In the mid-2000s, when the drive to eat local was just heating up and terms like “100 mile diet” and “locovore” were entering the vernacular, I spent days decoding how feasible it would be to eat an entirely local diet in my then-home of Connecticut.
The answer? Not easy.
There weren’t many grains being grown there at the time, if any. Meat and poultry farmers were limited. And the growing season? Well, when that frost arrived, farming pretty much ceased.
Fast forward to today and things are so different. It’s a whole new world where local has infiltrated the mainstream. You can purchase farm-fresh veggies at the supermarket, food banks stock produce grown specifically for them and farmers markets — well, most anyway — carry everything from winter squash to breads to meats and cheeses.
And here in Maine, a growing grain revolution means that basics like flour, oats and other grains grown right here can be part of our diet too.
Even the limitations that once hampered local eating — like not being able to purchase local produce on non-farmers market days — have become less of an issue. Miss the Orono Farmers Market on Saturday? No problem! Bangor’s Farmers Market is on Sundays. Or just visit any number of other farmers markets instead. Want something now? I can pop over the Joshua Chamberlain Bridge to Tiller & Rye in Brewer and get everything I need for a completely local meal in one quick stop any day of the week.
All of this is eating local.
But that old notion that eating foods from a 100-mile radius is the way to go? It strikes me as ridiculous and arbitrary. What makes 100 miles different from 150 miles or even 250 miles? What I really want is produce that’s picked when it’s ripe, preferably from a farmer I can personally speak to and who follows principals of organic farming — even if they choose not to be certified.
The truth is that you can favor locally grown food stuffs, but still not eat in a 100-mile radius. Hell, if you’re buying Maine Grains oats in Portland, chances are those oats are from a lot farther than that distance. It’s about 100 miles from Portland to Skowhegan alone, and with many of the grains being grown farther north in The County — well, you do the math.
What does eating local mean to you? To me, it’s food grown where I live (Maine), preferably by farmers I see regularly. And I am so glad it’s something I can do so easily here.
As for this recipe, it’s one I have made countless times in different variations over the years. The basic premise is always the same: you slow roast veggies together, bringing out their inherent sweetness, and then toss them with al dente pasta and perhaps cheese.
I make this dish whenever I don’t have a plan for dinner. Or when we want pasta, but not a heavy dish. Or when the kitchen is overrun with veggies that need to be used but don’t have a plan. It’s flexible and easy, though it does take about an hour.
This version of my dish also has a hint of lemon flavor. It’s not overpowering though — roasting infuses lemon flavor into the veggies while limiting the acidness of it. Of course, if you want a stronger lemon flavor, squeeze a little extra fresh lemon on the pasta just before serving. Whatever you do, just be sure to remove the lemon rind — it’s quite bitter, even after roasting.
You can choose a different mix of veggies if you prefer — green bell peppers instead of the red ones, leeks instead of onions, adding broccoli or skipping it altogether. It’s also seasoned lightly — Adjust the seasonings to your preferences. I like the subtle flavors with or without cheese, but you might want to make it a touch bolder whether it’s with more lemon flavor or a sprinkle of fresh chopped herbs.
Any which way though, it’s one of our favorites.
- 1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
- 1 cup diced butternut squash (about a ½-inch dice)
- 1 small sweet onion, sliced and quartered
- 1 red bell pepper, sliced
- 1 lemon
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- salt and pepper, to taste
- ½ tsp dried oregano
- ½ lb dried pasta
- Optional: broccoli florets (about 1 cup), parmesan cheese, diced fresh mozzarella cheese
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray a baking sheet with cooking oil spray or brush with oil.
- Add the tomatoes, butternut squash, onions and red peppers to the baking sheet. (If using broccoli too, add at this point.) Slice and quarter the lemon and toss with the veggies. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper and oregano.
- Roast the veggies for 45-60 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes, until they begin to brown. Remove from the oven and discard lemon rinds.
- Cook pasta according to package directions. Toss with the roasted veggies. Serve immediately, or add parmesan and/or mozzarella cheese and toss well before serving.