Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Raising Spirits (Roasted Delicata Squash Pasta)

As my mother always quotes: "No leaves. No flowers. No fruit. November." The autumn just keeps on trucking along, leaving us with early sunsets and snowstorms to contend with. Personally, I'd rather just hibernate for the season and wake up in mid-May. I think that traditions such as Halloween and Christmas find their roots in humanity's attempt to stave off the depression of winter. It's a tradition I'm happy to embrace, and today I have some hot squash, pancetta, and spinach pasta for you.

Dinner: 1, Depression: 0

This recipe harkens all the way back to my college days, as an attempt to recapture the flavors I experienced one night at Fiore. As a ragtag band of starving artists, we were more accustomed to heading over to the somewhat decidedly less gourmet Vinny T's and hoping to pull the magic bean that meant dinner was on the house.

Pork fat rules
It's a simple blend of autumnal flavors calculated to raise the spirits. Crispy bites of caramelized pancetta stud al dente pasta accented with seasoned squash and the brilliant green of baby spinach. The smell of nutmeg and roasting bacon is a fitting perfume for the Fall and the fact that it's really just another take on lazy roasting means it's another meal you can have on the table for decidedly less work than the finished product would suggest.

Enlarged to show texture
I've always been something of a squash fiend. Pumpkins, butternut, acorn... they're all good, readily available come autumn, and around this time of year I just can't stop. Delicata squash are a real gem not just for their pretty, variegated skin, but because said skin is so delicate and thin you don't need to remove it at all. If you can't find delicata, butternut or acorn will do, but those may require a little more effort.

Chop. Chop.

Roasted delicata squash pasta, pancetta, spinach

Pre-cut squash is available in Wegman's and can be a real time saver but, compared to the fresh stuff, it's disturbingly pale and dry-looking. Slicing and seeding your own isn't that much more work and pays dividends in presentation.

2 large delicata squash (about 1 lb.)
1 lb. pancetta, roughly diced
2 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 lb short dried pasta, such as farfalle
2 tbs. butter
2 cups fresh baby spinach, washed

Preheat your oven to 400° F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Slice the ends off the squash, then slice in half lengthwise. Use a spoon to quickly scrape away the seeds and strings into the garbage, then roughly chop the squash into bite-sized pieces.

Pour on the love
Place your chunks of squash onto the parchment-lined baking sheet and strew with pieces of pancetta. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Use your hands to toss until evenly coated. Roast in the oven for about an hour.

Spa treatment
During the last 15 minutes of roasting, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and prepare your pasta according to package directions. Reserve 2-3 tbs. of the starchy pasta water before draining.

Drop the butter into the hot, freshly drained pasta and top with the roasted squash mixture and fresh spinach leaves. Pour your reserved pasta water directly over the spinach to start it wilting and toss everything together until fully mixed.

Some assembly required
Serve immediately, garnishing with freshly shaved Parmagiano Regiano.

Dressed for dinner

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