My gripe about meatless dinners is that I often wake up hungry. I once welcomed the sensation, but no more. As the mother of two young kids, I change two diapers, warm two milks, and get two little mouths nibbling on fruit before I can crack an egg.
For Bec and Laurel, however, if they don’t have time to digest an egg sandwich before their first workout, being underfed translates to underperforming.
After the three of us commiserated, I decided to develop a hearty vegan or vegetarian dinner that would last until morning. First I tried lentils, since I received a box of heirloom legumes for the holidays. They were tasty and cheap. But they had such unbearable digestive consequences that my husband banned them from my repertoire.
I nixed tofu outright, but not for reasons of taste. I eat locally-made Hodo tofu weekly and adore its firm yet silky texture. But for this dish, I craved something not just meat-free, but meat-substitute free.
One morning, while foraging for a half-gallon of milk and Goldfish (kids cannot live on tofu alone) at the store, I grabbed some fresh butternut squash ravioli. That evening, I set out to bulk it up. I toasted a tray of walnuts and pulled a jar of pesto from the freezer. I rescued a bunch of kale that was languishing in the crisper, ripped the leaves into pieces, and stirred them into the simmering water with the ravioli.
It looked like a crazy concoction while I tossed it all together. But it worked. The bitter kale and walnuts temper the squash’s sweetness. The walnuts also add heart-healthy fat. The pesto layers on an herbal, garlicky flavor, and with its pine nuts and olive oil, more satisfying fat. The dish is as rich as my favorite meaty pasta, pappardelle al ragu. The next morning I didn’t even snap at the kids while the coffee steeped.
The pasta-squash-walnut combination has proved flexible. Once the summers’ pesto ran out, I stirred in soft goat cheese. Tangy and creamy, it hints at the comforting texture of macaroni and cheese. Another night fresh rigatoni and roasted butternut squash stood in for the ravioli. Bec riffed on the combination one evening for a solo dinner, mixing chopped walnuts into thinned butternut squash purée to make a sauce for gluten-free dried pasta. She drizzled the combo with store-bought pesto. Her bowl of pasta saw her through her morning workout with just an FRS energy drink and spoonful of peanut butter and honey for breakfast.
Butternut Squash Ravioli with Walnuts and Kale
Time: 25 minutes
1 teaspoon salt
¾ cup walnuts
12 ounces fresh butternut squash or pumpkin ravioli
1 bunch kale, ribs removed, torn into 2-inch pieces
½ cup pesto or soft goat cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
Fine sea salt
Preheat the oven to 350° F.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil with 1 teaspoon of salt.
Toast the walnuts until slightly darkened, 8 to 10 minutes. Coarsely chop the nuts, leaving some large pieces.
Lower the water to a simmer, and add the ravioli. Cook for 3 minutes. Add the kale leaves and cook for three more minutes. Drain.
Return the pot to the burner and turn the heat to low. Spoon the ravioli and kale into the pot. Fold in the pesto gently with a rubber spatula, so you don’t rip the pasta.
Divide the ravioli, kale, and pesto between two bowls. Top each with half the walnuts, a pinch of sea salt, and freshly ground black pepper to taste.