Cookie and I have been visiting the vet three times a week lately. We don’t mind the excursion. The girls behind the desk are fun to be around and Cookie loves the attention. She has quickly become a staff favorite (of course!). It’s also a prime spot for people watching. I always feel like I’m experiencing that 101 Dalmations scene where all of the dogs match their owners, remember that one?
The manly men bring in their 80-pound manly-man breeds who shake their heads like lions. Eccentrically dressed older ladies wait with their dachshunds and shaggy little dogs. A beautiful, elegant blond woman picks up her equally elegant and blond mystery breed. The lady with a high-pitched voice and nervous laugh tells me about her rat terrier. I suppose Cookie and I match, too. I will shamelessly admit that we both have great hair, and it doesn’t hurt that I’m always dressed in black or gray.
During the more dull moments, I’ve spent a fair amount of time flipping through Instagram photos and glancing at the heart worm brochures on the side table. I grabbed the February issue of Bon Appetit before I left for our last appointment so I would have something to read while I waited. I’m glad I did, because I was reminded of the butternut squash carbonara that I had dog-eared earlier.
Their recipe called for pancetta and chicken broth, but I knew I could easily make it vegetarian and amp up the flavor with spices. The cooking technique is what really caught my eye—basically, you make a butternut purée while you cook pasta, then marry the two together in a warm pan with the help of some starchy reserved pasta cooking water. Genius, right? It’s even easier to make than the béchamel that I made for my pumpkin fettuccine alfredo.
The best part is that the puréed squash is rich and luxuriously creamy without any cream at all. I also used whole grain pasta, which further prevented the steamroller after-effects of eating a giant bowl of creamy carbs. Make this before the weather warms up! If you’re in the market for more lightened-up, creamy pasta recipes, be sure to check out my cookbook.
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage
- 2 pound butternut or kabocha squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into small 1/2-inch pieces (about 3 cups)
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, pressed or chopped
- 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes (up to 1/4 teaspoon for spicier pasta sauce)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cups vegetable broth
- 12 ounces whole grain linguine or fettucine
- Optional additional garnishes: shaved Parmesan or Pecorino and/or smoked salt
- Warm the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Once the oil is shimmering, add the sage and toss to coat. Let the sage get crispy before transferring it to a small bowl. Sprinkle it lightly with salt and set the bowl aside.
- Add the squash, onion, garlic and red pepper flakes to the skillet. Season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the broth. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the squash is soft and the liquid is reduced by half, about 15 to 20 minutes.
- In the meantime, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta until al dente according to package directions, stirring occasionally. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water before draining.
- Once the squash mixture is done cooking, remove it from the heat and let it cool slightly. Transfer the contents of the pan to a blender, but keep the skillet handy. Purée the mixture until smooth (beware of hot steam escaping from the top of the blender), then season with salt and pepper until the flavors sing.
- In the reserved skillet, combine the pasta, squash purée and 1/4 cup cooking liquid. Cook over medium heat, tossing and adding more pasta cooking water as needed, until the sauce coats the pasta, about 2 minutes. Season with more salt and pepper if necessary.
- Serve the pasta in individual bowls topped with fried sage, more black pepper and shaved Parmesan/Pecorino and/or smoked salt, if desired.
Make it vegan: Skip the cheese garnish.
Make it gluten-free: Use gluten-free pasta. Commenter Jenn recommends corn and quinoa blended gluten-free pasta, which is firmer than brown rice pasta.
Change it up: The squash purée is a killer bisque, which you could thin with vegetable broth if you’d like. You could also stir it into risotto at the end of cooking.