Thursday, November 08, 2012

rotini with butternut squash

The first time I heard about pasta with butternut squash I made a "ewwww" face. Because that's gross. Right? Turns out that's not right. It's actually kind of fantastic. Especially if you're me and are the one freak of nature in the world who is convinced that tomatoes, especially tomato sauce, is just the grossest thing ever. I mean the smell of pasta sauce sends me out of the room gagging. So this butternut squash thing? It's a nice change from the usual olive oil and parmesan or cream sauce routine I have with the pasta.

I've seen numerous suggestions for this, and while I'm sure a puree would be delicious, and I'm sure that I'd enjoy it if the squash chunks were a more firm-tender I have a sneaking suspicion that this way is best. Caramelizing the squash chunks mean that I can get an almost sauce-like consistency when mixed with the browned butter at the end while still maintaining some of the bite of the squash. The soft-but-not-liquidy texture is an interesting contrast to the pasta.

There are things I would change, as always, if only to try something different next time. There was a bag of pecans I almost chopped and toasted to mix in with this, but Bunny's impending root canal stopped me. (Thank you dentists for giving me my husband back. The grump monster was getting old.) For the same reason I also cooked the pasta itself just passed al dente so that things would be easier on him. If I'd planned ahead to have fresh sage, or any herb really, on hand I would have added that to the brown butter mixture.

Ingredients:
  • 4 tablespoons butter, cut into chunks
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp dried sage (or other green herbs. I was sorely tempted to use mint, which I just might do next time.)
  • 1 tsp pepper
  • 1 medium butternut squash, cut into 2" cubes. You'll want these to be uniform, but uniformity is more important than getting any specific size.
  • about 500 grams of rotini, fusili or penne (for us this was about 1/2 a package of rotini)
  • salt to taste
Directions
  1. Preheat oven to 350*.
  2. Line a baking sheet with aluminium foil for easy clean up. Lightly coat with nonstick cooking spray or oil. Lay out squash cubes in a single layer across the sheet.
  3. Cook for approximately 1 hour, or until the squash starts to caramelize. Look for the edges of the cubes to just be turning brown as you remove the squash from the oven.
  4. Start preparing pasta, according to package directions. Don't forget to liberally salt the water, as this is the main opportunity to season the pasta. My pasta took about 10 minutes to cook and the water about 5 minutes to heat. If your pasta requires shorter or longer cooking time, adjust when you start this step accordingly. When the pasta finishes cooking, reserve about 1/2-1 cup of cooking water before draining it off.
  5. In a large skillet over low heat, melt the butter. Continue to heat, stirring occasionally, until the butter begins to take a slightly browned colour. Let heat for approximately 10 minutes. When the butter is properly browned it will start smelling rather nutty and sweet, and will take on a really luxurious flavour. The low heat is super important here, as it's incredibly easy for the butter to move from browned to burnt and higher heat will speed that process. By keeping the heat low it's easier to monitor your butter.
  6. Once that butter browns, remove from the heat and stir in the garlic and herbs. If you're adding something like fresh sage or rosemary this is the time to do that as well.
  7. Bring the pan back over the heat and add the squash to the butter. Mix everything around to get an even coating of butter on the squash. Turn the heat up to medium and cook the browned butter and squash together, stirring constantly. The aim here is to get the squash to break up a little bit so it can cling to the pasta, rather than just be chunks of squash in the pasta. Cook for about 3-5 minutes (or until you see a consistency of squash that you like.)
  8. By now your pasta should be cooked and drained. Add pasta to the skillet and stir vigourously to thoroughly coat with the butter and squash. Let everything hang out in the skillet for about 2-3 minutes at this point.
  9. If desired, add 1/2 - 1 cup of reserved cooking water to the pasta/squash. Let lightly simmer until it comes together with the butter into a more saucy consistency. This helps the butter really adhere to the pasta, and tastes a touch lighter.
  10. Eat! Enjoy! If you're a fan, serve with a liberal helping of freshly grated parmesan. Or garlic toast (if you're my mom or Bunny that's a must.)

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