Ever have an amazing dish out at a restaurant and then try to recreate it again at home? I do all the time. Sometimes I’m successful and other times not so much. But what I’ve learned is that it’s all about the flavors.
One of my favorite meals was in Florence, Italy when I was traveling abroad a few years ago. It was squash filled ravioli. I couldn’t remember much more than that later on when I thought about it again at home. But I knew it included winter squash, pasta, and cheese. And that was enough to get me going.
To become a better cook that’s exactly what you need to do – pay attention to flavors and do some experimenting. Mastering techniques is important too, but what isn’t is feeling like you need to follow a recipe exactly. This and this are two excellent resources to help you think more about flavor, less about following a recipe word for word, and on your way to making a dish your own.
Eventually, I found that what I was looking for was sage, particularly – fried sage leaves. When paired with almost any kind of winter squash it’s an amazing combination. And a little butter makes it even better. Now, I pair sage and squash all the time. Maybe too much. But they’re flavors I love and this quick pasta dish proves why.
I had an acorn squash so that’s what I went with this time. Butternut, pumpkin, hubbard – whatever you like or already have will work great. Don’t be afraid to try some new squashes you might encounter at the market. Just ask a farmer if you’re not sure what they taste like.
With an acorn squash, I use a knife to slice off the skin because a peeler is just too ineffective. But first I cut it in half and scoop out the seed.
Then I cut the squash into 1/2 inch cubes, throw in a baking dish with a little oil and salt and get it roasting in the oven. Because the squash is in small pieces, it’s going to cook pretty quickly – about 20-25 minutes at 425F.
Try to control yourself from eating it just like this when it’s done. Or better yet, roast a couple of squashes at once and have some for snacking or ready to go for another meal.
Meanwhile, get a pot of water boiling for the pasta. Add in the pasta and a good amount of salt when the water is boiling. Drain when al dente, reserving 2 cups of the cooking water.
Now wipe out your pot and melt some butter. We want to brown it, so that means letting it cook until all of the foam subsides. In the process, the butter acquires a really nice nutty flavor.
When it’s starting to brown, add in a handful of sage. Cook for just a couple of minutes then remove the leaves from the pot and toss in some sliced garlic. Again, control yourself. Those sage leaves are quite tempting, aren’t they?
Fortunately, dinner is just a couple of minutes away now.
After the garlic starts to just slightly brown, pour in a cup of the reserved pasta water, the pasta, squash and some grated Parmesan. Toss together and let cook a minute or so until the water is mostly gone.
Crumble the sage leaves over top, add in some pumpkin seeds if you like, and get eating.
- 1 medium-large winter squash
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 lb pasta
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 1 small bunch of fresh sage leaves
- 2 cloves garlic, sliced
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan
- 1/2 cup roasted pumpkin seeds
- shaved parmesan for serving (optional)
- Heat the oven to 425
- Halve the squash. Scoop out the seeds and peel the skin.
- Cut into 1/2 inch cubes, toss with the olive oil, some salt and pepper.
- Roast for 25 minutes or until tender.
- Meanwhile, bring a pot of water to boil for the pasta.
- Salt the water and cook the pasta until al dente.
- Drain, reserving 2 cups of the cooking water.
- In the same pot, melt the butter over medium heat and let cook until foam subsides and it begins to brown.
- Toss in the sage, cook for two minutes and remove from the pot.
- Add in the garlic, cook until just starting to brown then add 1 cup reserved pasta water, the cooked pasta and squash, and the grated parmesan.
- Toss together and cook until the water is mostly gone and a light sauce remains.
- Serve with crumbled sage leaves, the seeds and additional cheese. Use the other cup of the pasta water when heating up leftovers, if there are any.