Carb-ing Up For LOTOJA

It was tasty!
What is LOTOJA did you ask?  It is a bike race the second week of Sept. that is from LOgan TO JAckson Hole WY.  Get it?  That's how the famous bike race got it's name.  206 miles to be exact, and a lot of elevation gain.  Still to this day I cry every time we drive over Geneva Summit up Montpelier Canyon.  It was hard----really hard, and I cried at the top.  I cried at the top of Salt River Pass too.  It is a hard ride, but a lot of fun as well.  And I'm sure many of you are wondering if I actually did the race?  Well heck yes!!!  It was one of my proudest moments.  Right up there with marrying James and natural child birth.  I rode the race with 4 of my friends, James and the ever wonderful Spencer Burton.  I will love him forever!  He took our minds off the ride.  He would break into show tunes just when the going got tough.  We'd sing Oklahoma, and Mary Poppins the whole way.  We were officially the last people to come in the year we did the race, but I have to say at least we did it.  There were 200+ people who didn't even finish so I figure we beat them!

My two boys are riding again this year.  Just a relay, but still I wanted to have them carb-ed up for the big day.  I needed to carb up for the big day.  Support people are a big part of the day too, and how about the volunteering at registration.  That's tough.  Last time I volunteered I had 2 old boyfriends come through my line.  Crazy!   Or maybe it's just a really good excuse to try out a new recipe.  The pasta was a hit for sure.  At least Emma couldn't stop talking about it.  She loved the butternut squash in it.  It was tasty.  Here's to a prosperous LOTOJA!

(AKA Butternut, Squash, and Sausage Bake)

1 1/2 pounds butternut squash (2 medium), peeled and cut into 2-inch chunks 
1 tablespoon olive oil 
6 to 8 sprigs fresh thyme 
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided 
Coarsely ground black pepper 
1 pound Italian sweet sausage, removed from casings 
1 teaspoon fennel seeds 
1 bunch of kale, washed, tough stems removed and roughly chopped 
6 garlic cloves, chopped 
8 ounces uncooked rigatoni 
2 cups half-and-half 
1/2 cup low-sodium chicken broth 
1 1/2 cups finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese 
1/2 cup breadcrumbs 
Additional cheese for topping (grated Pecorino Romano or mozzarella)
1. Preheat oven to 400F. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Lightly oil a 13 x 9-inch baking dish. 
2. Toss together squash, olive oil, thyme, 1⁄4 teaspoon salt and pepper on a large baking sheet. Roast 20 to 25 minutes, until squash is tender, but not mushy. Discard thyme. 
3. Place sausage and fennel seeds in a large Dutch oven; cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently to break up sausage, until meat is no longer pink. Remove sausage and drain most of oil. Return pan to stove; lower heat to medium. Add kale and garlic; sauté until kale is wilted, 3 to 5 minutes. Add 1⁄4 teaspoon salt and pepper. Turn off heat and return sausage to pan. 
4. Reduce oven temperature to 375F. 
5. Cook pasta in boiling water, 2 minutes less than package directions. Drain well. Toss with sausage mixture. Add squash, half-and-half, chicken broth and half the cheese. Gently toss. Transfer to baking pan, top with breadcrumbs and remaining cheese. (If making in advance, allow mixture to come to room temperature, cover with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator.) 
6. Bake 25 minutes, until thoroughly heated and crusty on top. Serve with additional cheese. Serves 8. 

Relish the Holiday, "Abracadabra," October 2008. Recipe adapted with permission from Lauren Bank Deen’s Kitchen Playdates (Chronicle, 2007).

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