Weekday Vegetarian: Baked Pasta with Butternut Squash
Photo: Kelly Rossiter
Before any of you fall off your chairs reading what goes into this pasta dish, let me just say, this is something you would make once, for company. My husband, seeing what I was cooking, did wonder in passing if I were trying to do away with him.I have been looking for a good vegetarian main dish for a Thanksgiving dinner and thought this might be it, but it received mixed reviews at my dinner table.
For all of the cheese and the cream that went into this, it wasn't as luscious as I expected, but I thought it was still delicious. My son, the cheesemonger, thought that there were too many competing cheese flavours and the gorgonzola wasn't strong enough. We pretty much all agreed with that. He felt that rather than using five cheeses (although I forgot the ricotta at the last moment, so there were really four) there should be just fontina for texture and gorgonzola for flavour.
I also left out the pancetta to make it a vegetarian dish, and may have missed an important flavour base because of it. I did use heavy cream as the recipe calls for, but I really felt that a lower fat cream, even half and half would have been fine.
There were some wonderful things about this dish though. Incorporating half of the squash into the sauce made was really good, and coming across the hunks of squash that had nestled into the pasta shells was delicious. You could really taste the thyme and the combination of that with the squash was very appealing. If you like pumpkin or squash (I used butternut squash), this is a good recipe, although I would ramp down the fat content as I mentioned above, which would also make it quite a bit cheaper. It was very easy to make and I had it all assembled before my company came and then put it in the oven for ten minutes just before we were ready to eat, which is always a plus for me.
This recipe is from the website Food52.
Baked Pasta with Butternut Squash
One 3-4 pound cheese pumpkin or butternut squash
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ pound pancetta, diced (optional)
1 pound conchiglie rigate (shells)
2 cups heavy cream
¼ pound shredded fresh mozzarella
½ cup grated Pecorino Romano
½ cup fontina, coarsely grated
¼ cup crumbled gorgonzola
2 tablespoons ricotta
2 teaspoons chopped thyme leaves
1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Halve the pumpkin and scoop out the seeds. Cut the pumpkin into 8 equal wedges and arrange on two baking sheets lined with foil. Sprinkle the wedges with salt and pepper and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Bake for about an hour, until the pumpkin is caramelized and tender when pierced with a sharp knife. Remove from the oven and let cool until you can handle the pumpkin without burning yourself.
2. In the meantime, crisp the pancetta in a medium saucepan over medium heat, about 10 minutes. Remove and drain on paper towels, discarding the fat.
3. Turn the oven up to 500 degrees. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta for exactly 5 minutes, drain and run cool water over it for about 10 seconds. Set aside in the colander.
4. Scoop enough of the cooked pumpkin from the rind to make 2 cups. Combine this with the cream in a blender and puree just until smooth (be careful not to overblend, or you'll whip the cream). Scoop out some more of the pumpkin (you probably won't need the whole thing) and chop roughly to make about a cup and a half.
5. Combine the pumpkin and cream puree with the cheeses, salt, thyme and pancetta in a large bowl and stir gently to combine. Add the pasta and the chopped pumpkin and fold together just until combined.
6. Spread the pasta evenly in a casserole or baking dish. Bake uncovered for 7 to 10 minutes, until the top is browned and the bottom layer of pasta is just tender.