Recipe: Penne with Acorn Squash and Pancetta

This started out as a way to use up some squash that had been sitting around for a while, and it turned into one of the best dishes we've made in a long time -- easy, full of flavor, and great warmed up the next day...When we thought of making this a hearty main dish, pancetta seemed like a natural partner for roasted squash. There's a salty-sweet thing going on, and the textures (chewy pancetta, soft, tender squash, perfectly al dente pasta) were well-balanced.

This is one of those dishes that you can use as a guide. Don't like rosemary? Use sage. No pancetta? Crumbled sausage would be good, too. We stuck a small head of garlic in the oven to roast with the squash, but you could also add caramelized onions or leeks.

We originally thought we'd add a splash of cream at the end, but this dish ended up being rich enough on its own. And the leftovers were delicious.

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Penne with Acorn Squash and Pancetta serves 4

1 acorn squash
1 small head of garlic*
1/2 pound penne
2 teaspoons olive oil, plus more for coating squash and garlic
1/2 pound pancetta, sliced 1/4-inch thick and diced
1/4 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1 teaspoon chopped, fresh rosemary
1/4 cup grated Parmesan

Preheat the oven to 400° F.

Slice the squash in half and remove the seeds with a spoon. Cut each half crosswise into wedges, about 1/2-inch thick. Toss the wedges with a splash of olive oil until coated, and spread on a baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper.

Slice the top off of the garlic head so that the tops of the cloves are exposed. Drizzle on a bit of olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and wrap in aluminum foil. Place on the edge of the baking sheet with the squash.

Bake the squash and garlic for about 30 minutes, turning the squash once, until both are soft and slightly caramelized. (Depending on how big the head of garlic is, it may take longer. Leave it in the oven while you peel and chop the squash.)

Allow the squash to cool slightly. In the meantime, bring a pot of water to boil (for the pasta). Then, peel each wedge of squash and cut into large chunks.

Heat the 2 teaspoons of olive oil over medium heat in a medium stock pot or large, wide sauce pan (you'll add the pasta to this pan at the end). Sauté the pancetta until most of the fat is rendered and the meat is crispy, about 15 minutes. About halfway through, cook the pasta, making sure to salt the water.

When the pancetta is finished cooking, remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Deglaze the pan with the broth, scraping up any brown bits on the bottom. Stir in the rosemary and about four cloves of the roasted garlic, mashing them up in the liquid with the back of a spoon or spatula.

Add the chunks of squash and pancetta to the pan. Drain the pasta, reserving about 1/2 cup of the cooking water, and add the pasta to the squash/pancetta mixture. Toss everything to coat, then stir in the Parmesan. Add a bit of the pasta water if the mixture seems too dry.

*Our head of garlic was small (only about four large cloves). If you are roasting a regular-sized bulb, save the other cloves for another use. Or, roast peeled cloves on their own, using this technique.

Related: From the Email: Effortless (and Nutritious) One-Bowl Pastas

(Images: Elizabeth Passarella)

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