Published in The Sanford Herald October 24, 2012
While my experience with Shakespeare is almost entirely limited to playing Julie Number Six in the Fifth Grade (we had half a dozen Juliets and Romeos), I am fairly certain that Shakespeare never wrote a sonnet about the beauty of the squash. I am also certain that very few marriage proposals take place over a fragrant plate of that humble gourd. However, when leaves crunch beneath my feet and I am delightfully overwhelmed by pumpkin-flavored everything, I begin to crave delicate little cubes of butternut squash, roasted to perfection with sage or rosemary until golden and crispy outside and decadently creamy inside. Oh, I could write a squash sonnet and a butternut ballad about just how good the squash is in this recipe. Allow me, with all the solemnity and pomp of Shakespeare to introduce you to my beloved butternut squash and Italian sausage pasta. Trust me, y’all, it ends far better than Romeo and Juliet.
Butternut Squash and Italian Sausage Penne
1 small butternut squash, peeled, cored and cut into 1 inch cubes*
½ a medium onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons freshly chopped sage or rosemary
1 tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil
½ lb hot Italian sausage, removed from the casings
¼ cup dry red wine (optional)
½ lb whole grain penne pasta
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese (freshly grated: thou shalt not use thy green Parmesan dust canister!)
2 tablespoons freshly chopped parsley
salt and pepper
*Cutting up a butternut squash is not for the faint of heart (or dull of knife). Here’s the easiest way I’ve found to do this: cut off the top and bottom. Cut the squash in half widthwise where it begins to broaden. Placing each section on its now-flat surface, work your knife down the sides along the curve of the squash, removing the tough outer skin. Cut the bottom portion in half lengthwise and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds. Cut the large portions into fourths lengthwise and then dice into cubes.
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Toss butternut squash with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, sage or rosemary and salt and pepper on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast for 30 minutes, tossing once, until beginning to brown and tender. Meanwhile, prepare the sausage. Heat the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil on medium heat in a large saucepan. Add the sausage, onion and garlic and season with a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook, crumbling with a wooden spoon, until sausage is browned and onions are tender, about 15 minutes. Add red wine, if using, and simmer another 5 minutes, scraping up the flavorful bits at the bottom of the pan. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add a generous amount of salt, and cook pasta until al dente (firm to the bite), about 9 minutes. Reserve 1½ cup of the starchy pasta water. Take ⅓ of the butternut squash cubes and puree with ½ cup of pasta water in a food processor or blender, until smooth. Add more pasta water as needed to achieve a sauce consistency. Add pureed squash to the sausage mixture, along with cooked pasta, Parmesan and parsley. Toss to combine and serve topped with remaining roasted butternut squash cubes. Creamy butternut squash sauce meeting spicy Italian sausage might just be a match made in heaven.