I will own up to it right then and there: I am an inveterate collector of pasta. Guilty as charged.
In fine food shops and Italian markets, I love to study the different shapes and imagine which will lend themselves to smooth sauces or chunky ones. I love their names (rooster’s crests, radiators, little ears, thimbles), the traditional packaging, and the fact that, for just a few euros, I can treat myself to a package of something novel — not to mention the promise of an easy meal.
Before I had children, I had to rein in my purchases, as my kitchen cabinets overflowed faster that Maxence and I actually ate pasta. But with two young boys who would eat it at every meal if I let them — their dream breakfast is cold leftover pasta, a recessive trait for sure — I am free to buy whatever I please, knowing I will easily find a use for it.
And I recently fell hard for a package of lumaconi, those large snail-shaped pasta sold in big bulging packages that scream “Buy me, I’m special!”
Lumaconi are the kind of pasta whose life pursuit is to be stuffed with a sauce and gratinéed in the oven for an immensely satisfying vegetarian main dish, or a festive side to a roast bird. And as the holidays approach, I thought I would suggest a simple, seasonal sauce of roasted butternut squash and chestnuts.
You sprinkle the whole thing with cheese so it will brown nicely…
… and you squeeze lemon juice over the top just before serving. You end up with a golden and appetizing dish that boasts al dente pasta, a silky sauce that sticks to the ribbed sides of the lumaconi, little pockets of melty cheese with chestnut bits, and a top layer that is toasted and crunchy and irresistible. (Keep an eye on the little cousins who may be tempted to eat just the top.)
It’s a recipe that is wowing but easy to make — the technique is straightforward, and many of the steps can be made in advance — and easy to live with — it’s lovely at room temperature, and almost tastes better reheated.
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- 1 small butternut squash or other firm-flesh winter squash, about 800 grams (1 3/4 pounds), seeds and fibers removed, flesh cubed (no need to peel if organic)
- Olive oil
- Fine sea salt
- 100 grams (3 1/2 ounces) cooked peeled chestnuts from a jar, chopped
- 1 small bunch flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
- 1 organic lemon
- Coarse sea salt
- 250 grams (9 ounces) uncooked lumaconi (large snail-shaped pasta, such as these)
- 150 grams (1 1/2 cups) freshly grated cheese, such as Comté or Parmesan
- Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F).
- On a rimmed baking sheet, arrange the butternut in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt. Mix with your hands to coat well.
- Insert in the oven and roast for 30 minutes, until tender.
- Process in a blender or food mill until smooth. This can be prepared up to a day ahead, or even frozen. Thaw before using.
- Measure 500 grams (2 cups) of the butternut purée into a medium mixing bowl (reserve the remaining purée for another use). Add the chestnuts, parsley, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Grate the zest of the lemon finely into the bowl and mix thoroughly.
- In a large saucepan, bring water to the boil with some coarse salt and a drizzle of olive oil. Add the lumaconi and boil until just shy of al dente, about 10 minutes.
- Drain, return to the saucepan, drizzle with olive oil, and shake to coat so they won't stick to one another as you work.
- Grease a round 25-cm (10-inch) baking dish or cast-iron pan with olive oil.
- Increase the oven temperature to 220°C (425°F).
- Spoon about 1 tablespoon of the filling into each lumaconi, and arrange in the prepared dish, snugly but in a single layer. When you're done, dot the top of the lumaconi with any remaining sauce.
- Sprinkle with grated cheese and bake for 20 minutes, until the top is browned in places.
- Squeeze some lemon juice over the top and serve, with a lightly dressed green salad, or as a side to roast chicken.
- If you have access to high-quality, ready-made puréed winter squash, you can use that in a pinch.
- This recipe can be made with other kinds of large, stuffable pasta, such as tube pasta or conchiglioni.