A Delicious Pasta for Those Crisp and Cool Fall Nights

A few days ago, while I was looking through a French cookbook that I had brought home from one of our trips to France, I earmarked a recipe for a pasta dish with fall squash and walnuts. A type of squash similar to our butternut squash was roasted and smashed and then combined with cooked penne and toasted walnuts. Grated Parmesan cheese and a good drizzle of walnut oil were final additions.

For my version, I cooked penne, then tossed the pasta with a small amount of crème fraîche and plenty of grated Fontina. Fresh chopped rosemary offered an herbal accent while sautéed pancetta (or prosciutto) provided a salty note. Then, I added the toasted butternut squash, leaving it whole rather than smashing it, and sprinkled each serving with chopped walnuts.

My husband, who is not a fan of cold weather squash, ate this dish with gusto as did several friends. To complement the pasta, add a salad of mixed greens (green leaf lettuce, radicchio, and baby spinach work well) tossed in a vinaigrette prepared with cider vinegar. Cookies or brownies—homemade or purchased—could complete the menu for an early autumn supper!

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Penne with Roasted Butternut Squash, Walnuts, and Fontina

1 1/4 pounds (20 ounces) peeled butternut squash (See cooking tip.)
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons olive oil
3/4 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
12 ounces penne or farfalle
4 ounces finely diced pancetta or 2 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto cut into julienned strips about 1/2- inch wide by 2 inches long
1 1/4 cups grated good quality Italian Fontina cheese or grated Parmesan cheese or a combination
1/4 cup crème fraîche
1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
1/4 cup toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped

1. Arrange a rack at center position and preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

2. Cut the peeled squash into 3//4 inch cubes to yield about 4 cups. Brush a heavy, rimmed baking sheet with 1 tablespoon of the oil. Spread squash in a single layer on the baking sheet and drizzle with 2 remaining teaspoons of oil. Toss to coat well. Mix the dried crushed rosemary with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoons black pepper and sprinkle over squash. 

3. Roast squash, stirring every 10 minutes, until tender when pierced with a knife and browned around the edges, about 35 minutes. Remove and set aside. (Squash can be roasted 1 day ahead. Cool, cover, and refrigerate. Reheat in a 350-degree preheated oven until warm, 10 minutes or less.)

4. Bring a large saucepan or pot filled 2/3 full with water to a boil. Add the penne and 2 teaspoons salt. Cook according to package directions and drain in a colander when done.

5. While the pasta is cooking, cook the diced pancetta or julienned prosciutto. Place a medium, heavy skillet over medium heat and when hot add pancetta or prosciutto and cook, stirring until lightly browned and crisp, 3 to 4 minutes or more. Drain on paper towels.

6. When pasta is drained, return it to the pan in which it was cooked. Stir in 1 cup of the cheese until melted (If using Fontina, it may become slightly stringy; that is okay). Then stir in the crème fraîche, fresh rosemary, and pancetta or prosciutto. Mix in the roasted squash. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

7. Serve pasta in four shallow bowl and sprinkle each serving with some of the remaining cheese and with some walnuts.  Serves 4.

Market note: Look for peeled butternut squash in the produce section of the supermarket. About 20 ounces of this peeled squash should yield 4 diced cups.

Cooking tip: To toast walnuts, spread them on a rimmed baking sheet and place in a preheated 350- degree  oven until lightly browned and fragrant, 5 to 6 minutes. Watch carefully so that they do not burn. Remove and cool.

 Copyright Betty Rosbottom 2021


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