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Kitchen Mailbox Countdown to Dinner Dining
Countdown to Dinner: Pretty Pleasing Pasta dish turns leftovers into nutritious meal

Thursday, September 07, 2000

Tested by Suzanne Martinson

Susan Vargas had a straightforward inspiration for a delicious, colorful dish she named Pretty Pleasing Pasta.

"Leftovers in the fridge," she said with a laugh. "I was hunting for something to make."

Susan, this week's Countdown to Dinner winner, had a momentous Friday. She said her elder daughter, Elena, 5, "just went to kindergarten today." But she didn't cry where her Bradford Woods Elementary kindergartner could see her.

Susan and her husband, Hugo, a gastroenterologist at the University of Pittsburgh, have a second daughter, Laura, 3. The Vargas family came to Wexford from central California about five years ago.

When Susan's not inventing recipes, she is a part-time graduate student in library and information science at Pitt. She takes one or two classes at a time. Asked if she thought the Internet would replace books, she endeared herself to us by saying no. Nor newspapers.

She said the hardest part of this recipe is cutting through the butternut squash -- tan outside, orange inside, with a bulb on the bottom -- so it can be cooked. "The challenge is cooking the squash -- they vary so much in size," she said. We found her directions right on target for our particular butternut squash.

She and I laughed about sneaking something nutritious into the dinner of my husband, who is wary when it comes to vegetables.

"Looks like a variation on macaroni and cheese," he said, mistaking the golden squash for a chunk of cheese. He never found out and called the dish good.

Said Susan: "What I mainly do is make too much for a meal, then I see what I can mix and match."

It makes an ample portion and was good reheated for a nutritious lunch.

Pretty Pleasing Pasta

Here's a fast, colorful and tasty main dish. I normally serve it with a green salad.

16 ounces rotini pasta
6 ounces crumbled feta cheese
1/2 pound fully cooked ham
1 1/2 to 2 cups cooked butternut squash (see note)

Cook rotini according to package instructions. Meanwhile, dice cooked squash and ham into 1/2-inch cubes. When rotini is done, drain and immediately return to the hot pot. Stir in the feta, breaking up any large pieces. Stir in ham and squash. Cover and let sit for 2 minutes to warm the ham and squash.

Note: If you don't have leftover cooked squash, there is time to cook some while the pasta cooks. Cut the ends off a butternut squash, slice it in half using your biggest knife, scoop out the seeds using a spoon, place halves cut-side down in a microwave-safe pan, puncture the skin a few places with a fork, tightly cover with plastic wrap and microwave on high for 8 minutes. Let sit, covered, for 5 minutes before peeling and dicing.

Do you have an entree, salad or vegetable side dish recipe (no desserts, please!) that can be made in 30 minutes or less from six ingredients or fewer (not counting water, salt and pepper)? Share it with Countdown to Dinner.

The PG tests all recipes and if we select your recipe for publication, you'll receive a free selection from our cookbook grab bag of current releases.

Send your recipe to Countdown to Dinner, Post-Gazette Food, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh, PA 15222, or fax to 412-263-1313. Please include your name, neighborhood and daytime phone number. Or e-mail to: nanderson@post-gazette.com. Questions? Call 412-263-1760.

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