The Cooking Light Pick Fresh Cookbook

by Seasonal Wisdom on December 16, 2013

Post image for The Cooking Light Pick Fresh Cookbook

Even in winter you can eat delicious garden-fresh foods, such as this Bacon, Kale and Butternut Pasta that is just about to go in the oven. It’s from the Cooking Light Pick Fresh Cookbook, and this seasonal recipe is as delicious as it looks. Photo copyright Mary Beth Shaddix.

In this post, the author Mary Beth Shaddix shares the recipe for this ultimate “comfort food” with Seasonal Wisdom. She also explains what it’s like to run the kitchen garden that supplies Cooking Light, the nation’s largest epicurean magazine, with fresh herbs, vegetables and fruits for its recipe testing. Plus, you may even win a copy of her cookbook! But hurry—this giveaway ends at midnight on Dec. 20, 2013.  Congratulations to Wendy K. for winning the random drawing.

Mary Beth Shaddix is the author of The Cooking Light Pick Fresh CookbookPhoto copyright Cedric Angeles/Cooking Light

I should start this post by saying that Mary Beth is a friend of mine, who I met through the garden writing/blogging world. She’s not only a genuinely nice woman, but a talented one. Her life has recently turned on to a new, exciting path.

“After 10 years working in the marketing and research department at Cooking Light, I ditched the suit and desk to try my hand at something more hands-on,” explains Mary Beth.

Trading in her business suits for rubber boots, she began learning the breadth of gardening at a local retail nursery and became certified as a Master Gardener. Little did she know, the manager who curiously eyed her resumé at the nursery would soon be her husband.

They now grow together at their wholesale nursery and farm, Maple Valley Nursery, near Birmingham, Alabama. “Today, instead of drafting 5-year strategic plans, I knock on the back door of the test kitchens at Cooking Light magazine, delivering crates of tomatoes, bundles of plump radishes, and a watermelon so heavy that it broke the photography light table!”

Lizard eats pests in garden of author of The Cooking Light Pick Fresh CookbookPhoto copyright Mary Beth Shaddix

Mary Beth works with the Cooking Light staff to plot and plan what vegetables, fruits, and herbs to grow in the trial garden. Above, a lizard is protecting her cool-season kale and chard from pests.

“I spotlight our successes, paired with the Test Kitchen’s recipes of how to use these gorgeous harvests, in the magazine each month,” says Mary Beth. “Many of the adventures make it onto the blog, revealing if the purple sprouting broccoli was worth the six-month wait, or sharing the melon-snatching coyotes caught on camera.”

Bacon, Kale and Butternut Pasta from The Cooking Light Pick Fresh CookbookPhoto copyright Mary Beth Shaddix

Mary Beth’s Tips for Bacon, Kale and Butternut Pasta

Here’s how Mary Beth prepares this hearty winter greens dish from the Cooking Light Pick Fresh Cookbook, in her own words:

If you’d like a hearty recipe to share with family during the holidays to showcase ingredients from your cool-season garden, this one pulls out all of the stops. I used our kale, chard, butternut squashes, garlic, onions, dried red pepper flakes and homemade crème fraiche.

This Lacinato kale and swiss chard for recipe in The Cooking Light Pick Fresh CookbookPhoto copyright Mary Beth Shaddix

Lacinato kale, also known as Dinosaur kale or Tuscan kale to many, is a cool-weather must. I find its texture is the best for both cooking and eating fresh, and the flavor sweetens after a few frosts.

Paired with butternut squash stored from our summer garden, this recipe brings “homemade with love” to a whole new level. And bacon – everything is better with bacon! Your guests won’t know that a meal like this is light, while you relish the fact that the garden provided the groceries.

Harvesting greens for a recipe in The Cooking Light Pick Fresh CookbookPhoto copyright Mary Beth Shaddix

The versatility of this recipe works well for what you may have in the garden now. Switch kale for colorful Swiss chard. Or, add mustard greens for a tangy bite to balance the sweet butternut. I used 3 cups of chopped kale and 1 cup of chard in the version here.

You can also save time by prepping a few ingredients ahead.

Cube the butternut squash in this recipe in The Cooking Light Pick Fresh CookbookPhoto copyright Mary Beth Shaddix

The day before, tackle cubing the butternut and make your own crème fraîche.

Making homemade creme fraiche for The Cooking Light Pick Fresh Cookbook recipe.Photo copyright Mary Beth Shaddix

Our local grocer doesn’t carry crème fraîche, so I made a batch with ingredients I have on hand: buttermilk and heavy cream. It’s important to this recipe because it lends a tangy creaminess to the dish, but the sauce will not break down when heated.

Mix 2 tablespoons buttermilk for each cup of heavy cream. I doubled this amount so I’d have extra to serve atop roasted figs and pears for dessert. Mix in a jar, cover with cheesecloth, and leave in a warm, 70-degree countertop spot for at least 12 hours.

You’ll find ways to use this tangy, rich crème on everything, from tacos to fresh fruit to Swiss Chard with Crème Fraîche, another recipe in the Cooking Light Pick Fresh Cookbook.

How to destem the greens in The Cooking Light Pick Fresh Cookbook.Photo copyright Mary Beth Shaddix

Using fresh kale and chard can be a snap in any pasta recipe with two tips. Easily de-stem the leaves by pinching the end of the stem between your thumb and finger, hold the end with your other hand, and pull quickly towards the tip. It zips off quickly, leaving you with stems for composting or vegetable broth.

Secondly, since kale can be slightly more rigid than other greens, dunk it in the boiling water for the last two minutes of cooking the pasta. Voilà—great results and one less pan to clean.

Bacon Butternut Pasta in The Cooking Light Pick Fresh CookbookPhoto copyright Johnny Autry/Cooking Light

RECIPE: Bacon, Kale, and Butternut Pasta – The Cooking Light Pick Fresh Cookbook

Hands-on time: 38 min. Total time: 1 hr. 15 min.

Bacon, pasta, cheese, and sweet winter squash are nothing you’d think to see on the light menu, but indulge. The Test Kitchen tried multiple variations of greens. Kale, with its earthy heartiness, helps to balance the sweetness from the squash. Also try Swiss chard, or for a more peppery bite, try substituting mustard greens.


5 cups (1/2-inch) cubed peeled butternut squash

1 tablespoon olive oil

Cooking spray

12 ounces uncooked ziti (short tube-shaped pasta), campanile, or other short pasta

4 cups chopped kale

2 bacon slices

2 cups vertically sliced onion

1 teaspoon salt, divided

5 garlic cloves, minced

2 cups fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth, divided

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1 cup crème fraîche

11/2 ounces shredded Gruyère cheese (about 1/3 cup)


1. Preheat oven to 400°.

2. Combine squash and oil in a large bowl; toss well. Arrange squash mixture in a single layer on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Bake at 400° for 30 minutes or until squash is tender.

3. Cook pasta 7 minutes or until almost al dente, omitting salt and fat. Add kale to pan during last 2 minutes of cooking. Drain pasta mixture.

4. Cook bacon in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat until crisp. Remove bacon from pan; crumble. Add onion to drippings in pan; cook 6 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add 1/2 teaspoon salt and garlic; cook 1 minute, stirring occasionally.

5. Bring 1 3/4 cups broth to a boil in a small saucepan. Combine remaining 1/4 cup broth and flour in a small bowl, stirring with a whisk. Add flour mixture, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, and pepper to broth. Cook 2 minutes or until slightly thickened. Remove from heat; stir in crème fraîche.

6. Combine squash, pasta mixture, bacon, onion mixture, and sauce in a large bowl; toss gently. Place pasta mixture in a 13 x 9-inch glass or ceramic baking dish coated with cooking spray; sprinkle evenly with cheese. Bake at 400° for 25 minutes or until bubbly and slightly browned. Serves 8 (serving size: about 11/2 cups).

CALORIES: 348; FAT: 19.8g (sat 5.6g, mono 11.1g, poly 2g); PROTEIN: 14.5g; CARB 29.4g; FIBER 2.9g; CHOL 73mg; IRON 3.3mg; SODIUM 589mg; CALC 220mg

Swiss Chard Stained Glass for The Cooking Light Pick Fresh Cookbook recipePhoto copyright Mary Beth Shaddix

As the pasta dish bakes, pull out those seed catalogs that have been arriving in the mail. Dishes like this inspire me to begin “grocery lists” for what seeds to sow next spring. We’re always dreaming of new ingredients to add to the Cooking Light Garden.

Follow what I’m growing for the test kitchens – and the fresh recipes created especially for our garden goods – each issue and on our garden site.

Mary Beth Shaddix is author of The Cooking Light Pick Fresh CookbookPhoto copyright Jim Bathie/Oxmoor House

About the Author

Mary Beth Shaddix leads the Cooking Light garden, bringing harvests of fruits, vegetables and herbs to the pages of Cooking Light magazine and Pick Fresh Cookbook.  She and her husband grow together at their wholesale nursery and farm, Maple Valley Nursery, near Birmingham, Alabama. She is also the founder/owner of A New Leaf Consulting, helping national consumer brands and media companies tell their stories.

Win this Book!

the cooking light pick fresh cookbook makes a great holiday gift.

Photo copyright Seasonal Wisdom

Here’s your opportunity to win an autographed copy of the Cooking Light Pick Fresh Cookbook.  This attractive cookbook is packed with lots of great, easy-to-understand information about buying, growing and cooking with 50 garden favorites. Including:

  • 150 garden-to-table recipes, from appetizers to desserts
  • Tips about how to grow your own produce anywhere, whether it’s a big backyard or small containers
  • Seasonal garden plans and good solid gardening basics
  • Lots of gorgeous, color photos on nearly every page

Personally, I’m eager to try the Melon and Fig Salad with Prosciutto and Balsamic Drizzle, as well as that Fresh Pea and Garlic Gazpacho. Perhaps that Roast Pork Tenderloin with Thyme-Scented Plums. Or, maybe that Fresh Mint Ice Cream …

Yum! Talk about a perfect last-minute holiday gift for your favorite gardener or cook!

Enter to win below … it’s easy and there are several ways to participate.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Good luck everyone! PLEASE don’t forget to check your spam folder to see if you won. This random drawing ends at midnight on December 20, 2013.  Congratulations to Wendy K. for winning! Thanks to all who entered.

Disclosure: This prize was provided at no charge. But my opinions are my own, and I was not reimbursed for writing or planning this giveaway.


Michal Conger December 16, 2013 at 12:52 pm

That pasta and the cookbook both look amazing! I think even my husband will eat butternut squash if I put it in pasta with bacon. How can you go wrong?

Jenny K. December 16, 2013 at 12:58 pm

I live and work on a boarding school campus and just this year our new director of sustainability led the students and faculty in creating a garden that provides vegetables and herbs to our dining hall. Faculty members were invited to share in the bounty. I am still enjoying the garlic, herbs and hot peppers that I dried this fall. I’m looking forward to checking out Pick Fresh to get some ideas about what to suggest planting next spring!

Amber Graham December 16, 2013 at 2:21 pm

I love your story Mary Beth and you inspire me not only in the kitchen, but to know that it is never too late to pursue a new career. I’m going to try the butternut squash pasta dish soon.

Sandy Scofield December 16, 2013 at 2:14 pm

Would be a step towards eating good for us food.

Christine @Buckling Bookshelves December 16, 2013 at 4:32 pm

I would love to win because I love seasonal recipes/cookbooks! I particularly love cooking with winter squash and baking with fresh cranberries, yum!

Angela Yarbrough December 16, 2013 at 5:46 pm

So proud of you MB!

Therese December 16, 2013 at 8:08 pm

I can’t wait to try this recipe! Thanks so much for sharing.

Lindsay Wynne Hess December 17, 2013 at 8:11 am

I’m always looking for new ways to use my CSA winter bounty, I get stuck in a rut with my cooking sometimes.

Jennie Brooks December 17, 2013 at 1:59 pm

What a wonderful, sweet and romantic life she leads. Thanks so much for sharing.

Mary Beth Shaddix December 17, 2013 at 2:23 pm

Thanks for all of the comments! It’s a hearty dish — when do bacon, creme fraiche and cheese disappoint? The kale (or any winter greens) and butternut from the garden made it extra special for our visiting family over the holiday, since they got to “pick fresh!” Be sure to follow our kitchen garden adventures at as the season kicks up again. We’re in seed buying mode now!

Modern Mia Garden December 17, 2013 at 3:05 pm

Oh, that looks and sounds delicious! I love to cook baby bok choi from our winter garden. Sautéed with butter and fresh garlic….mmmmmmm.. This cookbook looks packed with great ideas to help me get my kids eating what we grow.

Seasonal Wisdom December 17, 2013 at 3:19 pm

We certainly appreciate all the nice comments. Not surprisingly, you all eat very well. Good luck to everyone in this random drawing. Teresa

Elena Williams December 17, 2013 at 4:04 pm

I grow kale and butternut squash. Sounds like a great combo in the recipe.

Abby December 17, 2013 at 8:11 pm

Being a college student means that I have to hunt around for recipes that will be easy for me to make. I don’t have many cookbooks and having more would make it easier to find good recipes from a reliable source that I can try out. As for cooking in the winter, anything with potatoes is a favorite of mine.

Elizabeth December 17, 2013 at 9:43 pm

Looks so good!

Karen King December 18, 2013 at 3:42 am

Mary Beth, I am excited to try this recipe, but even more excited to hear of your new cookbook. I will have to try to get you to town for our Grady Authors Day sometime!

Ericka December 18, 2013 at 5:54 am

Eating what’s in season is so important, and sometimes I run out of inspiration – this recipe looks amazing & I’m interested to see what other recipes the cookbook has!

Cindy Myers December 18, 2013 at 5:06 pm

I grow a ton of kale and broccoli, so more recipes and inspirations on how to cook it would be helpful; since I’m feeding 2 strict vegetarians and 2 flexitarians here at home. Plus, looking for brand new vegetables to explore. Cookbook looks beautiful.

Linda Carlan December 19, 2013 at 9:22 pm

Just looking at the pictures has me headed for the kitchen!

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