Monday, October 25, 2010

Rigatoni with Braised Winter Squash & Bacon


 This appears to be the month of the winter squash on my blog. Looking back over my October posts, I see that three of my six posts have been about butternut squash. Since the month has almost come to an end, I see no reason to change course now.  Today's post reflects only a slight shift—I used a Red Kuri squash in my pasta recipe. But I could have easily chosen a butternut squash (or a sugar pumpkin, or a Kabocha squash...) instead. Most of the winter squashes can be used interchangeably. Some have denser, sweeter flesh than others. Some are easier to cut and peel. Some are best halved, seeded and roasted. These are the types of things I consider when choosing a winter squash for a particular preparation. For this dish, I wanted a sweeter squash that was reasonably easy to peel and dice. Normally, I would reach for a butternut squash in such a case, but the Red Kuri squash looked so nice that I purchased that instead.


Since this is also a post about a pasta recipe, I was rather gratified to see that pasta has not appeared on my blog yet this month. I wouldn't want to become too predictable. But I give no guarantees that it won't appear again in the few days remaining in the month. I really do eat a lot of pasta.

This recipe is based on one that appeared in two October issues of Martha Stewart Living (several years apart). Generally when a magazine repeats a recipe—in anniversary type issues, etc.—you can be fairly confident that it is a recipe that works well. This one was no exception. Beyond that, this recipe appealed to me because of its simplicity and because it included bacon...I love bacon with winter squash. The salty bacon is a good foil for the sweet squash. The original recipe also included a bit of heavy cream, which is probably pretty nice, but I left it out because the bacon and broth gave this pasta sauce a hearty and savory quality that I thought would be softened too much by the cream.

The squash is cooked in the style of a braise—first cooked in a bit of fat and then moistened with a liquid (stock, in this case) and then gently simmered until tender. A true braise is cooked covered. But in this recipe, resist the temptation to cover the squash as it cooks. If covered, the liquid in the pan won't reduce and thicken. Also, the squash will get very soft and tend to want to fall apart. Allowing it to cook uncovered allows the liquid in the pan and in the squash itself to evaporate as the squash cooks, making for dense, tender pieces of squash. If the squash cooks to mush and falls apart, you end up with a thick, sticky sauce of puréed squash, instead of a rich broth filled with meaty chunks of squash.

As you cook the squash, keep it at a gentle simmer, stirring it occasionally and adding small amounts of water if the liquid is reducing too quickly or becoming too thick. Don't add more stock, or the dish will be overly rich. The squash will take 25 to 35 minutes to cook.

I hope no one turned to my blog today and thought "Oh no, not another winter squash recipe." But if by chance you did, and you managed to read this far, there is one good thing about the abundance of winter squash recipes that I have shared this month: I have provided lots of uses for diced winter squash. The reality of working with squash is that you almost never find a squash that is exactly the size you need. You will inevitably have some diced squash left over. So, if you make the pasta and you have squash leftover, you should revisit my blog for ideas on uses for roasted, diced winter squash. You'll find ways to add it to a green salad, or toss it in a grain pilaf or combine it with some braised greens and caramelized onions for a nice side dish. Maybe I should write another post this month about winter squash....

Rigatoni with Braised Winter Squash & Bacon

4 to 5 oz. bacon, cut cross-wise in ¼-inch strips
1 medium onion
One 2 lb. Winter squash (see note), peeled, halved, seeded and cut into a rough 3/4-inch dice (about 4 cups diced squash)
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 T. finely minced fresh sage
pinch red pepper flakes
1 3/4 c. chicken stock or low-salt canned broth
1 lb. Rigatoni (or other short, sturdy pasta)
1 to 2 T. unsalted butter (optional)
1/2 c. finely grated parmesan
1/4 c. chopped toasted pecans

Cook the bacon in a large sauté pan over medium to medium-low heat. While the bacon is cooking, quarter the onion lengthwise and then thinly slice the quarters crosswise; set aside.  When the bacon is nearly crisp, transfer it to a plate using a slotted spoon. Return the pan with the bacon fat to the stove and increase the heat slightly (medium to medium high). Add the onions and sauté, stirring frequently, until the onions are wilted and beginning to take on a little bit of color (about 5 minutes). Add the squash and toss to coat in the bacon fat and onions.

Continue to cook, stirring occasionally for another 5 minutes. The squash will begin to caramelize in spots. Add the garlic, pepper flakes and sage and cook, stirring, until fragrant—about 1 minute.

Add the stock along with a light sprinkling of salt.

Gently simmer (uncovered) until the squash is tender and the sauce is beginning to thicken—about 25 minutes. If the pan ever looks dry, add a little water and continue to cook—but be careful, there should only be a small amount of thickened sauce left by the time the squash is tender.

When the squash is almost tender, bring 6 quarts of water to the boil in a large stock/pasta pot. Add 2 to 3 Tablespoons of salt. Add the rigatoni and cook until al dente. Drain. Add the rigatoni to the squash along with a little butter, if you like. Toss to combine. If the pasta seems dry, add a splash of the pasta water. Add the bacon and half the Parmesan and toss again. Correcting the consistency of the sauce with pasta water and the seasoning with black pepper and salt, as necessary. Divide the pasta among shallow pasta/soup bowls and sprinkle with parmesan and pecans. Serves 4 to 6

Note:  For this recipe I prefer a squash in the Cucurbita maxima family—something like a Kabocha, Red Kuri or Buttercup. But a Butternut squash or a Pumpkin of some kind (Cheese, Sugar, etc.) would work well too.

(Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart Living, October 2006)

No comments: