Each year, our CSA gives us at least one sugar pumpkin. The pumpkin usually arrives around late October but since it’s really more pie than Jack-O-Lantern material, I usually end up letting the pumpkin sit on the window sill while saying a silent, daily prayer that the pumpkin holds out until Thanksgiving. This year, I had double the worry since our storage share (tons of onions, potatoes, shallots, garlic, and squash to keep in the shed to last you for the winter while our CSA is not in session) gave us second cute little pumpkin. Luckily, they both made it.
So being the food nerd that I am, I was super excited that this year, I could make a pumpkin pie with homemade, not canned, pumpkin puree. It seemed daunting at first when staring down the pumpkins, but seriously– this was so much easier than dealing with pre-T-Day grocery store crowds. I threw the hulled out pumpkin halves in a roasting pan, and let them bake while I knitted and watched t.v. A quick blitz of the pumpkin flesh in the food processor was all it took. The deep orange color and smooth texture looked exactly like the canned stuff only it tasted more pumpkiny and was therefore infinitely better.
The two pumpkins yielded about 4 maybe 4.5 cups of puree of which I only needed half for my Thanksgiving pie. So what to do with the rest? My thoughts went to a pasta dish I once saw made on a cooking show a long time ago. I had just moved to Cleveland, fresh out of grad school. At the time, I had a budding interest in cooking but had a graduate student budget, so the most I would do was manipulations of prepared, cheap foods. On television, I saw a local chef make a sauce from pumpkin puree, sausage and tons of Romano cheese. I remember being fascinated by the idea that pumpkin could be used in something savory and was determined to try it for myself. I loved how the sauce was ripe with heat from garlic and tons of red pepper flakes but that there was an underlying sweetness from the pumpkin. It was the first time that I had made something with so many contrasting flavors and textures that magically work together. A food nerd was born.
I wanted to revisit that dish here. I amped up the complexity of the spices by adding a hint of cinnamon and nutmeg which played very well with the red pepper flakes, a kind of shimmering heat of flavors in the background of this sauce. I also added some fennel seeds to bring out the flavors of the Italian sausage more. Lastly, a splash of cream made the sauce both lovely to look at as it transformed the pumpkin orange into a buttery yellow, and it also made the sauce velvety smooth, coating each piece of rigatoni, ensuring maximum flavor with every bite.
- 2 small sugar pumpkins*
- 1 lb dried rigatoni pasta, cooked according to package directions
- olive oil
- 13 oz hot Italian sausage
- 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
- 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 tsp dried red pepper flakes
- pinch of cinnamon, about 1/8 tsp
- 1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
- 1/4-1/2 cup chicken stock
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
*You can substitute a 14.5 oz can of pumpkin puree for the fresh pumpkin. Just skip over the steps for making the puree, duh.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Split the pumpkins in half and clean out the seeds and stringy bits. Set the halves cut side up in a roasting pan that has been lightly oiled and cover tightly with aluminum foil. Roast for about 1.5 hours or until soft and tender. Scrape out the insides of the pumpkin shells, including adding the liquid released while roasting into a food processor. Puree until smooth. You’ll use 2 cups of the puree and can save the rest for a pie or maybe more pasta in an air tight container.
In a large skillet, heat about 1 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Turn the heat up to medium high and add the sausage using a wooden spoon to break it up and crumble the pieces. Let cook for a few minutes without disturbing to caramelize the meat. When the sausage is browned, add in the garlic, red pepper flakes, fennel, cinnamon and nutmeg. Reduce the heat back down to medium and stir in the pumpkin puree. Slowly stir in the chicken stock, adding it to thin out the puree into a sauce, the consistency of which is to your liking. Add the cream and cook for a couple minutes more, allowing the sauce to thicken slightly. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Mix in the cooked rigatoni then plate with tons of cheese and parsley.
CSA Count: 3
Sugar pumpkins, onion, garlic