A Saffron Pumpkin Pasta Bake with Pistachios & Goat Cheese for Virtual Pumpkin Party

Saffron Pumpkin Pasta Bake for Virtual Pumpkin Party | Pasta al Forno con la Zucca | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh

Announcement: I am hosting a Persian Autumn dinner in Rome, Trastevere on November 5th to kick start my supper club. Tickets are on sale and they’re selling fast. Get yours if you’re in town. 

The Virtual Family Gathering

When Aimee contacted me a while ago to take part in the huge food blogger round up for a virtual pumpkin party, automatically my mind started searching for something Persian and sweet. But then I remembered I had already posted my favorite Persian pumpkin dessert last year. So after giving it some thought, I knew I was going for an Italian recipe for this orange marvel of Autumn. A savory one. 

Saffron Pumpkin Pasta Bake for Virtual Pumpkin Party | Pasta al Forno con la Zucca | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-1

Saffron Pumpkin Pasta Bake for Virtual Pumpkin Party | Pasta al Forno con la Zucca | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-14
Saffron Pumpkin Pasta Bake for Virtual Pumpkin Party | Pasta al Forno con la Zucca | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-9

A hearty pasta bake, I thought. (believe it or not, this is my first pasta recipe on the blog!) A baked pasta dish is the heart of an Italian table at Sunday’s lunch. Just think lasagna, cannelloni or other pasta bakes. It’s often cooked by a granny, or a collaboration of aunts. It should be bubbling hot and cheesy, yet with crunchy and crispy at the edges of the pan, just instant before being burnt. That’s what your guest will fight to get, the angles of baked pasta, kinda of like our Persian tahdig (the crust at the bottom of a rice pot).

Try to picture this big family reunion on a Sunday; where you hear that distant hums of everyone chatting in the kitchen while preparing, when you’re chilling on a couch. It’s a crisp, cool day in October, a large number people sit at one enormous table, break bread, chat and share their stories over a meal. 

This round up is a kinda like those Sunday family lunches; we’re in one hundred and eleven! ONE HUNDRED AND ELEVEN pumpkin recipes, from different places, and different people. You can find the complete list of all the fellow bloggers with a link to their post after my recipe.

Before I let you sit back and enjoy all these beautiful posts, I should thank Sara and Aimiee for “hosting” this party and all the organization. It’s a tough job, we know, and we’re very grateful of all this shared bounty. <3

Saffron Pumpkin Pasta Bake for Virtual Pumpkin Party | Pasta al Forno con la Zucca | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-11
Saffron Pumpkin Pasta Bake for Virtual Pumpkin Party | Pasta al Forno con la Zucca | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-13

Tips for The Pumpkin Pasta Bake with a Persian Touch

This pasta bake is extremely simple, and unlike the typical Italian pasta al forno, is not too heavy/oily/cheesy. I have used only parmesan and aged goat cheese. By all means do add besciamella when layering the pasta if you feel like it. I found the saffron pumpkin sauce sufficiently creamy and wet to embrace all the pasta.

The reason I used aged goat cheese is that the pumpkin sauce (since quite simple), is very sweet, so the full and strong flavor of aged goat cheese is crucial to create a balance between the sweetness and tartness of this dish.

I have used whole grain conchiglie (sea shell) pasta, and I suggest you use a short pasta that can absorb all the sauce. Fusilli e penne can also work well. Use whole grain pasta to get more nutritional goodness and fiber. (Also, refined carbs don’t like me much.)

Saffron Pumpkin Pasta Bake for Virtual Pumpkin Party | Pasta al Forno con la Zucca | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-5

For this recipe, I cut the pumpkin (I used kabocha squash) in small pieces for roasting the oven, because I wanted to increase the surface of caramelization on the pumpkin, gives a depth to the flavor. But you can just roast the pumpkin  and scoop out the flesh for making the sauce, although in my opinion it will be too sweet this way. The skin is edible and delicious too! Don’t waste it. I also put two mandarines (cut in half) for roasting the pumpkin in the oven, merely for good (holidayish) smell.  Continue reading

Blooming flowers of Spring & Narcissus, Persian Spinach and Eggs (Nargessi)

Narcissus, Persian Spinach and Eggs (Nargessi) | Narciso, Uova e Spinaci alla Persiana | Lab Noon
Foreword: This blog is a finalist in SAVEUR Blog Awards in Best Special Interest category and I would be very honored if you supported me and cast a vote for Lab Noon. All it takes is a few seconds and a basic registration. Thank you! Voting is open through April 30th.


I can’t hide it. It’s always been like this. Through the years some of its aspects have changed but the bases have remained the same. Spring is my freaking favorite time of the year! And it’s not because it’s my birthday! It’s as if I start to shed my old skin right at the end of February and by the time we’re in April the simple smell of the air makes me happy. Actually until few years ago, I used to get quite depressed at the end of the summer and in the beginning of Autumn. But thankfully, Rome’s September and October are so spectacular that I don’t suffer that very much ever since I live here. And the Springs of Rome? Oh, the blue of the sky and light green of the new buds, the smell of the blossoms, and that light breeze! Does Spring have a similar effect on you too? What’s your favorite activity in these beautiful days?

I take a lot of pictures. I took the photos you see here in Garbatella neighborhood, one of the most authentic parts of the city. It looks like a small village right inside the city. Take a look all of these photos on my Flickr account

Garbatella in Spring | Primavera di Garbatella | Lab Noon-37
Garbatella in Spring | Primavera di Garbatella | Lab Noon-40

Garbatella in Spring | Primavera di Garbatella | Lab Noon-35
Garbatella in Spring | Primavera di Garbatella | Lab Noon-17

Garbatella in Spring | Primavera di Garbatella | Lab Noon-22
Garbatella in Spring | Primavera di Garbatella | Lab Noon-16

And most importantly, the fruit and the produce of Spring is just amazing. After the confusion and scarceness of March, April arrives with real strawberries, fava beans, asparagus, sweet peas and artichokes. And in a short while there will come apricots and lots and lots more! This year I want to be more courageous and try new dishes with some produce that I never usually use. Like artichokes! I am somehow scared of cooking artichokes. I love them, but I think since I haven’t grown up seeing/eating artichokes I am scared of cleaning and cooking them well! But this year, before it’s too late, I want to try and make Valeria’s Carciofi alla Romana (Roman style artichokes).

Sherrie —who’s a fellow Saveur Blog Awards finalist I have just discovered— has a beautiful fried rice with Spring veggies on her blog. If you want more Italian-inspired recipes with Spring produce make sure you read Valentina’s post about what’s in season in April where she has a gorgeous frittata that’s so green it looks like Persian Kuku.

What are your favorite recipes with Spring produce? Feel free to link them to me for inspiration in the comments.

Narcissus, Persian Spinach and Eggs (Nargessi) | Narciso, Uova e Spinaci alla Persiana | Lab Noon

As for me, I have just discovered that unlike what what I thought, spinach is actually a Spring produce! Actually spinach is around right since winter, but it’s during spring that it’s at its best. Who would’ve thought? I think we’re all so used to buying frozen spinach that we no longer remember when is its real season. Mind you, frozen raw vegetable is the next best thing after fresh ones since they’re frozen when they’re in season and by freezing they conserve about 98% of their nutritional values, and they’re very convenient. 

Narcissus, Persian Spinach and Eggs (Nargessi) | Narciso, Uova e Spinaci alla Persiana | Lab Noon

This Persian spinach and eggs dish is incredibly simple, and yet it’s more than just two eggs with tossed veggies. Mainly thanks to the aromas of garlic and onion and the unmistakable taste of turmeric, merged together with lemon and orange juice that refreshes the palate. (It’s a great way to use those last oranges of the season with little juice and flavor.) In Iran we use  only the juice of bitter orange, which is a hybrid between mandarin and another citrus called pomelo. It’s tangy, not as sweet as orange/mandarin and nor as sour as lemons. This acidity combined with the sweetness of onions creates a soft, balanced flavor.

Turmeric, is truly a magic spice, that not only brings wonderful aroma and color to your dishes, but it’s also a very potent anti-infiammatory. So try to add it regularly to your cooking and you’ll get sick less often! 

Narcissus, Persian Spinach and Eggs (Nargessi) | Narciso, Uova e Spinaci alla Persiana | Lab Noon

I don’t boil and drain the spinach. Spinach and other (leafy) vegetables are so tender that would over cook quickly and release all their goodness (minerals and nutritional substances) in the boiling water that is often discarded. If you do boil your vegetables, do not throw the water away! Drink it (some lemon juice and seasoning help) or conserve it for cooking pasta, rice or legumes. After sautéing garlic and onions with turmeric and lemon/orange juice, I simply add the spinach and cover the pan with a lid and let it sweat. Even if the pile of spinach is much taller than the pan, don’t worry, just place the lid and once the leaves are heated they shrink.

Narcissus, Persian Spinach and Eggs (Nargessi) | Narciso, Uova e Spinaci alla Persiana | Lab Noon
Narcissus, Persian Spinach and Eggs (Nargessi) | Narciso, Uova e Spinaci alla Persiana | Lab Noon

Now it’s time for flowers to bloom in our lawn, so we break the eggs in the spinach and let them cook with the flavors of onions, garlic and turmeric. The finishing touch, the one that brings the aroma to these flowers, is a drop of saffron infusion on each egg. There, your bouquet of Narcissus is ready. It’s a very romantic name for such a rustic, simple dish. Nargessi — the Persian word for Narcissus— gets its name from eggs looking like white and yellow daffodils in the middle of green spinach. It would make a healthy and filling savory breakfast or brunch full of protein and iron. And it’s so rich yet simple that you can have it for a quick lunch, and why not, even a week night dinnerContinue reading

My Mom’s Imperfect Apple Meringue Cake for Valentine’s Day

Apple Cake for Valentine's Day | Torta di Mele per San Valentino | Lab Noon-8

When I was four or five years old, my youngest uncle got engaged to a girl whose parents were distant cousins of my grandparents’. Nothing unusual about it, expect from the fact that my thirtiysh uncle had been living in Sweden for the past decade (or more) and the girl had never stepped out of her hometown, in Iran! It was an arranged engagement. They had never seen each other. And with no internet in the very early nineties, all they had was some low quality, expensive, occasional phone calls and some late-delivered mailed photos and letters. Only a couple of years later I feverishly stated “what the hell were they thinking?” whenever I got the chance, but at that time it was very exciting for me to be around the bride-to-be.

She was very young, barely twenty years old. And like many other girls she dreamed of being the perfect little wife, with her lovely husband, living happily ever after, in Sweden, of course. She wanted to be prepared, that’s why she took baking and pastry courses. Pity that it all ended when my uncle, whose resistance to this whole story had never been taken seriously by my grandparents, phoned her one day and called off the wedding. Naturally, it was a huge family scandal. Her family stopped talking to my grandparents and everyone else in our family. But eventually everybody moved on, had other relationships, marriages, divorces and kids. And about a decade later, her parents started socializing with my family again.

Apple Cake for Valentine's Day | Torta di Mele per San Valentino | Lab Noon-7

In the meanwhile, my mom had developed a certain interest in baking. She experimented mostly with cakes. Then she took a little step further and started making her own cookies and pastries for major holidays such as Norouz (our new year celebration, in which you’ve got to be buried under sweets or it’s not a holiday). Everybody told her she should’ve started something with her baking because she was too good, but she never did, alas. She did however organize the recipes she had gathered around from TV shows or friends in neat notebooks that now are a little worn off, with occasional spots of butter or melted saffron. 

One of her particular hits was this apple meringue cake. It was a crowd pleaser at each of her parties and women kept asking her for the recipe. You see, It’s a simple home-made cake, with a rather firm base. But that velvety sensation you get in your mouth as soon as you savor some of that spicy apple puree, immediately reminds you of some sweet, fancy cream. And by the time you get to the foamy, feather-light meringue topped with crunchy almond flakes, you’ll be convinced you’re eating a gourmet cake. Even though her meringue was never perfect. 

Apple Cake for Valentine's Day | Torta di Mele per San Valentino | Lab Noon-11
Apple Cake for Valentine's Day | Torta di Mele per San Valentino | Lab Noon-4

This is the secret of the popularity of this cake. It’s simple enough to be prepared in a long winter afternoon, yet it’s elegant enough to be served in a brunch or a tea party. My mom would freeze the leftovers, to be served later. Something that never happened, because she always found the frozen cakes with big chunks of apple cream missing from the top, because someone had eaten it off, frozen. I guess it was my unconscious revenge to the fact that she hurried to place the empty cake batter bowl under the running tap water so that I wouldn’t lick it off. (“It’s raw and it’ll make you fat!“)

Only years later, a couple of months ago to be precise, it occurred to me to ask her where she got the recipe of her famous apple cake. I had completely forgotten about my uncle’s absurd, arranged engagement, so I was quite surprised when my mom told me it was one of the recipes his long-distant ex-finance had learned in her baking course. And it got me thinking, of the bitterness she must’ve been left with after the end of that affair. I imagine she never baked that cake again. Maybe she let go of baking. Or maybe not. Hopefully some years later she did realize it was for the best she didn’t marry a man she had never met.

Apple Cake for Valentine's Day | Torta di Mele per San Valentino | Lab Noon-3
Apple Cake for Valentine's Day | Torta di Mele per San Valentino | Lab Noon-6

And I also thought about the turn of the events. The sweetness of an elegant homemade cake which everyone has loved for many years, is actually the faded memory of a bitterness. Life’s unpredictable (thanks goodness). We wish for some things and we get some other things instead. That other thing can be an apple cake. Maybe you wished for a lavish and rich chocolate mousse, with liquor and strawberries (which are so out of season in February), but that doesn’t make an apple cake any less. 

We don’t really observe Valentine’s Day. This year we won’t even see each other during the day. But ever since our early days when this blog didn’t even exist, I made something special, something delicious for the occasion. They often involved little hearts and chocolate (never strawberries though! I find fake, winter strawberries tasteless in every way). But not this year. This year I am caught up in the unpredictability of life. So I’d like go with its flow. I opted for what I’ve got, not what I wish I had. It might sound humble, but it’s rich, it has a history and it’s perfectly in season; It’s my mom’s imperfect apple meringue cake for Valentine’s Day. Partially because I miss her, but also because her love is one the least unpredictable facts of my life. And then because, why not share an apple cake with a loved one that has a firm base and a smooth and sweet topping? A dash of aphrodisiac spices, and that’s Valentine’s Day dessert/breakfast sorted.

Apple Cake for Valentine's Day | Torta di Mele per San Valentino | Lab Noon-5

Note: This is cake for indulgence, so it’s not perfect for a diet. It does have a considerable amount of butter and sugar. I have however substituted both the flour and sugar from white to wholegrain and raw.

Continue reading