have been delicious thinned out with broth and served as a soup.


  • 2 ½ pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil
  •  Kosher salt and black pepper
  • ¾ packed cup fresh sage leaves
  • ¾ cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 lemon, zested (about 1 tablespoon)
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock, plus more as needed
  • 1 pound short pasta, such as gemelli, casarecce or penne
  • ½ cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus more for serving


  1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Place the squash and garlic on a sheet pan. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Toss well and roast until the squash is very tender, 30 to 35 minutes, tossing twice throughout. While the squash roasts, bring a large pot of water to boil.
  2. Meanwhile, in a large (12-inch) skillet, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil over medium. When the oil is hot, add the sage and cook, tossing often, until the leaves begin to crisp, about 1 minute. Add the walnuts and a generous sprinkle of salt and cook, tossing often, until the sage leaves are lightly browned and crisp, 1 to 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the sage and nuts to a paper towel-lined plate and wipe out the skillet. Let the mixture drain for 1 minute, then add it to a small bowl with the lemon zest; toss lightly and set aside.
  3. Working in batches if necessary, transfer the roasted squash and garlic to a blender or food processor, along with 1 cup stock, and blend until smooth and thick. The consistency should be somewhere between a purée and a thick soup. Add more stock as needed, if it seems too thick.
  4. Transfer the puréed squash to the reserved skillet and keep warm over very low heat. Meanwhile, add the pasta to the boiling water, along with 1 tablespoon salt, and cook until al dente. Just before draining, ladle 1/2 cup pasta water into a measuring cup and set aside.
  5. Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce. Toss to coat the pasta evenly, then, off the heat, add the 1/2 cup Parmesan and toss until the cheese is incorporated. Add a few tablespoons of the reserved pasta water if the sauce seems too thick. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  6. Divide the pasta among shallow bowls and sprinkle the sage, walnut and lemon zest mixture on top, and serve with extra Parmesan on the side.

I have many other favorite ways to prepare cabbage and winter squash.  There’s cabbage and collards, cabbage slaw with farro, cabbage and mushroom galette and cabbage roasted with tarragon and pecorino.  For squash, there’s roasted butternut squash with cilantro pesto and squash and poblano tart. I plan to keep the new pasta recipes at the top of this list as we work our way through the last of the winter cabbage and squash.

Butternut Squash

There are a lot of enticing winter squash recipes that call for butternut squash, a smooth-skinned, tan squash, long-necked with a bulb-shaped base. Until this past year, I’d never grown it, substituting instead with winter squash I’d grown to love over the years—dark green Buttercup and Nutty Delica, bright orange Potimarron and Eastern Rise and striped Honeyboat Delicata—whenever a recipe called for butternut. Butternut seemed so dull looking compared to these more colorful relatives. I think I assumed the flavor would be dull too.

Butternut squash in basket

Still, trying to be more open-minded while ordering seeds last year, I read through the offerings in the “Butternut Group” section of Fedco’s catalog. There was Burpee’s Butterbush described as “chock full of deep reddish-orange flesh ‘as sweet as the best sweet potatoes.’” The texture was “moist but never watery.” “Fruits average no more than 1-1/2 lb.” It was an “excellent keeper.” And it was early, 87 days to maturity compared to 95 days for the Buttercup/Kabocha group and 100 days for Delicatas. In the spirit of experimentation, I ordered a packet.

In early May, I started the butternut squash seeds indoors along with the other winter squashes and set out all the plants two weeks later. In the first couple of months, the vines of the other squash grew up and over the butternut vines, nearly burying them. The butternut blossoms I could see were slower to set fruit than the other squash and the fruit that eventually set was small and green. I was glad I’d given only one hill to this experiment. By late September though, as the vines died back to reveal ripened squash, a dozen lovely tan butternut squash emerged among the greens and oranges of buttercups and kabochas. I stored them with the rest of the squash and forgot about them.

Butternut squash cut up

Finally, around Christmas time, curious to try one in a recipe that called for butternut squash, I brought a sample to the kitchen. Sliced in half, the entire neck was solid squash and the seed cavity was small. The flesh was a gorgeous deep orange and smelled wonderfully sweet. With a vegetable peeler, I easily removed the thin tan skin; the thick skin of other squashes requires a large knife. Cutting it into cubes was also easy compared to cutting up other squash. Then twenty minutes after brushing the cubes with oil, sprinkling them with salt and pepper and roasting them at 425 degrees, we tasted this squash I’d ignored for so many years. It was amazing, everything the catalog description said it would be: rich, sweet, creamy and beautifully orange, nothing dull about it. No wonder so many recipes call for it.

Since this revelation I’ve been going back to recipes that call for butternut squash and making them with this lovely winter squash. Two current favorites are from Yotam Ottolenghi’s latest cookbook, Plenty More (2014). I’ve made his Squash with Cardamom and Nigella Seeds many times using Honeyboat Delicata as well as Potimarron and both are very good, but made with sweet, soft-textured butternut squash it is even better. In addition to the cardamom pods and nigella seeds, ground cumin, coriander and turmeric, a cinnamon stick and a green chile give further complex fragrances and flavors to the rich butternut taste. The recipe calls for sautéing some red onion then adding squash chunks and browning them before adding all the spices, moistening the pan with a little vegetable stock and then baking. It’s delicious warm or at room temperature.  A garnish of yogurt and fresh cilantro leaves is lovely too.

Butternut squash cardamom frying pan

Butternut squash round dish

Ottolenghi’s Squash with Chile Yogurt and Cilantro Sauce is just as wonderful. Chunks of butternut squash tossed with olive oil, salt, pepper and ground cinnamon roast at 425 degrees for 20-30 minutes then are garnished with chile-flavored yogurt, cilantro pesto, cilantro leaves and toasted pumpkin seeds. Ottolenghi suggests “Sriracha or other savory chile sauce” to flavor the yogurt. I used Chicaoji sauce made on Lopez Island for an added touch of chipotle flavor. When I served this dish to guests the other night, my friend Crystal asked: “What is this squash? It’s so delicious.” “It’s butternut,” I said, “and told her my story.”

Butternut squash, cilantro & yogurt sauces

I’m going to plant more hills of Burpee’s Butterbush butternut squash this year and locate them so that other squash vines won’t overrun them. We’ve sadly just finished the last of our small butternut crop but we can look forward to next fall’s much bigger crop.

P.S. I noticed that while Fedco carries Burpee’s Butterbush again this year, it’s currently backordered. Burpee’s Seeds carries the original Burpee’s Butterbush, describing it as a Burpee exclusive. Territorial offers Butterbush claiming that its vines are only 3-4 feet long. Fedco cautions that its Burpee’s Butterbush “though named and classed as a bush butternut” has determinate vines which can crawl up to 10′ in good fertility.” Mine crawled at least 6 feet.  Territorial also offers Hunter “a classic butternut” that matures faster than any other butternut they’ve trialed. Finally, Johnny’s has a mini-butternut squash called Butterscotch, an AAS winner that they developed. And Adaptive Seeds offers Butternut Early Remix an open pollinated variety they have been developing, selecting for early ripening.