My go-to gourd for the brisk, leaf-changing, season we call fall is the butternut squash. I grew up with a very hateful relationship with squash. They were slimy. They were squishy when cooked. I couldn’t do it. But I had to. In my household, as I am sure in many households, you sat at the kitchen table until you were finished. However long it took. If you didn’t eat what was set in front of you that was it, the kitchen was closed. If I didn’t like something my mom was not about to offer to make something else. I either ate what was set in front of me or starve (or at least that is what my very dramatic kid brain thought). I remember taking small bites of that disgusting slime and taking a big gulp of milk to wash it down.
Now that I am an adult my tastes have changed. Granted there are still moments, depending on how squash is cooked, where I can’t handle the texture. Spaghetti Squash, for example, is still a battle.
Butternut Squash is my all time favorite now. It is sweet, but not overly so, and is dense enough that it can handle the cooking process without becoming slimy or mush. Roast this gourd and mix it together with chicken sausage and pasta and you have one delicious dinner.
Pasta with Butternut Squash and Chicken Sausage in a Sage Brown Sugar Butter Sauce
1 Box Medium Pasta Shells
4 ½ C Butternut Squash, Chopped
Salt, Pepper and Garlic Powder to Taste
4 Chicken Sausage Links, Pre Cooked and Chopped
½ C Parmesan Cheese, Grated
8 Tbsp (1 Stick) Butter
1 Tbsp Ground Sage
¼ C Packed Brown Sugar
Salt and Pepper To Taste
1 Tsp Cyanine Pepper
Evenly chop your butternut squash, you can pay extra for pre-peeled pre-chopped squash, or (like me) you can wrestle with this oddly shaped monstrosity. Force your peeler to its limits and make a bit of a mess. Then declare yourself the superior to this pale yellow vegetable.
In the middle rack of a 375° oven place a cooking sheet containing your evenly chopped squash. Give these pieces a healthy drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle of salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Gently mix together to coat every cube.
Cook until tender, about 25 to 30 minutes, or until a piece can be easily pierced with a fork. I prefer to roast my squash over boiling them, it may take longer but it produces a better medley of flavor. It also has the ability to add some charred or crispy bits to the parts that have direct contact with the pan and I love a variety of textures.
In a skillet melt 1 stick of butter, once melted combine brown sugar, sage, salt, pepper, and cyanine. Simmer sauce on low heat until slightly thickened and sugar has melted and smoothed out.
In a large pot bring enough water to a boil for your pasta. Make sure to salt the water after you add your pasta. The salt prevents the shells from sticking together and adds flavor. Salt also affects the boiling point of water so if you add it when the water is still at room temperature it will take longer to heat up. Cook pasta shells just before al dente (about 8-10),
I like to finish my pasta in my sauce so the flavors will absorb in the final stages of cooking.
While pasta is cooking in a separate skillet heat up and char your chopped chicken sausage. Any type of chicken sausage will do, some companies have gotten very creative in their flavor profiles. For this dish, I choose links with chunks of apples, adding another edge of sweetness, and you can never have too many apples in the fall.
From your pasta pot remove 1 C of water and add it into your sauce. Pour pasta through a colander and rinse with cool water. Return pasta to large pot, add in butternut squash, chicken sausage, and sauce. Stir gently until combined then sprinkle in parmesan cheese, continue to stir until cheese has melted.
Plate in a large bowl and top with a second helping of cheese. Serve and enjoy!
As a side dish I experimented with layering sliced apples and tomatoes, drizzling with balsamic and freshly grinding salt and pepper over top. Apparently this was a bit out of the box, because both Mark and Melody chose to eat the tomatoes and apples separately. I personally liked it, the acid from the tomatoes played well with the subtle sugars of the apples. Likewise, the crunch of the apples was wonderful with the soft tomato. These two different ringlets married together under the balsamic, if I were to do it again I did think a squeeze of lemon, a bite of citrus, would have tied these two flavors together.