In a normal year, late November would be when I bring my big herb pots inside for the winter. But here in northern New Jersey it’s a balmy 65 degrees outside, so I think I’ll leave the pots of rosemary and bay laurel out on the patio for a little while longer. (Or at least until the weekend when I can put “Move heavy pots” on someone else’s To Do list.)
For now I’ll shift focus to tonight’s dinner, which happens to be one of my favorite uses for fresh rosemary: Baked Rigatoni with Butternut Squash, Rosemary and Bacon. The inspiration for this dish comes from Susan Spungen’s Rigatoni with Squash and Caramelized Onions (Recipes: a Collection for the Modern Cook). I loved the combination of ingredients in her recipe, but wanted to streamline the steps (add shallots to the sauce instead of caramelizing onions) and make some swaps for ingredients I usually have on hand (bacon and mozzarella instead of pancetta and fontina). The butternut squash gets star billing, but really the fresh rosemary, cream and bacon should win for Best Ensemble in a Supporting Role. (If there were such an award.)
If you’re intrigued but not quite convinced to try this recipe, here are some additional reasons why I have it in regular fall/winter dinner rotation:
- It’s a meal-in-one, with all 4 food groups represented (Are there still 4 food groups?)
- Can be prepped ahead of time and baked right before dinner
- Good showcase of seasonal produce
- Feeds a crowd or makes enough for leftovers
- All ingredients will keep for over a week in the fridge/pantry, so it helps stretch out trips to the grocery store
- Can be served “deconstructed” for picky eaters (i.e., plain pasta, plain squash cubes, plain pieces of bacon)
Baked Rigatoni with Butternut Squash, Rosemary and Bacon Click for Recipe
Serves 8, or 4 with leftovers
- 1 box (16 oz.) rigatoni
- Kosher salt
- 8 slices bacon, cut crosswise into 1” pieces (double this if you are settting some aside for picky eaters)
- (Olive oil)
- 4 large shallots, chopped (about 1 ½ cups) (you can substitute chopped onions or even leeks)
- 2 heaping Tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 butternut squash, cut into ¾” cubes (or buy pre-peeled & cubed squash at the store; you’ll need about 1 ½ – 2 lbs total)
- 2 cups chicken broth (16 oz. or ½ box)
- 1 chicken bouillon cube (optional, but you will need to add more salt if you omit)
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 ½ cups grated mozzarella, or fontina cut into ½” cubes
- 2 cups (freshly grated, ideally) Parmigiano-Reggiano
This recipe is a tad on the time-consuming side, but the process can be divided into 4 easy stages: 1) cooking the pasta, 2) prepping the ingredients, 3) making the squash sauce, and 4) combining the pasta with the sauce and baking. Steps 1, 2 and 3 can be done hours or up to a day ahead; then do step 4 about 45 minutes before dinnertime. Add a simple green salad (and at our house, crusty bread) and dinner’s served.
1) PASTA: Bring a large pot of water to a boil; add pasta and 1 Tablespoon kosher salt. Stirring occasionally, cook pasta according to package directions until just short of al dente. (About 13 minutes; pasta will continue to cook in the oven.) Drain and rinse pasta; set aside. If you plan to reserve some plain pasta for picky eaters, save some pasta water so you can cook the pasta a little longer. I add the plain pasta, some pasta water and some butter to a bowl & then microwave right before serving.
2) PREP: Starting at the top of the sprig, strip rosemary leaves off their stems. (This 18” stem from my potted rosemary bush yielded 2 heaping Tablespoons.) Chop and set aside.
Chop shallots (or onions or leeks) into a medium dice. (Not minced, but not big chunks.) This might look like a lot of shallots/onions, but they just melt into the sauce. Trust me. Cut the squash in half crosswise, separating the neck from the ball. Peel and scoop out seeds. (Go ahead and roast them like pumpkin seeds if want.) Cut squash into 3/4” chunks and set aside. (Using a Y-shaped peeler and knife, and taking pictures, this took me 7 minutes and 16 seconds – in case you were debating whether to go whole squash or pre-cubed.)
3) MAKING THE SAUCE: In a large heavy pot or Dutch oven over low heat, cook bacon slices until crisp. If your bacon is lean, you may need to add a splash of olive oil to get the process going.
With a slotted spoon, remove cooked bacon and set onto paper towel to drain. Neat freaks (and I say that endearingly): resist the urge to clean the pot. You want all that brown stuff at the bottom. Remove all but 1 Tablespoon bacon drippings from the pan (or add olive oil if there’s not enough). Add shallots/onions to pan and sauté over medium low heat until translucent. Add rosemary and minced garlic and sauté for another minute. Add squash cubes, chicken stock and bouillon cube to pot and bring to boiling.
Bouillon cubes are one of my dirty little secrets – more on this in a future post. Add 1 teaspoon kosher salt if you are not using bouillon cube. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, for about 8-10 minutes or until squash is tender when pierced with a knife. Preheat oven @ 350º if planning to bake right away. At this point remove a few squash cubes for any à la carte eaters. Add cream and boil for another minute or two. Remove from heat.
4) ASSEMBLE AND BAKE: Add cooked bacon, mozzarella, all but ½ cup of the Parmigiano, and pasta to the squash sauce. Taste the sauce to see if it needs a little more salt. (Sometimes I will add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon more kosher salt at this point, depending on how salty the cheese was, etc.) Toss gently to coat pasta with the sauce. Pour mixture into a casserole or lasagne dish and top with remaining ½ cup Parmigiano. [If you are making ahead, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to bake.]
Bake at 350º for 30-45 minutes or until top is browned and sauce is bubbling.