Tasting kale chips for the first time was a revelation. I didn't know kale, that stubbornly healthy and wretchedly sturdy vegetable, could be this good: crunchy and lick-your-fingers salty.
Pair this discovery with another one I'm, admittedly, late to the game to find out about: how to add texture to pasta. Soft and slippery, pasta doesn't cry out for contrasting textures the way other dishes do (like salad, ice cream sundaes, or sandwiches). Most of us have happily paired pasta with silky sauces and melted cheese and gone about the business of eating dinner without a second thought.
I did too, until I tried a recipe recently that called for crisp roasted chickpeas atop a bowl of pasta. Whoa, I thought, crunch on pasta is just like a crouton on salad: fine without it, but so much better with it. Add it to your list of clever kitchen tricks that will take your cooking from good to great.
This golden rule (a.k.a. always contrast textures) led me to an old Barilla pasta recipe that's perfect for fall. Comforting and rustic, wide ribbons of pappardalle are tossed with earthy cubes of roasted butternut squash and cherry tomatoes. To make it easy, the butternut squash and tomatoes are roasted together on one sheet pan and the kale on another. The tomatoes wilt and begin to release their juices as they roast, adding a sweet flavor to the pasta.
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Onion and garlic are briefly cooked in white wine to coax their flavors together, then in goes your cooked pasta, the roasted vegetables, and some reserved pasta water. The reduced white wine, the starchy pasta water, and the oil from the vegetables come together to gloss each strand of pasta with a savory slick of sauce.
Then, to take it over the top, the pasta's finished with a handful of crispy kale and some freshly grated Parmesan cheese. There's every sort of texture imaginable here—each mouthful interesting and rich with fall flavor.
Make this on a weeknight when a slight chill creeps into the air and you want to turn the oven on. Then make it again, and again, and marvel at how satisfying cooking for yourself (and contrast) can be.