Thursday, February 21, 2013
Rigatoni with Butternut Squash, Brown Butter, and Sage
Since I didn't grow up Catholic, I don't have memories of fish fries, tuna noodle casseroles, or cheese pizzas on Fridays during Lent. In fact, Lent wasn't even mentioned (that I can remember) in the church I grew up in. The only hint that Easter was coming was that my sister and I got to pick out fancy new Easter dresses. Easter was no less an important feast in our home for the lack of Lenten fasting and preparation, and we have plenty of our own wonderful Easter traditions. But I have come to really love the 40 days of prayer, contemplation, and more intensive soul-sculpting we do to prepare for such an exciting day. And it's not just a spiritual benefit we gain; Lent reminds us that spring and rebirth are coming, just when we reach the most hopeless, tired part of winter and we're longing for spring. And not eating meat on Fridays gives us motivation to get creative in the kitchen!
Believe it or not, the butternut squash I used in this recipe was purchased in October, before Anne was born (in case you were wondering if hard squashes really do last all winter... apparently so!). The idea for this pasta evolved over a period of weeks, and the most interesting development happened when I started to toss the sweet roasted squash with the butter and pasta in the pan... the squash started to disintegrate! Rather than stop tossing so that the squash stayed intact, I tossed more vigorously, interested to see what would happen, splashing in a little more starchy pasta water when it got too dry, and watching in amazement as it started to resemble a cheesy sauce! Absolutely amazing.
It feels like cheating when "abstinence" from meat turns into the best meal we've had all month.
Rigatoni with Butternut Squash, Brown Butter and Sage
1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed, and chopped into 1/2-inch cubes
Olive oil, salt and pepper
1 pound rigatoni
6 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons fresh chopped sage
1/3 cup toasted walnuts
Grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment. In a large bowl, toss together the squash cubes, olive oil, salt and pepper, and arrange them on the prepared baking sheet. Roast for 30 minutes, tossing the squash halfway through the cooking time. Allow to cool slightly. (You can also prepare the squash up to a few days ahead of time and store in the refrigerator.)
Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil, salt it well, and cook the rigatoni (or other short pasta with ridges) about a minute shy of al dente (you will finish it in a pan with the squash, and you don't want it to get mushy). Drain the pasta, reserving about a cup of the cooking water. Meanwhile, in a small skillet or saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat, and then continue cooking it, swirling continuously, while it fizzes and pops, and eventually begins to brown and smell nutty and utterly amazing. The whole process takes about 3-5 minutes. As soon as the butter is brown, pour it into a bowl to cool slightly, and stir in the chopped sage. Be very careful not to burn it!! Let the butter and sage mellow together while the pasta finishes cooking.
Strain the butter through a sieve, pressing the sage to release more flavor, and discard the sage. Add the butter to a large skillet over medium heat, and toss in the pasta and squash. Using tongs, gently continue tossing until the squash begins melting down and coating the noodles, splashing in more pasta water as necessary, and seasoning with more salt to taste. Some larger pieces of squash will remain. Serve with toasted walnuts and grated Parmesan cheese to sprinkle over the top.
To toast walnuts, place them in a dry skillet over medium heat and toss occasionally, until fragrant. Cool slightly and chop.