A bunch of years ago, some friends were visiting from Switzerland. It was the Summer of the Gnus. I did what everyone else in town did with guests that summer. I took them on a walking tour of Main Street to see the colorful cows. It was a lovely day, warm and sunny. We parked at the top of the town green, stopped for coffee along the way and turned around at the farm. We chatted and admired and chatted some more.
About the time we turned around to head back to the car, Bob remarked, “At least a dozen people have greeted you by name.” I’m pretty sure he was exaggerating but he continued, “I could walk up and down the Rue du Rhone all day and not see anyone I knew.” Or maybe he mentioned the Rue de l’Hotel-de-Ville, it was a while ago. Anyway, there is nothing anonymous about living in a small town. No, not everyone knows your name but a good many do. And for those that don’t, there’s a pretty good chance they know someone in your family.
With or without houseguests, October is a wonderful time to meander up and down Main Street. Just about now, the foliage is at its peak. It’s cool enough to wear a sweater but you don’t need to pile on a parka and heavy boots. If you grew up in New England, a sweater has got to be your favorite piece of clothing. Southern girls can have their fluffy, flowery dresses, Californians – their bikinis and let those Midwest farm girls wear their jeans or overalls or whatever. Gimme a cozy sweater any day. Cotton, wool or cashmere, they’re all good.
Today, only a handful of gnus continue to strut their stuff on Main Street. The majority were adopted and are now hidden away in backyards. Luckily, October brings a brand new diversion – the invasion of the Pumpkin People. So please, you must take an hour to wander up and down Main Street. If you want; you can make a few stops along the way and support the local economy. Buy yet another sweater or sip a coffee in the sunshine. It’s all good.
If you’re feeling particularly energized, you can take it around the bend. There are a few more Pumpkin People on Newport Road. While nothing was up as I rushed to meet my deadline, the hospital can usually be counted on for a nice display. For anyone counting steps, the round trip from the top of the Town Green to the hospital and back is about three miles.
It’s more than worth the trip. The creativity of our merchants is impressive and you will be absolutely charmed by the Cub Scouts’ delightful display. From Dorothy and her three friends sashaying down the yellow brook road to Cookie Monster and Elmo, there something for everyone.
As important, you’ll see lots of smiling people. Real people that is, not the pumpkin head kind. There’s a very good chance that at least one real person will compliment your sweater. The combination of wonderful foliage, pumpkins and smiles will remind you of why small New England towns are so special.
Happy fall and bon appétit!
This cozy, country-style ragù is great with pasta on a chilly night. Enjoy!
- 2 pounds eating pumpkin* or winter squash, seeded, peeled and cut in small dice (3-4 cups)
- Olive oil
- Balsamic vinegar
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 large onion, cut in small dice
- 1 1/2-2 pounds Italian sausage – sweet or hot or a mix, casings removed and cut into small pieces
- 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon minced fresh sage
- 2 teaspoons fresh thyme
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 2 cups or more chicken broth
- 1-2 tablespoons cognac
- 1 cup or more half and half
- 1 pound hearty short or long pasta, try rigatoni, fettucine or tortellini
- Garnish: grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and/or Pecorino Romano cheese
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Put the pumpkin in a large skillet, drizzle with enough equal parts olive oil and vinegar to lightly coat, sprinkle with salt and pepper and toss to coat. Roast for 15 minutes.
Add the onion and sausage to pumpkin and toss to combine. Return to the oven for 15 minutes.
Add the garlic, herbs and nutmeg to the pan and toss to combine. Stir in the white wine, 1 cup chicken broth and the cognac and return to the oven.
After 15 minutes, give the ragù a stir, add more chicken broth if necessary and return to the oven. After another 15 minutes, stir in the half and half and return to the oven for a final 10-15 minutes.
Meanwhile cook the pasta according to package directions.
Reserving a little of the pasta water, drain the pasta and return it to the pot. Add the ragù and toss to combine. If the pasta seems dry, add a little of the pasta water or more chicken broth or cream. Cover and cook on low for 1-2 minutes.
Transfer the pasta to a deep platter or individual shallow bowls and serve with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and/or Pecorino Romano.
* The pumpkins you carve for Halloween are stringy and tasteless, not good for eating. Try a sugar, cheese or peek-a-boo pumpkin. Then again, you can’t go wrong with butternut squash.
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Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2019