On Snowy Nights, It’s (Squash) Carbonara For Dinner

January 22, 2019

“Why do you have to turn everything into a story?  

So I told her why .. 

The Lift – Downtown Des Moines, Iowa – January 2019

Because if I tell the story, I control the version.  Because if I tell the story, I can make you laugh, and I would rather have you laugh at me than feel sorry for me.  Because if I tell the story, it doesn't hurt as much.  Because if I tell the story, I can get on with it”     ~ Nora Ephron | Heartburn

— —

I was craving pasta

This past weekend .. a pretty blanketing of snow here in Iowa.  The second Friday night storm in as many weeks.  As the flurries stayed steady outside my window, an afternoon of writing was in order.  At the first sign of cabin fever .. a walk downtown, through what felt like a wintry wonderland

A mighty good martini (or two).  The painting I bought on a whim

The late-night Carbonara

Out comes my cast iron skillet .. in go bacon and sage to brown in olive oil and begin building the foundational flavors of the dish.  Soon, squash, onions, and garlic, will be sweating in the rendered fat before the chicken stock is added for a long, slow simmer.  The pasta water begins to boil

A riff, really, on the penne with butternut-sage sauce recipe from Gourmet magazine (November 2006).  One I've had bookmarked for over a decade now

Even though it's heavy on the veggies, I realize January might not be the time when some of us want to think about bacon and pasta.  None the less, tuck this one away because you'll be happy to have it someday.  It's relatively quick, pantry-friendly, and on snowy winter nights, it's going to be your dinner in shining armor

I suspected the sauce would be good, but I didn't imagine loving it as much as I did.  It seemed too simple.  How could something made with only squash, onion, garlic, and stock, taste .. almost cheesy?  As if it were made with cream or something far richer.  Certainly, the bacon fat, adds considerable flavor, and truly, just go for it

When the pasta is ready, you drain it and quickly dump it into the skillet.  The warm sauce that coated the pan now coats the noodles, with the bacon and sage getting mixed in too.  A little salty, deeply savory, rough and rustic, heady, hearty, comfortable.   Grate some Parmesan over the whole thing.  Stir and toss it with a couple of spoons.

While there are plenty of great things to look forward to this year, right then, on that cold Iowa night, my kitchen was the happiest place in the world

I uncork a bottle of wine, transferred some pasta into my favorite bowl, and joined the kitties, who had long since retired for the evening.  Worrying only slightly about my white flannel sheets.  I snuggled in and opened my book.  They re-settled

I'd argue this is exactly the kind of recipe we need on nights like these.  Those that remind us how grateful we are for the cozy spaces we call home.



~ Adapted from Bon Appetit 

Winter Squash Carbonara with Bacon and Sage
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 oz. bacon, chopped
  • 1 Tbsp fresh sage, finely chopped
  • 3 cups butternut or kabocha squash (pre-cubed or 1 2-lb squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1" sized pieces)
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic chopped
  • fine grain sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 12 oz. fettuccine or linguine (gluten-free will make the overall recipe gluten-free)
  • ¼ cup finely grated Pecorino Romano, + extra for serving (I used Parmesan)
  1. Squash Purée
  2. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the bacon, reduce to heat to medium, and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp (~ 8-10 minutes)
  3. Add the sage and toss to coat
  4. Using a slotted spoon, transfer bacon and sage to a small bowl
  5. Set aside
  6. To the skillet, add the onion and garlic; season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally until onion is translucent (~ 8-10 minutes)
  7. Add the broth
  8. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until squash is soft an liquid is reduced by half (~ 15-20 minutes)
  9. Let cool slightly, then purée in a blender until smooth; season with salt and pepper
  10. Reserve skillet

  11. Pasta
  12. Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente
  13. Drain, reserving 1 cup pasta cooking liquid

  14. Carbonara
  15. In the reserved skillet over medium heat, combine the pasta, squash purée, and ¼ cup pasta cooking liquid, adding more pasta cooking liquid as needed, until sauce coats the pasta (~ 2 minutes)
  16. Stir in ¼ cup cheese; season with salt and pepper

  17. Serve
  18. Serve pasta topped with reserved bacon and sage, shaved cheese, and more pepper
Squash purée can be made 3 days ahead.
Let cool; cover and chill.

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