There's nothing like a piping-hot bowl of pasta on a cold night. Make this creamy pesto pasta with chorizo and butternut squash to satisfy any guilty pleasure this winter. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune

There’s nothing like a piping-hot bowl of pasta on a cold night. Make this creamy pesto pasta with chorizo and butternut squash to satisfy any guilty pleasure this winter. ALAN BENNETT/Journal Tribune

Were you one of the millions of Americans who made a resolution to lose weight or get more active in this new year? You’re certainly not the only one. Last year alone, according to a Nielsen survey, 36 percent of Americans said they wanted to get more active in 2016, and another 32 percent of said they wanted to lose weight.

Certainly eating healthy is important, and I try to eat as green and clean as possible while maintaining an active lifestyle. But it’s also true that the new year comes at an inconvenient time: the dead of winter.

It’s cold outside, these January days and, true to my upbringing, I find there’s nothing more comforting and warming in the blustery months than a heaping bowl of pasta.

I always remember coming inside from a long day of shoveling to find a hot pot of tomato sauce on the stove, with a loaf of crusty bread readily available for dipping. And, while pasta may not be the healthiest of options, it’s certainly worth the caloric load for the sake of warmth.

Here, I’ve attempted (read: attempted) to lighten things up by adding fresh vegetables to a pot of rich, creamy, pesto-coated cavatappi pasta. The roasted butternut squash here is both sweet and creamy, while the sautéed mushrooms provide a savory note that underscores the tangy basil. I’ve livened up the dish — and given rest to the basic meatball — but adding rounds of spicy, Spanish chorizo sausage, which balances the creamy sauce.

Rather than my mother’s favorite marinara, I’ve opted for my favorite sauce: pesto. It’s one of those classic Italian sauces that’s perfect all on its own — simply made with basil, pine nuts or walnuts, parmesan cheese and olive oil. I add lemon juice for bite, and it also helps prevent the sauce from turning brown, in addition to a touch of heavy cream to coat the pasta in velvety richness.

Served with a side salad and a chunk of crusty bread, this pasta dish makes a delicious family dinner for when you’ve been snowed in and tensions are running high, or a fabulous date night feast in front of a cozy fireplace. Either way you eat it, it’s undeniably good.

— Staff Writer Alan Bennett can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 329 or [email protected]

Creamy pesto pasta with winter vegetables and chorizo 
Time: 1 hour (45 minutes active)
Serves: 5 to 6 

For the pasta: 
1 pound cavatappi or other curly pasta, like fusilli or campanelle
1 cup butternut squash, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes
2 cups sliced mushrooms of choice
½ medium spanish onion, sliced lengthwise
1 clove garlic, finely minced
8 ounces chorizo sausage, links intact
3 tablespoons olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly-ground black pepper
Fresh basil leaves, for garnish
Grated parmesan cheese, for garnish

For the pesto sauce:
2 cups fresh basil leaves, stems removed
¼ cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped
¼ cup grated parmesan cheese
3 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
½ cup heavy cream or half-and-half
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil 
Water to thin, as needed

Heat oven to 450 degrees. On a large, rimmed baking sheet, toss the butternut squash with one tablespoon olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Roast for 25 to 30 minutes until soft and beginning to brown.

In a separate, medium skillet over medium-high heat, heat remaining two tablespoons olive oil and sear the chorizo, 3 minutes per side, until cooked through. Remove the chorizo and set aside, leaving the fat in the pan. Add the mushrooms and onions to the pan and toss to coat in the olive oil and sausage fat. Sauté for about 10 minutes, until soft and brown. Add one clove of garlic and cook for one minute, then remove from heat and set aside.

Set a large pot of heavily-salted water over high heat to and bring to a boil. Add the pasta to the water, stirring occasionally, and cook according to package directions.

Meanwhile, make the pesto. Add the basil, garlic, cheese, lemon juice, salt and pepper and cream into a blender and blend until the basil is finely minced, but not puréed. Turn off the blender and add the walnuts and olive oil. Blend to combine and add water, a tablespoon or two at a time, to thin if needed.

When the squash is ready, remove from the oven and set aside. Drain the pasta, reserving about one cup of pasta cooking water, and return to the pot, reducing the heat to low. Add the pesto sauce, squash, onions and mushrooms and gently toss to combine. If the pasta looks a little dry, add some pasta water to dampen.

Slice the chorizo into rounds and serve over bowls of the pasta. Finish the dish by topping with torn basil leaves and grated parmesan cheese.

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