This butternut squash pasta sauce, the recipe for which hails from the November 2006 Gourmet, tastes rich, creamy, and even cheesy but it’s actually incredibly light and incredibly simple: it’s made with butternut squash, onion, sage, water, and a little olive oil or butter for richness.
Butternut squash is known for producing the silkiest, smoothest soups, so it’s no surprise it makes a creamy (cream-less!) sauce for dressing pasta. The original recipe calls for a cup of parmesan, but it’s truly unnecessary — the sauce is super flavorful without it.
When I make this for my children, I use butter and a little parmesan on top. It tastes like mac n’ cheese but tastier. They gobble it up.
When I make it for my friends with various allergies and dietary preferences, I use olive oil and pass parmesan on the side to keep it dairy-free and vegan.
Kids and adults alike adore this one! You can also use the sauce to make a baked penne — see this recipe: Baked Penne with Butternut Squash-Sage Sauce
What’s more? It’s fast.
Featured in the “10-minute mains” page of Gourmet, it has nearly lived up to its promise: 10 minutes is a stretch, but with a little finesse — puréeing the squash and onions in the food processor — the sauce can come together in just under 20 minutes. And if you’re good at multi-tasking and set a pot of water onto simmer while your sauce cooks, your dinner can be done, start to finish, in that same time frame.
The rub with this method? You have to wash the food processor. I use the method outlined below, which takes just a wee longer, but which leaves me with fewer dishes.
This is an especially good one to make when the butternut squash and bundles of sage start arriving at the market or in the farmshare or CSA. It’s a perfect fall pasta dish, hearty and comforting but healthy and light.
Source: Gourmet 2006
This recipe appeared in the “10-minute mains” section of Gourmet and thus calls for processing the raw squash and onion in a food processor. If you truly want to get this down to the 10-minute range, follow the instructions here.
Otherwise, the method described below takes just a wee longer, and if you have an emersion blender, your clean-up will be super fast, too. To turn this into a soup, thin with a little chicken or vegetable stock, water, or coconut milk until it’s the consistency you like.
The original recipe calls for adding a cup of parmesan, which I never have done, because it tastes so deliciously creamy on its own. I now make the sauce with olive oil in place of butter, and shave just a touch of parmesan over each serving or I omit if serving this to vegan friends.
Sage: Another time saving tip: instead of mincing the sage, add the bundle of sage as is, and remove before puréeing.
For the butternut squash pasta sauce:
- 1 lb (about) peeled butternut squash pieces
- 1 small onion, diced
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter or olive oil (for vegan variation)
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage or a small bundle, see notes above
- kosher salt
- freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
- freshly grated nutmeg, optional
- 2 oz (1 cup) finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, optional (omit if keeping vegan)
- 1 lb penne rigate or rotini or whatever pasta shape you like
- Heat butter or olive oil in a 5- to 6-quart heavy pot over moderately high heat, then add chopped sage (or bundle, see notes above) and cook until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Add cubed squash, diced onion, 1.5 cups water, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste. Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until squash is very tender and water has reduced considerably, about 10 to 15 minutes depending on the size of the squash pieces.
- If you wish, stir in Parmigiano-Reggiano. (Note: I do not do this — the mixture tastes wonderful without any cheese, so I just serve the cheese on top of the pasta or I omit if serving to vegan friends.) If you didn’t chop up the sage, extract what is left of the bundle you added to the pot — a few small leaves remaining is fine. If you have an emersion blender, purée mixture right in pot. If you don’t, transfer mixture to a food processor or blender and purée until smooth. Taste sauce. Add more salt if necessary. Add a grating of fresh nutmeg if you wish. The sauce should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. If it is too thin, simmer over low heat until it thickens.
- While squash mixture simmers, cook pasta in a 6- to 8-quart pot of boiling salted water with a large pinch of kosher salt until al dente. Reserve 1 cup pasta cooking water, then drain pasta in a colander.
- Place pasta in a serving bowl. Toss with enough butternut-sage sauce to coat nicely. If necessary, add a little bit of the reserved cooking water to thin it out. Serve pasta with cheese. If you have extra sauce, store it in the fridge for a later date. The sauce thickens as it sits, so on subsequent uses, it will most likely be necessary to use the reserved cooking liquid to thin out.
- Category: Pasta
- Method: Stovetop
- Cuisine: American, Italian
Keywords: pasta, simple, butternut, squash, sage, vegan