I’m incredibly excited about today’s recipe. I spent a lot of time perfecting this one over the last couple of weeks. I tried various versions using different kinds of squash. I experimented with the cheese and pasta ratios. I even tried out different roasting methods. The end result is gooey and comforting like a decadent mac and cheese, but with the health bonuses of my favorite winter squash. Plus, there is bacon. Needless to say, I really love this recipe for Roasted Pumpkin Baked Pasta, and I hope you do too.
To go on a bit of an aside, yesterday was my birthday. With a generous gift certificate from a friend in hand to get us started, my husband Sam and I started the night sipping decadent cocktails at the trend-setting NYC bar, Death and Company. The staff, despite mixed reviews I’ve seen online, were all very friendly and welcoming, and the drink menu reminded me more of a small coffee table book than what one normally finds at a bar.
After a few incredibly well-layered drinks from the new fall menu (Zombie Punch and Hustle & Cuss for me, Echo Chamber and Night in Tunisia for Sam), we decided we needed something more substantial then they offered for food. We headed north to a place I’ve been dying to try, Momofuku Noodle Bar. The thirty minute wait and crowded shared seating were more than worth the inconvenience. The BBQ Pork Belly Ssäm was especially good, and the Chocolate Malt Cake Truffles a perfect (if unorthodox) birthday dessert. There is nothing like a good meal to inspire one’s cooking.
But, back to the recipe. In all honesty, it’s only been a year since I discovered how amazing roasted pumpkin is. I grew up loving pumpkin pie, and even requested it year after year as my “birthday cake” growing up (which my mom kindly obliged). Despite this love of sweet pumpkin, fresh squash was just never something we had in our household. Pumpkins were either giant, kind of weird-smelling things we turned into jack-o-lanterns, or a puree that came straight out of a can.
As I got older, I just had no idea how to cut into some of the larger varieties, let alone cook with them. I decided to change that when I saw some sugar pumpkins at my local farmer’s market last year – The name alone sounds appetizing, don’t you think? I looked up some tutorials online, figured out how best to cut it up without hurting myself, and I haven’t looked back. Since then, roasted pumpkin with just a little bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper has definitely earned a place in our household repertoire.
I’m typing all of this to assure you that you are not alone if you are intimidated by fresh pumpkin. I think I might make my own tutorial on how to cut and seed squash in the future, but until then check out this one. It’s informative, simple and has great step-by-step pictures – it won’t steer you wrong.
Please believe me when I say that this is a delicious main dish all around, and sure to be a crowd-pleaser. Baked pasta is a familiar, comforting sight, so you might even be able to get it past pickier eaters not used to pumpkin outside of their lattes or pies. The richness of the mascarpone cheese and savory-sweetness of the roasted pumpkin are balanced by a healthy dose of salt, sage, and chicken stock, making this relatively simple dish taste far more complex than it looks.
As noted in the title, this Roasted Pumpkin Baked Pasta is the second entree option for my fall-inspired recipe series, An Autumn Affair. Like last week’s Apple and Sausage Stuffed Acorn Squash recipe, this one is not only a satisfying meal for company, but also just a nice alternative family meal if you feel like pasta but don’t want the same baked ziti or lasagna in red sauce (not that there is anything wrong with either).
This recipe is even easy to convert to meat- and/or gluten-free, depending on the dietary needs of your guests. You can always serve the bacon on the side or remove it entirely, should vegetarians be dining with you. For gluten-free options, I turned to a long-term friend who has become an amazing gluten-free cook and baker in her off-time, Kate. Kate recommends using a corn-quinoa based gluten-free pasta for recipes that require baking, as this type holds its shape better and has a firmer texture than some other varieties. If you’ve ever tried cooking with rice-based pastas and had them go mushy on you, you’ll know why this is an important distinction. To make a roux (which is a fancy name for what we are using as the base for the pumpkin-cheese sauce), she typically uses Bob’s Red Mill 1-to-1 Gluten-Free Baking Flour and says it works great on its own. If you experiment with other alternatives that work, let me know! Kate is part of Too Real Games, which I encourage you to check out if you’re into video-games, and has a really fun personal YouTube channel Nerdventures with Kate, where she talks about her life, baking, gaming, and other nerdy things we both love.
The next recipe I have planned for you is the dessert portion of this series. Stay tuned and let me know in the comments if you have any plans coming up for your own non-obligatory fall gathering!
Roasted Pumpkin Baked Pasta
- 2 pounds sugar or pie pumpkin, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 teaspoons pepper
- 2 teaspoons nutmeg
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/2 pound Campanelle pasta, or your favorite type - rigatoni and penne are also great options!
- 6 ounce bacon, cooked and crumbled
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon flour
- 2/3 cup milk, I use reduced fat (2%)
- 3 ounce Mascarpone cheese
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage, plus 6-8 leaves for garnish
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 1/4 cup chicken stock
- 1/2 cup Gruyere cheese, grated and divided in half
- 1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated and divided in half
Preheat oven to 400°F. Spread the cubed pumpkin out onto a foil-wrapped baking sheet, and toss with olive oil, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Roast for 20 minutes, toss, and then roast another 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool to room temperature.
As the pumpkin is roasting, prepare the pasta al dente (be careful not to overcook). Drain when finished but do not rinse. Sauté the bacon in a large frying pan and then remove and wrap in paper towels to absorb excess grease. Wipe down the pan and use it to make a roux for the pumpkin sauce – it doesn’t need to be spotless, you just want to remove any bits that might burn.
Brown the butter in the pan by swirling it around over medium heat. You’ll know it’s ready once the butter foams up a bit and then subsides, taking on a subtle nutty aroma. Before it starts to burn, whisk in the flour and let it cook for a minute or two. Slowly whisk the milk into the butter-flour mixture to make the roux, then add the Mascarpone cheese, chopped sage, red pepper flakes, and chicken stock and stir to combine. Mix in the roasted pumpkin. If it’s still a little chunky, smash it up with a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon until it’s smooth. Turn the heat to low, and mix in half of each of the Gruyere and Parmesan. Remove from heat.
Pour the drained and cooked pasta into an oven-to-table serving dish. Fold in the pumpkin sauce and crumbled bacon. Sprinkle the top with the remaining cheese, and top with the large sage leaves for decoration. Bake for 20-30 minutes.
To make vegetarian: Replace chicken stock with vegetable stock and remove the bacon. For a company with mixed dietary preferences, make the bacon in a separate pan and serve separately, allowing guests to sprinkle crumbled bacon on top as they wish.
To make gluten-free: Use a gluten-free corn-quinoa pasta (rigatoni or penne shaped), as it holds up better to baking than some other varieties. Substitute a gluten-free baking flour for regular all-purpose to make the roux, such as Bob’s Red Mill 1-to-1 Gluten-Free Baking Flour.