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Reconnecting with Some Old Roots: Roasted Vegetable, Walnut and Cheese Rotini

As the price of fresh and out of season produce continues to soar here in Ottawa, I have been trying to be very creative cooking with good old roots. As much as I love our locally harvested root vegetables, I must admit that come this time of year, I crave (and often give in) to the tender greens that are shipped to us from faraway lands. However, with our poor Canadian dollar getting such a beating these days, it is really difficult to justify the cost of certain “luxury” vegetables. Especially those shipped to us from the United States. I still manage to sneak in zucchinis, cucumbers, celery and cherry tomatoes now and then but for the most part, roots and winter squash are the main plant contributions to our meals.

This pasta toss was a creative way to bring a breath of fresh air to the table while utilizing a nice variety of root vegetables. Like most pasta dishes, this one is easy to make. The toasted walnuts added a nice crunch to the dish. My King and my younger Prince are known carnivores yet they each enjoyed seconds of this dish. Knowing my men, when they pass on seconds, I know the meal was not a huge hit and I should simply forget the recipe ever existed. Reaching for a second helping definitely spells success in the «tasty» department!

This is a great way to clean out the fridge: I gathered a bunch of roots that were in the crisper, trying to use up what I had on hand. My mix of the moment consisted of squash, sweet potatoes, purple & yellow carrots, sunchokes and a purple radish like vegetable (an unfamiliar root that came with my farmer’s basket delivery). I also had about 5-6 cauliflower florets (I know, such luxury!!!). I could have added parsnips, turnips and beets as well. Bottom line is to use what you have on hand. As long as you can gather 8 cups of cubed vegetables, you are good to go. The recipe calls for toasted walnuts which can be replaced by your favourite nut or you can omit all together. That is the fun part of a recipe like this: what matters is the general idea, the rest is left to creativity!

Roasted Vegetable, Walnut and Cheese Rotini

What you need:

*oil: you may notice in the pictures the orange hue of the oil I used. It is organic cold extracted canola oil. I love to roast with this oil because the vegetables turn a beautiful shade of gold and it also has a light nutty taste. Use whatever neutral tasting oil you have on hand. Good choices are grape seed oil, avocado oil and sunflower oil

*Boursin™ cheese: it may not be available in your area. Boursin™ is a soft and creamy herb and garlic fresh cheese. You can substitute with any herb and garlic soft cheese or even ricotta. If using ricotta, I recommend adding 1-2 minced garlic cloves to the cheese.

How to do it:

  1. Preheat oven to 450°F
  2. Peel and cut hardy vegetables in cubes. Aim to gather 8 cups of cut vegetables
  3. Toss with oil, salt, sugar & pepper and spread onto large baking sheet.
  4. Roast in oven for 40 to 50 minutes, until the vegetables start to turn deep brown without burning. Remove from oven and set aside.
  5. While the vegetables are roasting, set a large pot of salted water to boil. Then chop feta cheese, chop parsley and grate the parmesan cheese. Set these aside.
  6. Spread walnuts on another baking sheet and add to the oven. The walnuts will take no time at all to toast because the oven is already set to such a high temperature. Maybe 5 minutes or so. Check the walnuts frequently: burnt walnuts taste very bitter. Once the walnuts start to turn golden brown, from the oven. Crumble or coarsely chop once cool enough to handle.
  7. Cook pasta according to package instructions. Once the pasta is cooked,  reserve 2 cups of the cooking liquid before draining. Set aside then drain pasta well.
  8. Return the empty pot to the stove and turn heat off. Add the Boursin™ and 1 cup of the reserved water. Blend until the cheese has melted together with the water into a sauce. It will be thinner than you expect. Return the drained pasta to the pot, stir well to coat. Add extra water as needed. I used an additional half a cup of water: I found 1 cup was quickly absorbed and the pasta was a bit dry.
  9. Toss the vegetables, feta, walnuts and parmesan with the pasta, reserving a little of each ingredient to garnish. Transfer the pasta into a large serving bowl. Taste and adjust salt and pepper if needed. Add the reserved garnish. Sprinkle with parsley and a few more sprinkle so parmesan.

This dish is delicious piping hot and is equally delicious served cold, as leftovers for lunch for instance.