Today’s recipe post is all about love. ‘Tis Valentine’s Day, of course, so it follows that whatever I post needs to effuse passion and desire. Squash and Pasta is it for me. Out of all of the dishes with which I grew up, this is my favorite. On my birthdays, my mom would ask me what I wanted for dinner, and this is usually what I requested, even after I had moved away from home.
This is another dish that when I made it for my wife the first time, although I was a bit shy about serving it, she just stopped after the first bite and said, “Oh my god.” Now we both can’t wait for fall to begin so this can be on the menu again. I remember one time that we were expecting company and I thought about making this for guests. I had called my mom that day for whatever reason and told her what I was making. Her reply was, “Jon, you don’t make that for company. That’s peasant food. It’s comfort food.” And it’s true. I think I’ve made it for one or two people and that’s about it. I don’t want to exaggerate, but this dish is me, pure and simple. No matter the circumstances, this cheers me up and satisfies me to the core.
This is purely vegetarian, even vegan, come to think of it, but it still sticks to the ribs. It’s also a fall/ winter dish and most Neopolitans will serve this regularly during those seasons. Just like so many Italian dishes, it takes simple ingredients and makes them magical. It’s also very healthful in that its only fat is olive oil, and you’re getting a good serving of veggies with it. Although one might think it overkill to eat this with a good hunk o’ bread, that one person should fuck off because this sauce on warm bread is pure indulgence.
The recipe below is from Naples at Table by Arthur Schwartz, but it tastes EXACTLY like my mom’s, who learned it from my nonna. Like I said, this dish is love, so make it for that special someone and thank me later for the shenanigans after the meal and wine.
Butternut Squash and Pasta (Pasta e zucca)
2 lbs. butternut squash, cubed into 1″ pieces (see below) (you can also use acorn squash)
1/3 cup olive oil
5 cloves garlic, smashed
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
2 tsp. salt or to taste
5-6 cups water
1/2 spaghetti, broken into 1 1/2″ or slightly longer lengths (it’s peasant food, so it doesn’t have to be perfect, wise guy)
1/3 cup finely cut parsley, or 1 tbsp. dried
Parmigiano to serve
In a 3 quart or larger pot over medium-low heat, combine the oil and the garlic. Cook the garlic until it’s soft and barely browning on both sides. Press the garlic into the oil with the edge of a wooden spoon to get the flavor into the oil. Remove the garlic.
Add the cubed squash (again, see below) and the red pepper flakes. Sprinkle this with 1/2 teaspoon of the salt and raise the heat to medium-high. Saute the squash, stirring fairly often, until it’s soft and starting to brown. It almost gets gooey and stringy on the outside. This takes me about 12 to 15 minutes. Some of the squash will stick to the bottom, which is okay, but don’t let it burn.
At this point, add the 5 to 6 cups of water, stir it well and scrape up the bits from the bottom of the pan. Cover the pot, raise the heat to high, and get it to a rolling boil.
Stir in the pasta and recover it until it returns to a boil. Once boiling uncover it and cook the pasta according to your taste (10 minutes normally for spaghetti). As it cooks, stir it once in a while and smash some of the squash cubes against the side of the pot to thicken the water . You can do this a lot and make it like a stew, or do it a few times and make it soupier…whatever blows your hair back (obviously, there’s no draining pasta in this dish).
Stir in the chopped parsley, and it looks like this:
Pass the parmigiano. Serve it hot, like this:
Note: Reheating this is good, but in the microwave, cover it and stir it every few seconds because it will pop and crackle like a mofo.
Cubing a Butternut Squash:
Lay the squash on its side and cut off the ends. Slice it into 1″ thick disks (or close to it…it’s peasant food, dude), like this:
Scoop out the seeds of the disks that have them, and then peel each disk, like this:
Then, slice this into cubes, like this:
Bob’s your uncle. Do I get exactly two pounds of squash? No. I get a good size one and use all of it because I like a lot of squash.
If you try this and enjoy it, let me know.
Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.
©Jon Marino 2013