Free State Brewery used to occasionally have a butternut squash ravioli as their daily special (it then made it to the seasonal menu – yessss!; but is gone for now – boooo). It was a ricotta-butternut-squash-stuffed ravioli, in a cream sauce studded with dried cranberries. My mouth, it waters just thinking of it, so so good.
715 had a similar pasta dish on their menu – fresh ziti pasta tossed with their own Italian sausage and shredded butternut squash in a barely there cream sauce. Um, divine. And also no longer on their menu, which makes me want to cry a little (I have hopes that it will be back next winter).
Anyway, clearly my love runs deep for a butternut-squash Italian dish. So much so that I found myself craving it, I mean CRAVING it this week. So off I went to the Interwebs, and found this lovely little recipe at Closet Cooking. I altered it a bit, making somewhat of a combination of my two favorite dishes. My version uses penne rather than ziti or ravioli. I like my squash stewed down, so it becomes one with the sauce – I think the flavor is deeper this way. I added cream, some spinach for color (and to sneak in some healthy greens), and a sprinkling of cranberries for a surprise tartness to cut through the cream. Wonderful with a salad or, on a chilly spring day, with a hot slice of garlic bread. And it comes together quickly, which is a total win in my book.
Something to note: The flavor you get when preparing it as instructed below is rather delicate, the squash isn’t the high note but instead mild; it still plays well with the other flavors going on. If you would rather the squash was more prominent (which I might try next time I make this dish): roast the cubes first, just toss with some olive oil/salt/pepper and roast on a baking sheet in the oven, maybe for 30 minutes at 375F. Your pasta should also come together more quickly, with pre-roasted squash.
Butternut Squash, Sausage, and Spinach Penne
(adapted from Closet Cooking)
1 Tbsp. oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
Red chili pepper flakes (to taste)
2 Tbsp. sage, chopped
2 links Italian sausage (casings removed and crumbled)
1 c. chicken stock
1 butternut squash; peeled, seeded, and cut into 1 inch cubes (pre-roasted, if you prefer)
3 c. fresh spinach
1 pound penne pasta
1/4 c. heavy cream (I used half and half)
1/4 c. dried cranberries
Heat the oil in a pan. Add the onion and saute until tender, about 5 minutes.
Add the garlic, red pepper flakes and sage and saute until fragrant, about a minute. Add the sausage and saute until cooked, about 5 minutes more.
Start boiling your pasta at this point. Add the chicken stock and squash and simmer until the squash is tender, about 15 minutes (note: if you pre-roasted the squash, you probably only need to simmer for about 5 minutes). Once the squash is tender, take your potato masher to the mixture to get the squash nice and mashed up. Add the spinach and stir well a few times, cooking until it wilts (about 3-5 minutes). Stir in your cream. Remove from the heat at this point, and wait for your pasta to finish boiling.
Drain your pasta, and toss with the sauce. Plate, then sprinkle with grated Parm and dried cranberries. EAT.