There isn’t much in this world I like more than savory winter gourds, like butternut squash (or, “pumpkin” if you live anywhere outside the US) and not surprisingly, I am happy to eat them in just about any shape or form. But, because I am an unrepentant carb-girl (gimme STAAAAAAAARCH!), I’m even happier to eat squash if it involves something like pasta as an accompaniment. Imagine my delight when I discovered that butternut squash makes a spectacular, silky, savory, comforting, beautiful pasta sauce that will keep you nice and cozy on the coming winter nights. You’ll need:
- 1.5-2 lb butternut squash
- 1 medium onion
- 2-3 cloves of garlic
- 1 teaspoon of dried thyme (or two teaspoons of fresh)
- 1/2 teaspoon of dried sage (or a teaspoon of fresh, finely chopped, if you have it)
- a few shakes of crushed red pepper flakes (to taste)
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- salt & pepper to taste
- 1/2 c vegetable broth
- 1/4 c milk
- a food processor or blender
The hardest part of this dish, as I’ve mentioned previously while pontificating on the virtues of butternut squash, is getting the damned squash prepped for eating. That shell is hard! And so is the squash flesh, when you first cut into it. Slow and steady, friends. Take a look here for some love and guidance on how to prep butternut squash, provided by yours truly.
Get yourself ready. Start to warm up a large pan so you can saute your squash, eventually. Dice the squash into a half-inch dice and cut the onion the same. Mince garlic (or leave it out entirely; while I adore garlic there’s enough going on in this dish that it won’t suffer without it).
Toss the squash, onions, and garlic into the warm pan you’ve already added oil to, so it’s all nice and hot. Add some salt and pepper, to get the veggies cooking right.
Leave the butternut squash and onions alone for five or ten minutes; you want the onions to start to break down and get translucent and soft, though the squash will still be plenty hard. Add the other spices–thyme, sage, crushed red pepper flakes, and nutmeg. A word about fresh vs. dry herbs: when you saute, use twice as much of a particular fresh herb as you would the dried (provided, of course, your dried thyme hasn’t been sitting around in your pantry for three years; in that case, no amount of dried herbs will give you any flavor worth talking about, since their essential oils are long-punked-out. Throw that away and start over). The flavor has concentrated in dried herbs and they will be more pungent than fresh, so use them accordingly. Let everything saute together for a few minutes, until your veggies start to develop a rich, lovely fond (the brown bits at the bottom of your pan that you have to scrape off, and don’t fool yourself into thinking that you’ve messed up and burnt anything because you haven’t and fond makes food gooo–oooo-ood).
Add the broth and scrape the pan to pull up the fond. I start with a half-cup, but feel free to add more as you start to cook if your squash and onions look like they’re starting to dry out. Just give them a little while to cook to see how much liquid they’ll release into the pan on their own. The squash and onions will need to cook in the pan, in the broth, for another 20-25 minutes. This would be a good time to get your water boiling so you can make the pasta and have the sauce and pasta ready at roughly the same time. Did I mention that my fabulous boyfriend made homemade pasta?
It was semolina pasta, so it was super-dense and fully complemented the autumnal feel of this dish. I highly recommend it, if you are lucky enough to have a pasta-making partner hanging around the house. Otherwise, look for a thicker, fuller pasta. I wouldn’t go anything smaller than fettuccine if you want a long pasta, but if you use short choose something like rigatoni.
Once the squash cooks through and turns nice and soft…
Into the blender. Or the food processor. Or mash and whip by hand, if you’re a pioneer. Whatever method you choose to whirl your squash into submission is entirely up to you, but your objective is to make it a smooth and delicious puree. Once the solids have been pureed, add them back into the pan, and then add in the milk and give it all a stir. I like to add milk because it thins out the sauce to the texture I want and does add a touch of creaminess, but if you’re on a dairy-free diet then by all means, leave the milk out and just factor in a little bit more broth to get it to a desired consistency. Even without the milk, it will still be delicious. When the pasta is almost cooked through (try and get it about a minute from doneness), drain it and add it to the sauce.
Let that cook together another minute or so longer, then give it a final taste to adjust salt and pepper if necessary, and sit down for your feast. It’s easy enough to make all the time, and fancy enough to serve to dinner guests. You can top this with fresh parsley or chives for an added herbal kick, or you can add shredded cheese for that great salty bite it gives. We served this with roasted cauliflower (recipe coming soon), roasted kohlrabi, bread with tapenade (a fancy word for “ground up olives”, so good and so easy!) and a green salad.