As soon as I saw this recipe on Food 52 (my “go-to” website for ideas) it moved to the top of my “must cook” list. It’s the perfect dish to celebrate the fall season and the inspiration for it came from one of my favorite restaurants Al Forno-located in Providence, Rhode Island. If you ever find yourself remotely near Providence you have to make time (and a reservation) to eat there. It’s been around for years and is so good that we ate there two nights in a row.
What I love about this pasta dish is that once you toss the ingredients together it’s a mere ten minutes in the oven for the finished product. It was everything I had hoped for-creamy, crispy and with a hint of sweetness from the caramelized squash. I used butternut which I peeled, halved and roasted in slices. I also tossed in some fresh sage which added a bit of earthiness. This is the perfect do ahead dish so go ahead and whip up a batch and invite some friends for dinner.
Pasta al Forno
1 3/4 pound pumpkin or butternut squash
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 pound pancetta, diced
1 pound conchiglie rigate (shells)
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 pound shredded fresh mozzarella
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano
1/2 cup fontina, coarsely grated
1/4 cup crumbled gorgonzola
2 tablespoons ricotta
2 teaspoons chopped thyme leaves
Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Halve the pumpkin and scoop out the seeds. Cut the pumpkin into 8 equal wedges and arrange on two baking sheets lined with foil. Sprinkle the wedges with salt and pepper and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Bake for about an hour, until the pumpkin is caramelized and tender when pierced with a sharp knife. Remove from the oven and let cool until you can handle the pumpkin without burning yourself.
In the meantime, crisp the pancetta in a medium saucepan over medium heat, about 10 minutes. Remove and drain on paper towels, discarding the fat. Turn the oven up to 500 degrees. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta for exactly 5 minutes, drain and run cool water over it for about 10 seconds. Set aside in the colander.
Scoop enough of the cooked pumpkin from the rind to make 2 cups. Combine this with the cream in a blender and puree just until smooth (be careful not to overblend, or you’ll whip the cream). Scoop out some more of the pumpkin (you probably won’t need the whole thing) and chop roughly to make about a cup and a half. Combine the pumpkin and cream puree with the cheeses, salt, thyme and pancetta in a large bowl and stir gently to combine. Add the pasta and the chopped pumpkin and fold together just until combined. Spread the pasta evenly in a casserole or baking dish. Bake uncovered for 7 to 10 minutes, until the top is browned and the bottom layer of pasta is just tender.