The versatility of pasta makes it the perfect staple ingredient for every cook’s pantry. Chef/owner Sara Jenkins of New York City’s Porsena and food writer Nancy Harmon Jenkins cull from their family’s own experiences living in Italy to bring us The Four Seasons of Pasta.
Aside from functioning as holiday decorations, pumpkins are an especially good seasonal ingredient to incorporate into fall pasta dishes. With so many different varieties to choose from, Sara and Nancy remind us to look for ones intended for eating—not to be confused with the ornamental variety. They favor kabocha for its pronounced flavor and deep, bright orange color.
Other varieties to look for at your local farmers’ markets include: rouge vif d’Etampes, cheese pumpkins or the dark orange kuri pumpkins. You can also substitute hard winter squashes like butternut, buttercup, acorn and the old fashioned Hubbard.
Pumpkin & Pumpkin Seed Maccheroncini
Serves 4 to 6
You’ll need about 2 ½ pounds of peeled and trimmed squash—around 3 pounds of raw, uncut squash will make 4 cups of grated squash.
Maccheroni are long hollow noodles, like what is often called macaroni in North America; maccheroncini are the same thing but shorter, about 2 ½ inches long.
Toast the pumpkin seeds by setting them on a dry baking tray in a 350ºF oven for about 10 minutes, or until they start to turn golden and crisp. Be careful not to let them burn. As soon as they are ready, turn them out on a board. When cool, chop coarsely with a knife and set aside.
1 lb (500 grams) maccheroncini
2½ pounds pumpkin or winter squash, peeled and seeded
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
4–5 large leaves of fresh sage
2 garlic cloves, lightly smashed with the flat blade of a knife
Freshly ground black pepper
½ cup pumpkin seeds, toasted and coarsely chopped (see headnote)
½ cup grated parmigiano-reggiano or grana padano, plus more to pass
Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil.
For the pasta sauce: 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 and drain on a paper towel and reserve.
Add the garlic to the oil, raising the heat slightly and cook, turning and flattening the cloves with a spatula, until they are brown and have thoroughly infused the oil with garlic flavor. Remove the cloves once they have browned 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 stir-frying, for 3–4 minutes, seasoning with salt as you toss. The squash bits will soften and give off moisture, while some will brown and crisp in the hot oil. Don’t wait for the squash to brown completely—it should retain texture and not be cooked to a soft mush. Remove the first batch of squash and set aside while you continue cooking the rest of it. Once all the squash is done, combine both batches in the skillet and stir in the pumpkin seeds. Turn the heat down to very low or keep the squash in a very low (200ºF) oven.
Now, add salt and pasta to the rapidly boiling water and cook until al dente.
Meanwhile, check the squash mixture and add a ladleful or two of the pasta water
if it seems a bit dry (some varieties are dryer than others). Mix in the pasta water gradually over low heat to render the squash “sauce” creamy.
To serve: 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 of oil and the grated parmigiano-reggiano. Toss to mix well and crumble the sage leaves over the finished pasta, adding a liberal amount of freshly ground black pepper.
Serve immediately, passing more grated cheese at the table.