One of my favorite parts of writing about food is the sheer number of great people I’ve met in all parts of the farming and food service industry. One of the most excellent of these folks is chef Ken Dempsey, a talented cook who I first became acquainted with through his delicious and artistic food at E’s Bistro in North Little Rock. Ken’s a guy who loves great food and knows how to make food great.
Like so many great cooks, Ken developed a love for food at home, “throwing down” (as he puts it) in the kitchen with a grandmother who “made everything from scratch without recipes, even desserts.” His philosophy about food is similar to my own, in that he thinks that food “brings people together and takes people to a better place. Even during trying times food can be the comfort someone needs to breathe a little easier.”
Chef Dempsey is Central Arkansas born and bred, and his career has kept him (thankfully) around this area. Starting off as a dish washer and sandwich maker at the Maumelle Country Club, chef Dempsey moved on to Ristorante Capeo, where he says he learned a lot from the Italian restaurant’s well-run kitchen. After Capeo, chef Dempsey took over the kitchen at E’s — which in my mind is one of the best values for great food in the state. He’s recently taken a position as the head chef at the Arkansas Surgical Hospital in Maumelle, an opportunity he says will help him learn even more from running such a large kitchen.
In keeping with my desire to talk about pasta this week, I asked Ken to share a pasta recipe with us. The result is an excellent, non-traditional pasta dish that had my mouth watering the entire time I was writing this. Everything is from scratch in this recipe, but I encourage all of you to try it, adapt it — just make it.
Three Seasons, Four Squash with Pappardelle Pasta
From the chef: “This pasta recipe combines three seasons to make one completely harmonious dish. It takes a little time but is worth the effort, especially for special occasions. If you plan ahead a couple of days then the recipe as a whole is a breeze. You will impress your friends, family and even yourself if and only if you have fun making this dish. After all, food should be fun! Here we go!”
For the Pasta:
*3 cups flour
*4 fresh eggs (the fresher the better)
*Teaspoon plus a dash table salt
*Tablespoon olive oil
Poor flour onto a flat dry surface and make a well in the center of the flour with enough room to hold the eggs, salt and olive oil. Put the eggs, salt and olive oil in the flour well and begin whisking with a fork, slowly incorporating the flour with the egg mixture until you have a nice dough. If the dough seems a bit dry then add a little water. If the dough seems too wet and sticky then add a little flour. It’s important to know that sometimes not all the flour will be incorporated into the pasta dough and that’s perfectly fine. The most important part is next. You must knead and work the dough until fairly smooth and elastic (at least 7 minutes). Wrap the dough in plastic and let rest 30 minutes. After the dough has rested cut into four equal parts for rolling. If you’ve made pasta before and have a pasta machine then the next step is easy. Roll the pasta to the next to last setting. Lay out the pasta sheets and hand cut cross ways into about 1 inch noodles. If you don’t have a pasta machine then I would recommend getting one at your local kitchen supply store. I purchased mine for $25. They are easy to take care of and don’t take up a lot of room. However, there are two other options: 1)Make all Italian grandmothers proud and roll out the dough with a hand roller or 2)Ditch making fresh pasta and buy your favorite pasta from the grocery store. Fresh pasta cooks in about 2 – 3 minutes… much quicker than the 7-8 minutes dry pasta takes.
Squash and other stuff:
*1 Acorn Squash
*1 Butternut Squash
*1 Yellow Squash
*1 Zucchini Squash
*4 strips GOOD bacon chopped into ½ inch pieces
*Handful whole grape tomatoes
*4 cloves minced garlic
*2 lemon halves
*Fresh grated Parmesan
*1 cup fresh julienne basil
*2 tablespoons toasted sliced almonds
*Teaspoon red pepper flakes
*Kosher salt and coarse ground pepper
Peel the butternut squash and cut into about 1 inch pieces (it’s easier to peel if you microwave for about 2 minutes). Slice the Acorn squash in half with a sturdy knife then gut and discard the middle. Cut the remaining Acorn squash into about 1 inch pieces (leave the flesh on). Cut the yellow and zucchini squash into about 1 inch pieces and set aside together. The Acorn and Butternut should be set aside together as well.
In a large skillet over fairly high heat, sauté the bacon until the fat is rendered and bacon is done. Set bacon aside. With the bacon fat still in the pan throw in 1/2 cup each of the Acorn and Butternut squash and cook until a nice browning appears on the squash and. This won’t happen if you keep stirring and shaking the pan so leave it alone a bit… trust me… you’ll be glad you did! Throw in 1/2 cup each of the Zucchini and Yellow squash, garlic, tomatoes, pepper flakes, a couple pinches of the salt and pepper. Cook until the Yellow and Zucchini squash are tender but not mushy. Throw in the basil, bacon, juice from 1 lemon half and about ¼ cup of the parmesan and gently mix. Salt and pepper to taste.
Place desired amount of squash mixture over cooked pasta and top with a few toasted almonds and grated Parmesan. Serve with a lemon wedge and enjoy! Oh… the third season… it’s fall now!