Weeknight Cooking: Butternut Squash Pasta with Fried Sage Leaves

While traipsing through Gourmet.com’s web-exclusive recipes, I immediately noticed a feature for a butternut squash pasta that was being heralded as the less-fussy cousin to a butternut squash ravioli.

Gourmet Butternut Squash Pasta
Photo courtesy of Gourmet

The only time I’ve had butternut squash ravioli was from an Italian restaurant where they made everything, including the pasta, from scratch. I wouldn’t say it was to die for because I’m not one to give my life for an unemotional legume, but it was definitely delicious and, from time to time, I’ve been searching for a way to replicate the dish at home. Sadly, I’ve never found one.

I had high hopes for this dish, and put it together over the weekend.

I have to apologize for the grainy photographs — I must have changed the settings on my camera without realizing it until I downloaded the pictures for posting.

Butternut Squash Pasta with Dried Sage Leaves
Courtesy of Gourmet

1 (2- to 2 1/4-lb) butternut squash with a long neck
2 cups water
1 (1 1/2- to 2-oz) bunch sage, stems discarded (1 1/4 cups packed leaves)
1 medium-large onion, finely chopped
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 lb rotini or penne
1 cup vegetable oil

Cut off neck of squash and reserve bulbous end, wrapped and chilled, for later use. Peel neck and cut into roughly 1-inch cubes (3 1/2 to 4 cups; 1 lb).

I knew that a pre-cleaned and diced butternut squash isn’t as delicious as one that is whole and cleaned in the kitchen right before it’s cooked… but the thought of wrestling with a butternut squash didn’t thrill me. I know what you’re thinking and, in my defense, I think the “Sandra Lee” name calling is a little harsh. What I did wasn’t Sandra Lee… it was more Rachel Ray. Okay, it wasn’t the best in terms of flavor and freshness, but I really didn’t want to wrestle with a butternut squash. Anyone who’s ever done it knows what I’m talking about.

Butternut Squash 1

Process in a food processor until very finely chopped. Combine with water (2 cups) and 1/2 tsp salt in a heavy medium saucepan and briskly simmer, uncovered, stirring once or twice, until tender, 10 to 15 minutes.

Butternut Squash 2

Chop 1 Tbsp sage. While squash is simmering, cook onion in olive oil with 1/4 tsp salt in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, 8 to 10 minutes.

Onion, Garlic & Sage

Add garlic and chopped sage and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add squash and simmer, stirring, 2 minutes. Stir in cheese and season with salt and pepper.

Simmering Butternut Squash

Cook rotini in a pasta pot of well-salted boiling water until al dente.

While pasta is cooking, pat sage leaves dry, if necessary, with paper towels. Heat vegetable oil in an 8- to 9-inch skillet over high heat until it shimmers. Test frying temperature by dipping tip of a leaf in oil. If it bubbles briskly, it’s ready. Add a small handful of leaves (they will make quite a commotion) and fry, stirring with a slotted spoon, until crisp but still green, 10 to 30 seconds.

Frying Sage Leaves

Transfer to paper towels to drain and fry remaining leaves in 3 or 4 batches. Season with salt.

Fried Sage Leaves

Reserve 1 cup pasta-cooking water, then drain pasta and add to sauce. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until well coated, about 1 minute, thinning if necessary with some of reserved cooking water.

Butternut Squash Pasta

Transfer to a large bowl and serve fried sage leaves on the side (each person can top their own serving with the leaves).

Butternut Squash Pasta with Fried Sage Leaves

Okay… so. This dish was decent. It was definitely the less-fussy cousin of a ravioli, but it lacked the creaminess that I enjoy in the ravioli version.

The taste of the butternut squash came through well, and is easy to dress up or down with the use of salt — some like their butternut squash in its natural sweet flavors, and won’t need to salt it as much. Personally, I like mine a little more savory, so my portion received a little more salt.

The fried sage leaves… As pretty as they looked, I thought they were rather ineffective. The dish would have fared just as well with more diced sage added during the cooking process, and the “crisp, fried” part was a little moot after being placed in the pasta for more than a couple of minutes as they soaked in the liquids from the squash and lost their crisp texture, which was the best part of this edible garnish.

I still thought it tasted nice, but I enjoy a salted butternut squash taste. My spouse, on the other hand, wouldn’t finish it, because he thought it was too sweet and it lacked a certain creaminess that he somehow expected.

If you like your dishes a little au natural, you’ll like this, otherwise you may be better off trying something else.

Weeknight Cooking: B+
Overall Dish: B-

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