Savor the Bounty of Winter Squash with Biba's Rigatoni con la Zucca


Thanksgiving’s rapidly approaching, and that means grocery stores and farmers’ markets are teeming with gorgeous, colorful squash. There are a number of varieties available, from the drier-fleshed, intensely flavorful Kabocha to the yellow-green, more subtle Delicata.

Squash are surprisingly versatile – I incorporate them into breads, pancakes, pizzas and soups throughout the season. But an especially tasty way to savor winter squash is by whipping up a batch of local celebrity chef Biba Caggiano’s delicious Rigatoni con la Zucca, a recipe that appears in her cookbook Italy Al Dente. Embellished with freshly grated nutmeg and crushed Amaretti di Saronno cookies, this fabulous pasta smells as good as it tastes. And while Biba calls for butternut squash in her recipe, I have used several different varieties – all with great success. Note: This dish would be a great vegetarian option for your non-meat-eating Thanksgiving guests.

Rigatoni with Squash (Rigatoni con la Zucca)

Serves 4 to 6

1 small butternut squash (about 1 pound)
3 imported Amaretti di Saronno cookies*, finely crushed
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup finely minced scallions
1 cup heavy cream
½ cup low-sodium chicken broth
Salt to taste
1 pound rigatoni or penne rigate
1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

* Amaretti di Saronno are almond cookies imported from Italy. They can be found in Italian markets and specialty food stores like Corti Brothers.

Preheat the oven to 350° F.

Cut the squash in half lengthwise, remove and discard the seeds, and wrap the squash in foil. Place the squash on a cookie sheet and bake until tender, about 1 hour. Remove from oven and cool. Scoop out the pulp and puree it through a food mill or ricer (I puree mine in the food processor). Place the puree in a bowl and mix it with the crushed cookies and the nutmeg (makes approximately 1 ½ cups pureed squash).

Heat 3 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat. When the butter begins to foam, add the scallions and cook, stirring, until very soft and lightly golden, 5 to 6 minutes. Raise the heat to medium and add the cream and broth. When the cream begins to simmer, add the pureed squash. Season with salt and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes. If the sauce becomes too thick, stir in a little more broth.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add 1 tablespoon of salt and the rigatoni. Cook, uncovered, over high heat until the pasta is tender but still a bit firm to the bite.

Drain the pasta and place it in the skillet with the sauce. Add the parsley and 1/3 cup of the Parmigiano, and mix well. Stir over low heat until the pasta and sauce are well combined. Serve with a bit of additional Parmigiano if desired.