Autumn flavors combine with pasta for comfort food delight!
The weather finally turned this weekend to crisp and cooler, and then rainy and dank. Lulled by a long, warm early Autumn, we’re all scrambling now to finish those yard chores before snow. Although the thermometer dipped and hovered close to freezing, and the chilly rains began, we still haven’t had a frost and my morning glories, although a bit sad looking, are still blooming.
Let’s steam up the kitchen
But it’s time for autumn cooking! Soups and breads and pasta are calling my name. The winter squashes of every size and color are glorious this year, nudging me to flip the page to fall cooking. I turned to one of my standbys –– butternut squash. It is sweet and flavorful, full of nutrition, and it has a milder taste than some of the more rugged squashes, so it is always a crowd pleaser.
A little stealth
One of my favorite dishes using butternut squash is a pasta, with the squash playing the role of sauce. When my kids were small (and my grandkids as well), I would add puréed squash to their macaroni and cheese just to make sure there was a vegetable in the dish! They loved it, as they did the addition of broccoli and cauliflower florets, and if I made it with “the big fat macaroni” they were even more entertained. Of course, this included real Vermont cheddar!
You can please them all with this one!
Over the years, with a few dairy challenged family members, I devised a dish that skips the cheese altogether, but still has the visual appeal of the comfort food, and delivers on its own special flavors. If you use brown rice rigatoni here, it will even please the gluten-free crowd.
You can, of course, use any favorite pasta, even “little macaroni,” or be adventurous and use fettuccine and turn it into a vegetable-based Alfredo, as my friend Terrie Gura, Comfort du Jour, pondered! She made a delicious pumpkin pasta dish with lots of infused flavor recently that you should check out.
The roasting of the squash, onions, and garlic adds flavor to the dish (it’s also really simple), the hot sauce lends a little zip, and the pecans an unexpected but welcome crunch!
And if dairy is still on your plate, you can certainly grate some flavorful Parmesan at the end!
Rigatoni with Butternut Squash and Roasted Garlic
- 1 butternut squash, chopped, about 1 ½ lbs.
- 1 large head garlic
- 1 large yellow onion
- Hot sauce to taste
- 1 lb. whole wheat or brown rice rigatoni
- 1 cup frozen peas
- 2 handfuls arugula
- ½ cup toasted pecans
- 4 or 5 cherry tomatoes, diced
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Grease a rimmed baking sheet.
Peel and chop the squash. Scatter over the baking sheet in a single layer.
Peel and cut the onion into eights, from pole to pole. Place on baking sheet as well.
Cut the top off the head of garlic, place on a little square of foil, and drizzle with olive oil. Wrap it up and nestle it on the baking sheet.
Bake until the squash and onion are tender, set your timer to 30 minutes and check, it will probably be just right for both vegetables, but if the onions need a little longer keep them in an remove the squash. At this point, remove the garlic as well if the bulb feels soft when squeezed.
Let everything cool just to where you can work with it. Once cool enough, place the squash and onions in your food processor, and purée until very well blended. Squeeze the pulp out of the garlic cloves and add to the puree along with the hot sauce and some salt and pepper. Taste for the heat level. You can also use a food mill for this, or the blender if you use some pasta water to loosen it up and do it in batches.
Bring a large pot of water to the boil and salt it. Add the rigatoni and cook to just under what the package recommends. Save a cup of the pasta liquid, then drain the pasta.
Return the pasta to the pan and add the puree along with a half cup of the pasta water. Continue adding pasta water as you like to loosen the sauce to where you want it, but make it a bit looser than you think because the pasta will continue to absorb the liquid. Stir in the peas, arugula, and pecans, and season well.
Plate and garnish with a few chopped cherry tomatoes and a drizzle of fruity olive oil. Add some freshly grated Parmesan if you like!
To reheat any leftovers, you will usually have to add some water or milk as the pasta will continue to absorb all the liquid! It will still taste as wonderful.
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