Monday, November 23, 2009

The Eats Sheet: Butternut Squash Pasta.

I never been a huge squash fan. I do like a butternut squash soup, and deep-fried zucchini is good, but I've just never really gotten into other squashes. Like acorn squash. I the last time I had some was when I gagged a few bites down at a federal courts dinner a few months ago. It reminded me why I don't buy acorn squash.

But lately I have been more into the idea of eating seasonally, so I have resolved to be more open to winter squashes this year. I made a little butternut squash pasta last night that definitely made me open to more winter squash possibilities. I got the idea for the recipe out of a Williams Sonoma cookbook, but I made my own variations that I think improved it.

1. You start with one butternut squash. You peel it, seed it, and chop it into small bite-sized cubes, and put these in a large bowl. Butternut is hard, so it helps to have a big cleaver or chef's knife. And it helps to to tap the cleaver with a mallet, using it like a wedge to split the squash rather than pushing with your hands.

2. Then peel an onion, half it, and slice it thinly. But not too thinly because you're going to be roasting this---you want it to char and carmelize, but you don't want it to turn into charcoal. Like maybe a quarter-inch slices. Put them in the bowl.

3. Take 4 or 5 slices of thick bacon---as thick as you can find it---and cut them into half-inch pieces. Add them to the bowl.

4. Sprinkle the whole things generously with kosher salt and let it sit for a minute or two, then drizzle it with olive oil and grind some pepper on it. Toss it until the pieces get coated.

5. Lay it all out on a baking dish and sprinkle with sage. Though the recipe didn't call for it, I also added some crushed thyme and rosemary. Then stick it in the oven. The recipe said 425 degrees for 15-20 minutes, but I like my squash a little softer and my bacon less crispy in this type of dish, so I went for 400 for 25-30 minutes. Stir it once or twice.

6. While that's cooking, get some water boiling and cook about a pound of your favorite kind of pasta. Rigatoni or Penne is a good choice for this. If you're going to use a linguini or spaghetti-type noodle, you'd probably want to chop the squash a little smaller and cook it less--otherwise it won't really toss as well. When its al dente, drain it and put in a large wok over high heat. Toss it to cook out the rest of the water.

7. Add the squash to the pasta. At this point, the recipe said to put a little of the pasta water back in to kind of loosen the mixture, but I used some heavy cream instead. Maybe not as healthy, but way tastier. You don't need much though, just enough to moisten it so it's not dry. Only a few drizzles. Like maybe 2-3 tablespoons.

8. Toss it in the wok and turn off the heat. Or turn the heat off just before adding the cream. Either way, you still want it warm when you serve, it but you don't want the cream to sit on the heat and curdle. You might have to keep tossing it to keep that from happening. Add a few handfulls of a good shredded Italian cheese and toss it again. I used a standard parmasean-pecorino romano blend, but I think an asiago would be really good because it is more buttery and little less salty than the parmasean.

This was excellent. And for a person who doesn't really like squash all that much, it was a complete success. I also have a few variations in mind that I'm going to incorporate the next time I make it: I'm going to add a bit of maple syrup and apple cider vinegar with the cream to really give it a seasonal flavor. And maybe even add a finely chopped sauteed apple. I think these will highlight the natural sweetness of the squash and create a good complement of autumnal flavors.