I'm trotting out another harvest meal, close on the heels of my Kale & Barley Soup post of just a few days ago. This one is too good not to share. The idea comes from the traditional pumpkin ravioli of northern Italy, which are sauced lightly with a sage and butter sauce. I had lovely intentions of making pumpkin puree and handmade sheet pasta, and assembling ravioli to eat fresh or freeze. But we all know how far good intentions go.
So I decided to try a variation on the filled pasta and see what I could come up with. Sage is my favorite fresh herb, so different from the musty, fusty dried stuff. And it complements the earthy sweetness of winter squash beautifully, as the Italians pointed out to me. So I fished the absolute last of our sugar pumpkins out of the garage, and set to work.
It took a little tweaking to get the pumpkin to pasta ratio right, and I think it would be okay to use more pumpkin than I've listed in the recipe below. Too little pumpkin is definitely not good. And I first experimented with using Pecorino cheese instead of Reggiano parmesan. Pecorino is a great cheese for many pasta dishes, but it did nothing to help this one. The king of parmesans, Reggiano, brings a lovely deep balance to the light and sweet notes of the squash.
I wish I had developed this recipe earlier. Pumpkin is one of those crops I grew for its storing virtues, and not so much because we love to eat it. I'm not a fan of pumpkin pie, and my husband is rather particular about how he likes to eat pumpkin too. This simple dish pleases both of us, and we would happily eat it on a regular basis. Now that I've discovered a great use for this long-storing vegetable, I feel more confident about growing it again this year. I love the deep yellow-orange color of the pumpkin. It almost looks like the pasta is studded with egg yolks.
If the methodology looks a little complicated to you, I will confess that I'm not a fan of too many different preparation methods or too many dirty pans in the preparation of one dish either. But the steaming is all fairly straightforward, and from there it proceeds like any skillet-prepared pasta sauce. The few flavoring ingredients in this dish are pretty simple, and to come together in a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts, you need to use good stuff: quality parmesan cheese, fresh sage, freshly ground pepper, and real butter and cream. You won't regret it!
Pumpkin-Sage Penne Pasta
2 lbs. (about 900 g) of fresh sugar pumpkin, which will be trimmed to about 1.5 lbs. (680 g)
5 tbsp. (75 ml or 70 g) butter
a generous bunch of fresh sage
1 tsp. (5 ml) sugar
salt to taste (I used kosher)
freshly ground white pepper
1 cup (about 225 ml) heavy cream
1 1/2 cups (about 350 ml) freshly grated Reggiano parmesan cheese
1 lb. (about 450 g) penne or other shaped pasta
salt for the pasta cooking water
Cut the pumpkin in half and then into quarters. Remove the seeds and pulp. Lay a slice of pumpkin on its side, with the skin facing away from you. Cut the skin off by slicing downward from halfway up the slice of pumpkin. The turn over the slice and cut away the skin remaining on the other half. Repeat this with the other slices. You should have 1½ lbs. of trimmed pumpkin remaining.
Take two of the pumpkin quarters and cut them into thick slices, about 1½” thick. Cut the other two quarters into thinner slices, about ¾” thick. Put all the slices in a steamer and let them cook for 15 minutes. Let them cool until they can easily be handled.
Two piles of sage. One is gently fried in the brown butter, the second is chopped up just before tossing into the cooked pasta with the finished sauce.
Meanwhile, melt 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of butter in a small skillet over low heat. Clean the sage leaves. Separate them into two equal piles and chop one pile. When the butter is melted, put in the chopped sage leaves and increase the heat to medium low. Fry the sage leaves gently, just until the butter begins to brown. Remove from the heat and set aside. Clean the rest of the leaves and set them aside until just before the pasta is done.
Two piles of steamed pumpkin. The smaller pieces will disintegrate to thicken the sauce. The larger pieces will remain intact to provide some texture contrast to the pasta.
Bring a pot of salted water to boil for the pasta. Meanwhile, melt the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet over low heat. While the butter melts, chop the thinly sliced pumpkin into small pieces. Chop the wider slices into larger cubes. Increase the heat under the skillet to medium high and sauté the pumpkin pieces in the butter, stirring well so that all pieces are coated with butter. Sprinkle the sugar and a generous pinch of kosher salt over the pumpkin. Grind some white pepper over the pumpkin and stir well. Add 2 tablespoons (30 ml) of water to the pumpkin and cover the skillet for 5 minutes.
When the water boils, put the pasta in to cook. Time the rest of the dish according to the pasta cooking time. When the pasta is 8 minutes from being done, heat the pumpkin over medium-high heat, uncovered, for 3 minutes. Add 1 cup of cream and simmer rapidly for 5 minutes. Finely chop the remaining sage. Reserve ¾ cup of the pasta cooking water before draining the pasta.
When the pasta is al dente, drain it and put it in a warmed serving bowl. Add to it the fried sage in brown butter, as well as the pumpkin in cream. Toss well, then add the grated Reggiano cheese and chopped fresh sage. Loosen the sauce or the leftovers with the reserved cooking water as needed. Serve piping hot. Serves 4-6. Leftovers are as good as any leftover pasta ever is.
Other harvest meals:
Peanut Noodles with Garden Vegetables
Egg & Chard Curry
Fusilli with Tuscan Kale in a Creamy Tomato Sauce
Kale & Barley Soup