Rotini with Brown Butter Pumpkin Sauce

Ah, fall. It’s pretty much nonexistent in metro Atlanta and places further south than we are. But, about this time every year, I like to pretend I still live in Lexington – a place where fall is just beautiful, and the only place I’ve ever lived where there actually was a true fall – and act like the temps are cooler and the leaves are changing faster than they are.

Fall rituals help quite a bit in the “feels like fall” department. It starts with the most awesome ritual of all: college football season. You start out going to games where you feel like you’re melting, and end the season bundled up in your favorite Auburn hoodie.

The next big ritual is the purchase of delicious fall/pumpkin beers, my two favorites being Dogfish Head Punk’d and, my favorite adult beverage of all adult beverages able to be purchased in a bottle: Woodchuck Fall Cider. It’s only available in September and October. It’s seriously fall in a bottle. I get giddy when I know it’s in my fridge. Starting September 1, I call my local Total Wine daily until they tell me it’s in stock. For some reason, the Atlanta area was delayed in receiving their shipment this year (which meant I was really annoying to a lot of Total Wine employees this year), but my sweet husband found me some this week and left it waiting for me on the kitchen counter when I got home on Wednesday. It really did feel like Christmas day. I did a little happy dance and everything.

When Dave bought it, the person at checkout commented that they’d “been getting so many calls about this recently.” Dave responded that 90% of them were probably me.

Of course, Halloween rituals are the best of all. My first memory – yep, the earliest thing I remember ever happening – was Halloween 1984. I dressed up as a witch, and my aunts Leia & Sherry took me trick-or-treating. My mom was unable to take me that year because she’d just given birth earlier that day to my baby brother. I was so excited we were going to the hospital, because I thought we were going to get my candy x-rayed like they suggested on the public service ads I’d seen on tv.┬áTurns out, I was just going to see Heath. His Halloween birthday meant that Halloween for us every year was a HUGE deal. It always meant a party AND trick-or-treating. The end of October definitely has a special place in my heart.

(This is Heath and me, playing in our yard at home, I think in 1986. Mom always painted instead of carved a pumpkin every year. I wish I’d inherited her craftiness. Wasn’t Heath just the cutest little chunk muffin?)

Speaking of Lexington in the fall and Halloween rituals, did you know that every year, a local dance studio coordinates the reenactment of Michael Jackson’s Thriller on Main Street, starting at the historic Kentucky Theater? It’s the coolest thing ever. Zombies come out from the sidewalks and then they march in perfect choreography down the street! Fast forward to the 3 minute mark to see that. I like to think of it as the original flash mob; they’ve been doing it since 2002.

Another way I trick myself into thinking that it’s actually fall around here is by making fall meals. Last night, for example, I wanted something to complement my fall cider. So, I ended up with fall in a bottle AND fall in a bowl with this one. Curled up on the couch with this meal, the windows open, in pajama pants and watching the cat ignoring me, I have to say it made for a perfect fall Friday night.

It’s super hearty, so despite the cream and butter, I think this could technically be called a healthy meal, since you don’t really have to eat too much of it to be filled up. It’s also high in fiber, is quick to whip up (I’d do this as a weeknight meal), and it pretty cheap to make if you keep a stocked pantry.

Rotini with Brown Butter Pumpkin Sauce

for 2-3 servings, depending on how hungry you are

First: cook 2 servings of whole-wheat rotini (yes, I used whole-wheat. It was actually really good. I think Kroger brand pasta has changed their recipe of whole-wheat pastas so that they’re now pretty tasty) in boiling, salted water for 10 minutes or until al dente. Make sure to save some of the pasta water for later.

While that’s cooking, prepare your sauce. Brown 2 tablespoons butter, which means you cook it over medium high heat until it turns brown. You MUST use a stainless sauce pan for this to really work; you can’t tell if it’s brown or burnt in a nonstick pan. Unless you’re just that good. And if you are, why are you reading my amateur blog? It took my butter about 5 minutes of cooking to turn to the browned point. Remove from heat immediately upon the butter turning a light brown and set aside for later. It can go from “browned” to “burnt” and yucky in a matter of seconds, so watch it carefully. The point of bringing butter to the browned stage, instead of just melting it, is that when butter is browned, the flavor turns nutty, which is an incredible flavor addition that pairs really well with the heartiness of the pumpkin and complements the toasted walnuts you’ll add as a topping.

Dice about 1/2 cup onion, and sautee in some EVOO until translucent. Deglaze the pan with about 1/4 cup white wine. Cook until liquids are reduced by at least half, then incorporate 1 cup canned pumpkin. Add salt, pepper and a pinch of sage. Heat through, then add about 1/2 cup heavy cream. Combine, and bring to a gentle simmer. Stir in the browned butter. Take about 1/4 cup of the water you cooked the rotini in, and add it to the sauce to thin it out. You could also add half & half or more cream, but the water really helped to thin it out while also adding a nice carb-y flavor. I like carbs.

Toast some walnuts. In a nonstick pan, heat a handful of walnuts over medium heat, turning occasionally. As soon as you start to smell them (about 5 minutes), remove from heat and chop. Toasting the walnuts really brings out their flavor.

Drain pasta, combine it with the sauce, top with some parmesan cheese and the toasted walnuts, and you’ve got yourself a hearty, tasty fall meal.