Eric Akis: Making sauce from a squash

Eric Akis

September is a month when a bounty of locally grown squash becomes available at farmers markets and grocery stores. I bought one, a beautiful looking butternut squash grown in Saanich, and prepared it in an unusual way: I turned it into pasta sauce.

The process began by peeling, seeding, cutting and roasting the squash until it was tender with onion, garlic and other flavourings, including oregano and fennel seed. That aromatic, already flavourful looking mixture was then puréed with some stock.

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The mixture transferred to a pot will have a consistency similar to a tomato-based pasta sauce. But, of course, it will have an orangey, late-summer hue and a rich squash taste.

I used that sauce to flavour one of my favourite types of pasta, rigatoni. To better show off that pasta’s fluted, tubular shape, rather than toss it with the sauce, I set the pasta in a bowl filled with sauce. I also ladled and drizzled some of the sauce over the pasta.

Just before serving, I richly accented both the taste of the pasta and the sauce by setting on some toasted walnuts, parsley, freshly grated Parmesan cheese and nuggets of a tangy cheese, which could be Gorgonzola or other blue cheese, or soft goat cheese.

The recipe serves four, but if you were only feeding two, you could make all of the sauce, but only cook two portions of pasta. Serve those two portions of pasta with half of the sauce, cheese and walnuts. Freeze the leftover sauce for another time.

Rigatoni with Roasted Squash Sauce, Cheese and Walnuts

In this recipe, locally grown butternut squash is cooked and blended into a seasonal sauce that goes great with pasta.

Preparation: 35 minutes

Cooking time: about 55 minutes

Makes: four servings

1 medium (about 2 lb/900 gram) butternut squash, halved lengthwise, seeded, peeled and cut into 1 1/2-inch chunks

1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced

3 large garlic cloves, halved and sliced

2 Tbsp olive oil

1 tsp dried oregano

1/4 to 1/2 tsp whole fennel seed

• pinch or two red pepper flakes

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

2 to 2 1/2 cups vegetable or chicken stock or broth

375 grams rigatoni (see Eric’s options)

100 grams Gorgonzola or other blue cheese, or soft goat cheese, pulled into small nuggets

1/3 to 1/2 cup toasted walnut pieces (see Note)

• freshly grated Parmesan cheese, to taste

• chopped fresh parsley, to taste.

Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a large sided baking sheet with parchment paper. Set squash, onion and garlic on the baking sheet, drizzle and sprinkle with the oil, oregano, fennel seeds, pepper flakes, salt and pepper, and toss combine.

Roast squash 20 minutes, and then give it a stir. Roast squash 20 minutes more, or it’s until very tender.

Put the squash mixture in a food processor or blender. Pour in 2 cups of the stock (or broth), and then purée until smooth and sauce like. Add another 1/2 cup stock (or broth), if you find the sauce is too thick. Taste sauce and add a bit more salt and pepper, if needed. Transfer sauce to a pot and set it aside for now (see Eric’s options).

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. When water is boiling, add the pasta and cook until just tender (check package for suggested cooking time). While the pasta cooks, set pot with the squash sauce over medium heat and bring to a simmer.

When pasta is cooked, drain it well. To serve, ladle 1/2 cup or so of the squash sauce into each of four, heated pasta bowls. Now set an equal amount of pasta in each bowl. Top the pasta in each bowl with another 1/2 cup of so of the sauce. Top each bowl of pasta with some nuggets of Gorgonzola cheese (or other blue cheese or goat cheese), parmesan cheese, walnuts and parsley, and serve.

Note: To toast walnuts, place in a skillet and set over medium heat. Cook and stir until lightly toasted and aromatic, about four to five minutes.

Options: If you don’t like rigatoni, use another type of pasta, such as penne or rotini. The squash sauce can be made a day ahead. Once cooled, cover and refrigerate, until ready to reheat and serve with the pasta.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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