Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Baked Winter Squash Pasta with Parmesan Croutons

Now that I've either eaten or preserved most of my winter CSA vegetables, save for some potatoes, carrots, and onions, I'm working on tackling the massive stores of frozen squash puree in my freezer. While I love squash flavor, especially pumpkins and butternut, squash puree can also seamlessly blend into sauces without becoming the dominant flavor. In this scrumptious pasta dish, its subtle sweetness and silky texture is the perfect canvas for pungent Parmesan cheese and fresh rosemary, creating a grown-up mac and cheese that you might even be able to convince the kiddos to eat. Although I always choose whole grain pasta over one made with white flour, I think the nuttiness of whole grain pasta is a particularly good complement to both the squash and Parmesan, an under-appreciated palate in its own right. My first choice of squash would be butternut, but acorn, festival, or nearly any other winter squash would work also nicely. Despite a relatively short list of ingredients, the flavor of this meal is surely more than the sum of its parts. Be it Meatless Monday or date night, this sophisticated blend of vegetables, whole grains and cheese is a hearty bowl of comfort any winter night.

Baked Winter Squash Pasta with Parmesan Croutons
adapted from Martha Stewart's Everyday Food
serves 4

Cooking spray, for baking dish
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
Coarse salt and ground pepper
1 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary leaves
8 ounces small whole wheat pasta (penne, rotini, shells, etc.)
1/2 package (6 ounces) frozen winter squash puree, thawed
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 baguette or whole grain bread, cut into 1/4-inch cubes (about 2 ounces)

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a 8- or 9-inch square baking dish with cooking spray. Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add onions; season with salt and pepper. Cover; cook until onions are soft and release liquid, 10 minutes. Uncover; raise heat to medium. Cook, stirring, until onions are browned, 20 to 25 minutes total. Stir in 1/2 teaspoon rosemary.

2. Meanwhile, cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water 2 minutes less than package instructions suggest. Drain, reserving 1 cup  cooking water. Return pasta to pot.

3. Stir squash and reserved pasta water into onions; simmer 2 minutes. Toss squash mixture and 1/4 cup Parmesan with pasta. Transfer to prepared dish.

4. Combine bread cubes with remaining Parmesan, rosemary, and oil; season with salt and pepper. Top pasta with bread cubes; bake until golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes.

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