Pumpkin pasta: Why not?

Here’s a great seasonal recipe from The Four Seasons of Pasta, the book I wrote with my chef daughter Sara Jenkins: Pumpkin Pasta with Pumpkin Seeds, a fine dish to serve for Halloween supper, but the friendly golden color, like a fat harvest moon in the sky, makes it welcome on any chilly night in the fall. Don’t, please, use a leftover jack-o’-lantern for this dish. Those seasonal delights are bred especially for size and a one-night stand at October’s end. They’re not worth the effort to recycle them.

What you need here is an eating pumpkin or a hard winter squash. Some varieties to look for include rouge vif d’Etampes (don’t be misled by its exotic name, it’s widely available in farmers’ markets), cheese pumpkins (so-called because they look a little like big old-fashioned farmstead cheddar cheeses), dark orange kuri pumpkins, or hard winter squashes such as the very accessible butternut, buttercup, acorn, and the big old-fashioned favorite Hubbard. Kabocha, an Asian variety, is prized for its deep, bright orange color that makes a stand-out dish on the autumn table. You’ll need about 2½ pounds of peeled and trimmed squash—around 3 pounds of raw uncut squash to make 4 cups of grated squash.

Maccheroni are long hollow noodles, like what’s often called macaroni in North America; maccheroncini are the same thing but shorter, about 2½ inches long. But you could use any short, stubby pasta for this dish

Toast the pumpkin seeds: Set them on a dry baking sheet in a 350ºF oven for about 10 minutes, or until they start to brown and turn crisp. Be careful not to let them burn. As soon as they’re ready, turn them out onto a board. When cool, chop coarsely with a knife and set aside.

For 4 to 6 servings:

  • 2 1/2 pounds  peeled and seeded pumpkin or winter squash
  • 4 tablespoons  extra-virgin olive oil
  • 5  large sage leaves
  • 2  garlic cloves, lightly smashed with the flat blade of a knife
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup  pumpkin seeds, toasted and coarsely chopped
  • 1 pound  maccheroncini
  • 1/2 cup  freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano or grana padano, plus more to pass

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil.

While the water is heating, grate the squash on the largest holes of a box grater. You should have about 4 cups of grated squash.

Gently heat 3 tablespoons of the oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet large enough to hold the squash. Fry the sage leaves until crisp, about 2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon, drain on a paper towel, and reserve.

Add the garlic to the oil, raise the heat slightly, and cook, turning and flattening the cloves with a spatula, until the cloves are brown and have thoroughly impregnated the oil with garlic flavor.

Remove the browned cloves and discard.

Raise the heat to high and add a third to one-half of the shredded squash to the pan. Toss and stir the squash continuously, as if you were stir-frying, for 3 to 4 minutes, seasoning with salt as you toss. The squash bits will soften and give off moisture and some of them will brown and crisp in the hot oil. Don’t wait for the squash to brown thoroughly—it should retain texture and not be cooked to a soft mush. Remove the batch of squash and set aside while you continue with the rest of it. When all the squash is done, combine it all in the skillet and stir in the pumpkin seeds. Turn the heat down to very low or set the squash in a very low (200 degrees F) oven.

Add salt and the pasta to the rapidly boiling water and cook.

Check the squash mixture at this point and if it seems a bit dry (some varieties are dryer than others), add a ladleful or two of the pasta water and mix it in over low heat to render the squash “sauce” creamy.

When the pasta is done, drain and turn it into a warm serving bowl. Mix the squash mixture into the pasta, adding the remaining 1 tablespoon oil and the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. Toss to mix well and crumble the sage leaves over the top, adding a liberal amount of freshly ground black pepper.

Serve immediately, passing more grated cheese at the table.

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