Penne with Butternut, Sausage, and Sage

If you get a CSA this time of year—and if you’re in a northern climate—you’re likely awash in squash.

Beyond roasting and mashing (maybe with a little butter and maple or brown sugar or honey), beyond soup, and beyond Yotam Ottolenghi’s squash with red onions and tehina, what can you do to keep up with the winter #squashapalooza? How about using pureed squash as a pasta sauce?

I prefer butternuts here (or their wee progeny, the Honeynut), but acorns, Hubbards, or pumpkins work fine, too. The sausage is up to you, as well. We generally go for a mix of hot and sweet chicken or turkey product, but pork’s great if you’re into it (just know you’ll have more fat to drain), and I’ve even had good success with the plant-based Beyond Sausage® Hot Italian. Though it’s spicier than I normally like, the sweetness of the squash does tone down the heat a bit.

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Palm-sized Honeynuts are perfect here. And they have a fascinating story, to boot. Check out the Dan Barber edition of Hugh Acheson’s podcast or bon appétit’s feature on plant breeder Mike Mazourek.
Penne with Butternut, Sausage, and Sage

Serves 4–6, depending on appetite. Consider an arugula salad on the side, maybe with some sliced apples and a cider vinaigrette. I’ve been making some version of this dish for over 15 years, originally, I confess, with canned pumpkin. It’s so much better with a fresh squash.

  • 2 lbs butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2″ cubes
  • 1 lb bulk Italian sausage (or links with casings removed)
  • 4 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 2–3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • 1 medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped sage leaves, plus some for garnish
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  •  1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 lb penne or similar-shaped pasta, cooked al dente, then drained (save a half-cup of the pasta water just in case you need to thin the sauce later)
  • grated Romano or Parmigiano cheese, for serving
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I find a Y-peeler works best on butternuts. Cut the neck just above the bulb; halve the bulb, scoop out and toss the seedy, stringy tangle; then dice everything up.

Toss the squash cubes with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Spread in a single layer on a sheet pan, sprinkle with salt, and roast at 400ºF until fully soft but short of mushy (20–25 minutes). Set aside about one third of the cubes. Put the rest into a bowl and smash with a fork or potato masher (or if you have a ricer, bust it out). Set the mash aside, too.

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You know I can’t tell any vegetable is done without my great gramma’s “potato fork.”

Heat a wide, deep saucepan (ideally big enough for you to add the pasta at the end) over medium-high heat. Add a tablespoon of oil, and cook the sausage thoroughly, breaking up any larger clumps with a wooden spoon, until browned. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.

Lower the heat to medium, and skim or wipe up any remaining fat from the pan. Add the last tablespoon of oil and sauté the onion a few minutes, then add the garlic and sauté a few minutes more.

Add the sage and the wine and, while stirring, let about half the volume of the wine simmer off (it’ll just take a minute or two). Add in the mashed squash and the stock, stirring well to make a thick sauce. Once everything returns to a simmer, add the browned sausage and the cubed squash.

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I wish WordPress had a scratch-and-sniff plug-in so I could share my herbs with you. The sage has gone especially berserk this season.

Drop the heat to medium-low. Swirl in the cream, then season with nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Let everything thicken for 4–5 minutes, stirring occasionally (gently, though; try not to mash the unmashed squash). If the sauce seems too thick, add a few spoonfuls of the pasta water to loosen it up a little.

If your saucepan’s big enough, add the cooked pasta to the sauce (and if it’s not, add the sauce to the pasta pot). Drop the heat to low, and toss gently but well for another minute or two, just to re-warm the penne.

Taste, and adjust the seasoning. Serve with loads of grated cheese and another sprinkling of fresh sage. I like a couple more scrapes of nutmeg, too.

What to Drink

Butternut squash and other zucche are staples of the Venetian diet, so the Piccoli family’s Mael—a blend of Garganega, Trebbiano, Trebbianello, and Riesling—was a no-brainer. It’s silky, sunny, fresh, and cool. How much more Fall can you get? Expect pears, citrus zest, toasting almonds, and a sea-spray finish.

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