The butternut squash is a winter staple for us, and I like the adaptability of its mild flavor. This is a trickster vegetable, riotously bright with color but serene in taste and calm in texture. The markets now carry squash that are manageable in size (i.e. smaller), with a dense upper cylinder and a smallish lower oval to house the seeds. I slice the butternut in two just above the seeds and peel with a sturdy Oxo peeler. The squash cooks surprisingly fast and lends itself to a wide variety of flavors and combinations.
Although recipes for pasta with butternut squash abound online and in cookbooks, I arrived at this recipe slowly; it might be called a gradual invention or the eventuality that occurs when a cook realizes that the sausage will go bad if it’s not made today. The mushrooms need to be eaten soon, half an onion is just sitting in the fridge, the butternut squash on the counter admonishes, “how much longer are you going to ignore me?”
And so the dish began, hands were placed on hips, slightly wilted parsley was yanked out of the crisper, an opened carton of chicken broth was added in a spontaneous moment of “what if? . . .” My gradual invention now has a name, a method, and a recipe. It has been carefully considered and is no longer spontaneous.
Butternut Squash and Sausage Pasta
This dish prominently features cremini mushrooms and sausage. The squash adds balance and sweetness, but some might say that the squash flavor gets lost. To counterbalance, adjust the recipe and decrease the amount of cremini mushroom and increase the amount of squash.
½ cup diced onion or shallot
1-2 cloves garlic
1 ½ lbs. butternut squash, cut into ½ -inch cubes
8-10 oz. cremini mushrooms, coarsely chopped
½ lb. spicy Italian chicken sausage (purchased bulk or removed from the casings)
1 teaspoon thyme
½ cup chicken broth
½ cup half-and-half or whole milk
¼ cup parsley
2-3 tbsp olive oil or enough to sauté the onion and vegetables
Salt and pepper to taste
Sugar to taste
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Sprinkle squash with salt and pepper and toss with a little olive oil. Spread on a baking sheet and roast for approximately 20-30 minutes. Remove when squash is tender and easily pierced with a fork.
Mushroom and Sausage Prep
While squash is roasting, heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pot and sauté onions and garlic until translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Add the mushrooms and sauté until cooked and the liquid begins to evaporate. To this mixture add the sausage, and cook over medium-high heat. I periodically use a potato masher to break up the sausage and ensure an even, crumbly texture.
Once the sausage has browned, add the roasted butternut squash and thyme. To this mixture add the chicken broth and cream, until the mixture forms a thick, chunky sauce. Be careful not to stir too vigorously; otherwise, the squash will lose its shape. Add parsley, adjust seasoning and broth/cream for consistency.
Meanwhile, boil water and cook pasta. Use whatever shape inspires. I like fusili or penne for this dish but only had small shells, which worked just as well. One-half pound is enough, but the amount of pasta simply depends on personal preference.
Add pasta. Toss. Finis.