Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Pasta with Roasted Winter Squash

I have been debating whether or not to post today's pasta recipe.  I feel like I post pasta too often.  But maybe this isn't the case after all...  In looking back, I haven't shared a pasta recipe since August.  Maybe I just eat a lot of pasta.  In any case, I wanted to share the recipe I'm posting today for reasons beyond deliciousness (although that would be reason enough):  It is a "single ingredient" pasta featuring one of my favorite vegetables of the season (Winter Squash) and for all practical purposes, it is made with items you probably already have in your pantry, making it an ideal weeknight dinner.    

This time of year I almost always have a collection of Carnival, Sweet Dumpling and Acorn squash  hanging out on my counter.  The displays at the market and in the grocery stores are so beautiful that I can't pass them up.   Sometimes they languish a bit as I work my way through other more perishable purchases...kale, chard, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, white top turnips, etc.  But invariably I come to an evening when all of these other items have been consumed and these great keepers of the Autumn harvest remain.  This pasta is a perfect dinner for those nights. 

As I said at the start, it is likely that all of the other necessary ingredients for this pasta are in your pantry.   Most Americans keep a selection of dried pastas on hand.  For this pasta, bucatini is my favorite and  linguine is a close second, but perciatelli or gemelli...even spaghetti...would all be fine.  And if you keep pasta on hand it is not too much of a stretch to assume you will also have garlic, hot pepper flakes, olive oil and pine nuts.  As far as the cheese is concerned,  Pecorino is my first choice—I love its salty tang in contrast with the sweet squash—but Parmesan would be fine.  And if you happen to keep Feta around, it would be a delicious choice, crumbled generously over the finished dish.  The only remaining ingredients are fresh herbs.  And you might wonder that I think of these as pantry staples.  But with the exception of the parsley (something that is pretty much a pantry staple at my house) the herbs—thyme, rosemary and sage—are all late autumn hangers-on in the herb garden.  Even if we hadn't had such a mild Autumn this year, I can almost always reliably harvest these herbs up until Thanksgiving.  If you only have one of these herbs...or you don't have parsley...you can (and should) still make this pasta.  Just use what you have...it will still be delicious.

Ingredients for half of a recipe

As far as inspiration goes, I can take very little credit for this particular pasta.  It is almost completely lifted from a Martha Stewart Living recipe.  I have only tweaked it slightly.  Stewart's recipe is finished by placing a large spoonful of ricotta on top of each plate.  I have never tried it this way.  The creamy, soft, sweet character of this cheese seems too similar to the roasted squash...I want more of a contrast.  (I have made it topped with crumbled Ricotta Salata...which is quite good.).  But this is only a small change...hardly worth mentioning except that when you look at her recipe you will notice the difference and might wonder. 

The biggest difference in our versions is the way that I combine the squash with the pasta.  Stewart's recipe directs you to divide your seasoned oil in half.  One half is used to reheat the roasted squash, the other is used to dress the cooked noodles.  The dressed noodles are then plated and topped with the dressed squash.  When I make my version, I simply warm the squash in all of the oil (and I admit it...I use quite a bit more oil in my version) and then toss the warmed squash with the pasta.  The difference in this final step is simply a matter of preference and you should prepare it in the way that works best for you, in your kitchen.  I think it is worth mentioning that when you warm the squash in the oil (at least for the way I prepare this dish) you are not trying to obtain a smooth emulsified purée of seasoned squash and oil.  Rather, the squash should look chunky and rustic, with the seasoned oil still visible—sort of coating, rather than blended with, the squash.

Finally, I like to finish the dish with a generous shower of toasted pine nuts.  They add subtle texture and echo the sweetness of the squash.  I think toasted crumbled walnuts would be good too.  Since they have a bitter character, they will provide a flavor contrast rather than an echo...but they would be delicious, never-the-less.

As always, there are so many directions to go with this pasta.  Besides varying the cheese, the herbs and the style of noodle, you could add other flavor elements. Julienned prosciutto or cooked bacon/pancetta would all be delicious (in which case the final touch of a dollop of fresh ricotta would be perfect).  Wilted greens would be a nice addition too.  Once you start thinking about dressing pasta with roasted, shredded squash, a world of possibilities open up.  No wonder I eat pasta so often.

Pasta with Roasted Winter Squash,
Pecorino & Pine Nuts

2 lbs. winter squash (Acorn, Sweet Dumpling, or Carnival)
2/3 c. olive oil, plus more for brushing the squash
6 cloves garlic, peeled and lightly crushed
1/2 t. hot pepper flakes
1 t. each minced Rosemary, minced Sage & minced Thyme
1 lb. Linguine, Bucatini, or Perciatelli
3 T. minced flat leaf Parsley
2 oz. finely grated Pecorino
1/3 c. pine nuts, lightly toasted

Cut the squash in half and scoop out the seeds.  Brush the cut surfaces and the cavity with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Arrange the squash, cut side up, on a cookie sheet and roast in a 400° oven until fork tender—about 45 minutes to an hour.  Set aside to cool slightly.  When cool enough to handle, scrape the flesh away from the skins (leaving the flesh in rustic shreds).  Discard the skins. 

Pour 1/3 to 1/2 cup of the olive oil into a large sauté pan set over moderate heat.  Add the garlic cloves and allow it to barely sizzle in the oil...reduce the heat if necessary.  

When the garlic is pale golden (this will take about 5 minutes), remove and discard.  Add the pepper flakes and the rosemary, sage and thyme and cook for about 30 seconds to allow the pepper flakes and herbs to flavor the oil.  Add the squash, breaking it up with a fork or wooden spoon.  Heat the squash through.  Remove the pan from the heat and keep warm while you cook the pasta.

Add 2 to 3 T. of salt to a large pot (6-qt) of boiling water.  Add the pasta  and cook until al dente.  Drain, reserving a cup of the pasta water.  Add the pasta to the sauté pan with the squash and toss and stir to coat, adding some of the pasta water if it seems dry.  Add the parsley and as much of the remaining olive oil as you like; toss to combine.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  Serve, topped with the Pecorino & pine nuts.  Serves 5 to 6.

Variation:  Replace the Pecorino with a generous quantity of coarsely crumbled Ricotta Salata or Feta.

(Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart Living)

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