Pumpkin Penne

Stop what you are doing and make this, now.  It is a Fall requisite.  It is your end of the bargain for receiving this delightfully cool, crisp weather.  I am not usually this pushy about food, but this dish is highly underutilized, and hence under appreciated.  It should be among the pasta greats like Fettuccine Alfredo and Spaghetti and Meatballs.  It is every bit as universally pleasing and simple to prepare as these Italian juggernauts, and possibly a little healthier too.  After enjoying this recipe for a few years and tucking it away as my own personal secret weapon to impress dinner company, I now feel it is my obligation to this perfect little pasta to spread the word.

I first came across this pumpkin recipe about five years ago in an issue of Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food.  I have toyed with it a little adding a pinch of this or that.  But really, aside from the addition of the tiniest bit of nutmeg, it is perfect as written.  In my most recent attempt, I added some chicken sausage much the the chagrin of my sister, Claire.  She had wanted sausage, but was quite put off that it was of the chicken variety.  We used a spicy Italian sausage, but I would imagine some kind of sage infused flavor would be to. die. for.  Or you can leave it out altogether, which it what I do most of the time.  Do NOT, however, leave out the rosemary.  It is what gives this dish that certain je ne sais quoi.  Even if you don’t like rosemary, you will appreciate it here.  When you fry it in olive oil, it not only turns the herb into a crispy garnish; it also infuses the oil to create a savory base for the pumpkin sauce.  Also if you skimp on the Parmesan, be sure to salt generously or the sauce will be bland.  I used corn penne because of my gluten-free silliness and it worked well.  I have used regular pasta in the past and the difference was not very distinguishable.

Ingredients:

  • 12 ounces penne
  • coarse salt
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary
  • 1 can (15 ounces) pure pumpkin puree
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 cup half-and-half
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 2 cups chopped sausage of your choice (optional)
  • 1/4 teaspoon red-pepper flakes, plus more for garnish (optional)

Directions

  1. Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente.  Reserve 2 cups pasta water; drain pasta and set aside.
  2. In a pot, heat oil over medium.  Add rosemary and fry, stirring, until starting to almost brown, 1 to 2 minutes.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer rosemary to a paper towel, leaving oil in pot.
  3. Add saugage and cook until browned, if using.
  4. Carefully (oil is hot and will spatter) add pumpkin puree, garlic, half-and-half, Parmesan, vinegar, red-pepper flakes, 1 cup reserved pasta water, and nutmeg to pot.  Stir sauce until heated through, 2 to 3 minutes.
  5. Add pasta to sauce, and toss to coat.  If sauce is too thick, add some reserved pasta water.  Season generously with salt.  Serve pasta sprinkled with fried rosemary and, if desired, more red-pepper flakes.
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