Squash & Sage Penne

This autumn is strange so far. Two weekends ago it was in the 40s and super rainy. Then this weekend it was almost 80 and super sunny. Today’s forecast seems “normal” for October: low 60s with some rain. With the weather not quite sure what season it is, I’m sometimes at a loss about what to cook. I mean, who wants a pot roast when it feels like summer?

The weather is also confusing for my plants. It had been getting kind of cool at night, so I was worried about my herbs that I grown in containers outside. But then it was so nice and sunny during the day that it seemed a shame to bring them in. I finally made the call to bring them in Monday night because it seemed like “Indian summer” was coming to an end.

So I bought some trays at Target and plunked the containers down on top of the dressers in our bedroom. As I was getting ready for bed, I pulled my pajamas out of my dresser drawer and there staring back at me nestled among the mint leaves were a bunch of SLUGS. I am ashamed to admit that I shrieked like a little girl. I don’t usually have a problem with insects or critters, I have a BS in zoology for pete’s sake. I’ve cooked and eaten escargot, I’ve handled live sea cucumbers, I even did research on nematodes while I was in college. But there I was, screaming about slugs, and calling for my husband to take them back to where they belonged.

The slugs (and the plant they were inhabiting) have been evicted, and I’m happy to say that the rest of the herbs are doing fine. Especially the sage, thank goodness, since I use it so much during the fall. I don’t know why I associate sage with autumn–maybe because it is used in stuffing at Thanksgiving. Sage is a well-known complement to turkey, but I think its perfect partner is winter squash. When sage and squash get together, magic happens. The earthiness of the sage brings out the sweetness of the squash, and throw a little pancetta in there and it’s all good.

Squash & Sage Penne (my own creation)

  • 1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed, & cut into 1/2-inch chunks
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • black pepper
  • 4 ounces thinly sliced pancetta
  • 3/4 pound penne
  • 1/4 cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs)
  • 5 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh sage, divided
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
  2. Toss the squash with the olive oil in a large bowl. Spread the squash out on the prepared baking sheet and sprinkle with the kosher salt. Season with black pepper. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the baking sheet from the oven, gently stir the squash, and bake for an additional 15 minutes.
  3. Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Cook the pancetta until crispy (you will probably have to do this in batches). Drain the pancetta on a paper towel-lined plate. When the pancetta is cool enough to handle, use your hands to crumble it up.
  4. Toast the panko in the fat left behind by the pancetta in the nonstick skillet until golden (approximately 2 minutes). Set aside and wipe out skillet.
  5. Cook the penne according to the package directions in the large pot of salted water. (Try to time this so that the penne is finished cooking right when the squash is done roasting).
  6. Melt the butter in the nonstick skillet. Add 1 Tablespoon of the sage and continue to cook until the butter is browned (it should smell nutty, not burnt).
  7. Drain the penne. Toss the pasta with the remaining 1 Tablespoon of sage in a large bowl. Add the butter, crumbled pancetta, panko, & squash and gently toss together.
Serves: 4
Time: 50 minutes
Note: Don’t substitute regular packaged bread crumbs for the panko. Their texture is too fine and it makes the dish grainy. 
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