Jul 17, 2010

Penne Pasta with Butternut Squash

Penne with butternut squash, fresh tomatoes and basil.

I have a tendency to get stuck on a particular food quite easily. For instance, I think I’ve shared before that I was addicted to cheese sandwiches until I was about 13 years old. NO joke! Any place we went, I’d order a cheese sandwich with just GOOD cheese and fresh homemade bread. Pretty simple, but oh how people tried to spice it up for me. They’d add different sauces, grill it or add parsley on top (that one I didn’t mind) but the other two I couldn’t fly with. I was actually reminiscing about family vacations the other day with my mom and step dad and we were talking about this hotel called the Phoenician in Phoenix, AZ…FANTASTIC cheese sandwich. There are also a few places in Richmond, VA where I grew up, that knew how do put together a mean cheese sandwich, Homemades by Suzannes being one of my all time favorite. That place won me over with their rolls!

As I’ve gotten older, I may have grown out of my one track mind of cheese sandwich, but there’s always something I’m stuck on. I make a particular meal once, and there’s something about it that strikes my fancy and I just keep coming back to the kitchen to make more and more. I guess some could find that annoying, but when you find great food, it’s hard to say No to it and the craving that comes along with it.

One such meal was this butternut squash pasta! YUM! I’m a little hungry at the moment and just thinking about this meal has made my stomach talk! We adapted a version of Giada de Laurentiis pasta with butternut squash and prawns and made it into something that was quick and tasty for any busy weeknight meal. I think squash usually speaks to people most during the fall time, but we love to make this meal all year round. Fall food brings a certain comfort to the table, and when the squash are there at the grocery store in 90 degree weather, there’s no reason you can’t bring him home!

Here’s what you’ll need for this creation:


(adapted from Giada de Laruentiis. Makes 2 servings with leftovers)

  • 1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  • 1/3 cup chopped onion
  • red pepper flakes
  • 2 cups whole wheat penne pasta (adds more depth)
  • ~2 cups low sodium chicken broth
  • handful of cherry tomatoes
  • fresh basil leaves
  • fresh parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup dried bread crumbs (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Start with a boiling pot of salted water and add the penne pasta. As I noted in the ingredient section, we use whole wheat penne because it really does add a depth and hardiness to the dish. However, if you’re not a fan, regular works just as great!

While you let your pasta cook, you want to start the butternut squash and onions. We’re all about saving some time so Trader Joe’s and some other grocery stores actually do the hard work for you! They have packages of peeled and cubed butternut squash! Genius in our book! I had too close of an unfortunate experience with my first attempt with the butternut squash. Let’s just say when we can’t find it prepared, Jordan is responsible for peeling and cubing! Ok, add the chopped onion and butternut squash to a large dutch oven with a little bit of good olive oil. Sprinkle salt, pepper and a few shakes of red pepper flakes onto the mixture. Saute these for 5-8 minutes. You don’t want the squash to go to mush at this point, we’re just trying to get things going. Once your onions turn translucent and the squash is starting to cook through add the chicken broth. I gave an approximate amount of broth because you really want to add just enough to cover the tops of the squash. Cover up and let this simmer for about 10 minutes. Now, you’re looking for the squash to get soft!

Butternut squash and onions simmering in the chicken broth. Goal: very soft squash!

Once the squash is very soft, their job is done. You can add the mixture in batches to a blender or food processor and smooth it out to the consistency that you want or you can use a hand potato masher! It’s really all about preference here and we’ve done it both ways. The blender/food processor makes for more of a sauce and the hand masher gives you more of the chunky vegetable pasta feel. If you have someone that isn’t thrilled about butternut squash, maybe a child, I’d go with the blender route. Squash doesn’t really have that star quality to some people but the sweetness to this squash could really convert some people. I know it did me!!

Once the squash is smashed, add as many cherry tomatoes as you want along with the fresh basil. Toss in the pasta, add salt and pepper to taste and your job is done here! Plate up and sprinkle with parmesan cheese and toasted bread crumbs for a little bit of crunch!

Butternut squash pasta with parmesan and bread crumbs: Ready to be enjoyed!

It’s kind of funny that this is one of the meals/foods I got stuck on. As a kid, I was one of those people that hated squash! No thank you was my attitude. But acorn squash, spaghetti squash, butternut squash…these days I say YES PLEASE! When I do my weekly search of meals to make for the upcoming week, I more frequently find myself searching under butternut squash to find soups, pastas, etc. and I have to tell myself “No! You JUST had this meal!” This meal is great too because of the simplicity involved. One pot boiling your pasta, the other right next to it simmering your squash and you’re left smelling all the flavors coming together but not breaking a sweat putting together this delicious meal! For now that’s penne pasta with butternut squash…in the shell of a nut!

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