I came into the butternut squash fan camp way late in life. I am embarrassed to say – given my mantra to my kids, “at least try it before you say you don’t like it!” – that it wasn’t until last Fall that I discovered my extreme love of this roasted beauty. I had assumed (and you know what they say about assuming …) butternut squash would taste like sweet potatoes, one of my culinary arch-nemeses. By St. Boogar and all the saints at the backside door of purgatory!! I was wrong and am in the throes of making up for lost time.
Much like a newfound religious convert, I now look for any chance to add roasted bits of butternut squash into what I’m eating. On a search for a make-ahead dinner I came across Smitten Kitchen’s (FABULOUS food blog by the way) baked pasta with broccoli rabe and sausage and thought it would happily accommodate a trayful of roasted butternut squash and a few other additions and changes … I can’t help playing with my food. Not to be presumptuous, but if you read my post on Uncle Frank’s Italian Sausage and are inspired to try your hand, they would send this recipe over to dinner party status.
Onto the cooking! Peel, seed and cube butternut squash. Put onto a baking sheet (foil-lined if you hate to scrub pans) with olive oil, salt and pepper, and pop into a 425 oven until they are browned to your liking. Prepare to be amazed! You can stop here and just eat as is (something I find myself doing possibly too frequently) or continue on with the recipe.
As you prepare each component of the casserole, put into a large bowl. There are plenty of steps here but the dish comes together easily and feeds a crowd. If you want to make an afternoon of it, pop open a bottle of wine, a lively little Italian red works well here.
I use DeCecco rigatoni. You could use another large shape but don’t be tempted to go small. The weight of the other ingredients will end up smooshing anything too delicate. Also, when boiling the pasta, it’s better to go with underdone than over; the pasta continues to cook in the oven.
This should actually be referred to as the lumpy, bumpy cousin of a true Bechamel but that sounds so un-sexy so we’re going with Bechamel. It starts out looking like it will never come together but it does. Just keep whisking and don’t neglect the bits in the corners.
This combo of cheeses gives you gooey, nutty, and just the right amount of salty. Also, cottage cheese can stand in quite respectably for the ricotta. In fact, I’ll use 4% fat cottage cheese if I can’t get a ricotta that I like or if I can’t find whole milk ricotta.
The Bechamel comes together beautifully in the end.
Everyone into the pool!
Pour the Bechemal over and very, very gently and thoroughly toss the ingredients together.
Pour into a buttered or oiled baking dish – broke out my finest just for this pic – and sprinkle the reserved Pecorino Romano over top.
Let the baked rigatoni cool at least 15 minutes before serving. This is as much to allow the liquid to reabsorb evenly as it is to save the roof of your mouth from a week’s worth of pain.
Hope you try this recipe … potlucks everywhere will rejoice!
Baked Rigatoni with Sausage, Butternut Squash and Rapini
1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into ½ inch cubes
2 T olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 lb pkg rigatoni
1 bunch rapini (aka broccoli rabe), thoroughly washed and cut into bite-sized pieces
1 pound bulk sweet Italian sausage
8 oz whole milk mozzarella, grated
16 oz whole milk ricotta.
2/3 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups whole milk
½- 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
½ tsp black pepper
fresh nutmeg, 4 quick swipes on a rasp (1/8 tsp-ish)
2 cups low-sodium (or homemade) chicken stock
Butternut squash: Preheat oven to 425. Put the peeled, seeded, and cubed butternut squash onto a baking sheet with the 2 T olive oil and toss to coat the squash. Spread the squash into a single layer and salt and pepper evenly (about ½ tsp salt and the same of pepper). Roast, tossing every 10 minutes, until the squash starts to brown a bit. It should be firm on the outside. This should take between 20-40 minutes depending on your squash and how brown you like your butternut. Remove from the oven and put into a large mixing bowl and set aside. Reduce oven temperature to 400.
Pasta and Rapini: Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add rigatoni and cook the least amount of time recommended on the box (it will continue to cook in the oven). Five minutes before the pasta cooking time is up, add the rapini. When time is up, drain the brocolini and pasta and add to the bowl with the butternut squash.
Sausage: Meanwhile, heat 1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the sausage, breaking it up with a wooden spoon, until it is browned, about 10 minutes. Remove with slotted spoon or spatula, and add to the butternut squash, pasta bowl.
Bechemel: If there are a lot of sausage drippings left in the pan, dump them out though wiping the pan isn’t necessary. In the pan, add the butter, turn to medium heat. Once the butter has melted, add the minced garlic and stir for one minute. Add the flour and stir to incorporate for a minute or two. Slowly add the milk, stirring constantly, switch to a whisk to make sure there are no lumps. Bring to a bubble. Add the salt, pepper, nutmeg and chicken broth. Bring back to a bubble and then reduce heat to medium low to keep a very slow simmer for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Take off the heat and add to the bowl with the pasta, etc. Gently and thoroughly toss the ingredients together. Add the ricotta, mozzarella, and half the romano and again gently and thoroughly mix.
Bake: Generously butter a deep lasagna pan. Pour the pasta mixture into the pan, making sure it’s evenly distributed but do not pat it down. Sprinkle with the remaining Romano. Bake uncovered in center/top of the oven for 20-30 minutes or until bubbly and just beginning to brown. Let sit at least 15 minutes before serving.