In Season: Butternut Squash

Although I’m a summer baby and have Mediterranean blood coursing through my veins, there is something about fall I just adore:  the changing leaves, the crisp weather, the soccer games, and of course, the autumn produce.  Butternut squash is one of my favorite veggies, and is easier to prepare than one might think.  Inspired by a cooking method borrowed from Mark Bitman (award winning cookbook author and New York Times food columnist), I embellished upon one of his ideas to create a fantastic fall pasta dish, perfect for a cool, Sunday dinner.

Butternut squash is wonderful roasted, but this definitely takes some time.  To streamline the process for turning the squash into a savory sauce for pasta, Bitman peels and quarters it before running it through the food processor (fitted with the disk attachment) to create gorgeous golden shreds of squash.  Then, by cooking it in a pan with water or broth, added a little at a time (almost like you would when preparing risotto), the squash begins to dissolve creating a rustic sauce. 

I begin my recipe with Italian sweet sausage, which nicely compliments the butternut squash.  I buy sausage patties, which are easy to break up in the pan as you cook them.  If you cannot find patties, simply purchase links and remove the casings before cooking the sausage.  Once the sausage is cooked, I remove it and allow it to drain on paper towels to get rid of any excess fat.  At this point your pan should have lots of little browned bits stuck to the bottom…and this is a good thing.  When you transfer the shredded squash into the same pan and add the liquid, it deglazes the pan, thereby infusing all that great sausage flavor right into the sauce.  So, not only do you have fewer pans to clean, you’re giving your sauce a boost as well.

For this dish, I like to use a short pasta shape, like rigatoni.  Chunkier sauces pair well with chunkier pastas.  Varieties such as angel hair pasta just wouldn’t hold up to the texture of this sauce.   I also like to garnish the pasta with fresh sage and lots of parmesan cheese.   Both pair perfectly with both the sausage and the squash, creating a hearty fall dish you’ll want to make again and again.  I recently taught this dish at a “Farmers Market” cooking class and it was the hit of the evening!

 “Triple S” Rigatoni (Squash, Sausage & Sage)

Serves 4

¾ lb Italian sweet sausage patties (or links, casing removed)

1 lb butternut squash, peeled and seeds removed

2 cups low-sodium chicken broth

½ teaspoon grated nutmeg

Pinch of sugar

 Salt and pepper

1 lb pasta (rigatoni, penne, or other short pasta)

¼ cup fresh sage, chopped (or more, to taste)

Grated parmesan cheese for garnish

Salt & pepper

Slice the squash into pieces and feed it into the tube of a food processor fitted with the grating disc.  Alternatively, you can use a box grater to coarsely grate it.  Set aside.

In a large skillet or pan, cook sausage until no longer pink.  Use the back of your spoon to break up the sausage as it cooks, creating bite-sized crumbles.  Remove to a bowl lined with paper towel and set aside.

Add the grated squash to the pan and add about ¾ cup of broth.  Stir until liquid evaporates, scraping up the bits on the bottom of the pan.  Continue to add the rest of the broth, ¼ cup at a time, until squash has dissolved into a thick sauce.

Season to taste with salt, pepper, sugar and nutmeg.  Return the sausage to the sauce, add sage, and stir to combine.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt, and add pasta.  Cook according to package directions, or until “al dente”.  Drain and add to pot with sauce. 

Serve hot with plenty of grated cheese.

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3 Responses to “In Season: Butternut Squash”

  1. mica Says:

    I have never had butternut squash. Can you believe it? But I tried it because of this recipe, and we love it! Wow! Where have we been? Thanks, Tracy.

  2. Tracy Says:

    I think a lot of people are intimidated by butternut squash…but it is really easy to cook once you get past having to peel it! If you liked this, you could try substituting pumpkin too (use a small, “sugar pumpkin” and peel and shred as you do the butternut squash in this recipe). Glad my blog got you to try something new!

  3. Season To Taste » In Season: Roasted Pumpkin Seeds Says:

    […] decided to do something a little unorthodox.  I love the combination of winter squash (pumpkin and butternut squashin particular) and parmesan cheese in pastas, risottos, and soups….so why not with pumpkin […]

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