Take out your pencils and pasta.

This past weekend, I had the ultimate pleasure of catering a day-long writing workshop on writing food memoirs. The organization, Girls Write Now, mentors at-risk, underserved teenage girls who are aspiring writers. They are also the only organization that combines youth mentoring and writing instruction in an all-girl atmosphere. I thought the concept was amazing before attending the workshop on Saturday. Now that I've heard and read writing samples by these creative, talented young women, I can tell you that what they are doing at Girls Write Now is truly special and unique.

The girls had a special workshop planned already, with craft talks given by esteemed chefs and writers, Gabrielle Hamilton, Julie Powell and Cheryl Tan. But given the theme of food writing and the holiday season, I thought they also needed some festive food offerings with interesting flavors and textures to inspire their writing even more. They needed holiday cookies. They needed tea sandwiches. And of course, they needed pasta. I've yet to find an occasion, holiday or menu that couldn't benefit from a hearty pasta dish and Saturday was no exception.

This recipe, courtesy of Chef Scott Conant, combines the flavors of the season with interesting texture and bright colors. The butternut squash lends a certain meatiness to the dish, while the crispy pancetta gives a salty bite to each forkful. Torn sage instantly evokes the smells and flavors of the holidays.

Note: This recipe calls for 3/4 lb. of pasta. Never in my life have I opened a box of pasta without cooking the entire pound. For shame. I cooked the whole box and simply upped the quantities of the remaining ingredients here and there. I encourage you to do the same--second helpings will definitely be served. 

Penne with Roasted Buttnernut Squash, Pancetta and Sage
Serves 4

    • 1 medium (about 2 1/4 pounds) butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (about 3 cups)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Coarse salt
  • 3/4 pound penne pasta
  • 3 ounces pancetta, sliced 1/4 inch thick and finely chopped
  • 2 shallots, thinly sliced crosswise
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper, flakes
  • 10 fresh sage leaves, coarsely chopped or torn
  • 1/2 cup finely grated pecorino Romano cheese, plus more for serving
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place butternut squash on a rimmed baking sheet and toss with 1 tablespoon of olive oil; season with salt. Transfer to oven and roast until squash is browned and tender, about 15 minutes.
  2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Generously salt water and return to a boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente, according to package directions. Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup cooking liquid. Set pasta and reserved cooking liquid aside.
  3. Meanwhile, heat remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add pancetta and cook until just crisp, 4 to 5 minutes. Add shallots, crushed red pepper, and sage. Cook until shallots are soft, 4 to 5 minutes. Add penne and squash and toss gently, adding reserved pasta cooking liquid as necessary to moisten.
  4. Add cheese and black pepper and cook, tossing gently, until pasta and squash are heated through. Serve immediately with more grated cheese, if desired.


How to dine out with the boss.

There are small number of people in my life that pop up, every month or so, like clockwork, with the same question:

"My boss wants restaurant recommendations/I'm going to lunch with my boss/My company is taking out clients. Where should we go?"

The whole dining-out-with-superiors situation can be an intimidating one, especially if you're the one suggesting the location. I've answered this question enough to have formed a definitive an opinion on what is and what is certainly NOT okay when it comes to choosing a restaurant.

My DON'T list will hopefully come in handy. Or at least it will alleviate one layer of awkwardness the next time you and the Big Cheese break bread.

DON'T choose a restaurant....

-That offers a too-trendy menu. Assuming that your boss will be into fried, bacon-wrapped hot dogs topped with kimchi is a mistake.

-That does tapas. Sharing may be awkward and ordering one small plate to avoid sharing will leave you both starved and grouchy.

-Whose entire staff either wears skin-tight denim, rocks the bed head, looks too cool to wait tables, or sports disturbing, nature-defying facial hair.

-That's brand new. There are kinks to be worked out, lines to wait in, and music that will have your boss feeling older that he/she is when said boss realizes they can't hear a thing.

-That's too old. If your boss is successful, it's for a reason. They think ahead of the curve, are smart and on their toes. Being surrounded by retired geriatrics at a sleepy, Upper East Side piano bar insults their relevance and hip-to-the-jive sensibility.

-That's too expensive. Unless they say, "I'm looking for a three Michelin star experience," the main course shouldn't cost more than $35. Tops. If it does, it's probably coming out of your bonus, you ingrate.

-Known for it's avant-garde menu. A riff on my first point, your boss may not appreciate being unfamiliar with everything on the menu. Creativity is fine, but sous vide sweetbreads served en croute with confit byaldi and Parmesan foam? I think not.

That said, stick to the classics, take note of the type of food they usually eat, play it safe and throw in a curve ball once in a while. It's just a meal, after all.

Bon Reservation-Making!