Recipe: Penne with Acorn Squash and Pancetta

Dinner Recipes from the Kitchn

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 I've made in a long time — easy, full of flavor, and great warmed up the next day.

When I 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 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.

I originally thought I'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.

Tester's Notes

This time of year is tough. It's tempting to want to stick your toe into all things autumn, but you also aren't ready to let go of summer just quite yet. Thanks to Elizabeth, I recently discovered the answer to this conundrum: penne with acorn squash and pancetta.

Along with a small dose of Parmesan, the slightly caramelized, roasted squash adds a creaminess, while the roasted garlic makes this dinner feel rich and indulgent. But this pasta isn't heavy; it's still light enough to have a place on the table during the last days of summer.

Elizabeth suggests using four cloves of roasted garlic, but if you're a garlic lover, go ahead and add a few extras. You won't be sorry.

- Kelli, September 2015

Penne with Acorn Squash and Pancetta

Serves 2 to 4

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

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

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

Slice the top off the garlic head so 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. Then, peel each wedge of squash and cut into large chunks.

Bring a pot of water to boil to cook the pasta. In a large, wide saucepan (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.

Recipe Notes

  • 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.

This recipe has been updated - originally published September 2008.

(Image credits: Kelli Foster)

Per serving, based on 2 servings. (% daily value)
56 g (86.2%)
18.6 g (93.1%)
0.2 g
124.2 g (41.4%)
8.4 g (33.6%)
5.4 g
39.1 g (78.1%)
86.2 mg (28.7%)
1049.5 mg (43.7%)