Penne With Pumpkin, Pancetta And Sage

Naturally, there are a lot of pumpkins around at this time of year but it can be surprisingly hard to find a good one that has decent flavour. For starters, any of the beasts you see in the supermarket are useless as they taste of nothing and are only of decorative value; I generally find you have to go to famers markets to get anything worth eating but even then the quality can be a bit erratic. I used to go for the smaller types of squash (technically they’re not pumpkins) like delicata and onion until a few years ago when I found a cultivar called Queensland Blue.

A halved Queensland blue

As you can see, these are big, generally weighing over 5 kilos, and although you might think that the larger size would impact negatively on flavour it really doesn’t and for me they’re nicest of all the different varieties I’ve tried. I used to buy them from Denis Healy in the Temple Bar farmer’s market but last year they didn’t plant any so this autumn I found one in the Dublin Co-op; there’s so much flesh I roast and then process the lot in a blender before freezing it in batches .

The diced pumpkin ready for roasting

The great thing about having such a large volume of puree is that it lasts for the rest of the year and I can use it in lots of different recipes, a particular favourite is risotto: just make a standard, unflavoured one like this and five minutes before the end stir in the pumpkin and a few gratings of nutmeg. Other options are pumpkin ravioli with sage butter or a soup with some ginger and cinnamon.

Pumpkin risotto: notice how the risotto has spread completely over the plate, if can heap the rice in mounds it's too thick.

As for the actual recipe detailed below, it’s a combination of flavours very common in Italy and something I’ve eaten when I was in Verona although instead of pancetta they used luganega sausage which I’ve not find here in Ireland before (admittedly without looking very hard). The key is to have the sauce as smooth as possible which allows it to coat the pasta completely so don’t skip the step of passing it through a sieve.

Penne With Pumpkin, Pancetta And Sage

Serves: 2

Ingredients:
Grapeseed oil
300g pumpkin, diced
250ml chicken stock
30g butter
50g pancetta, diced
1 clove garlic, small
100ml white wine
4 sage leaves, large
Ground white pepper, pinch
Lemon juice, splash
Salt
250g penne (lisce or rigate)
25g Parmigiano-Reggiano

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 180C and when heated place a roasting tray with a good coating of grapeseed oil in it.
  2. When the oil is very hot, add the pumpkin and shake the pan to coat in oil.
  3. Roast for 30-40 minutes until the pieces begin to brown around the edges, occasionally shaking the pan to ensure even cooking.
  4. Cut the skin off the pumpkin pieces and place the flesh in a blender with the chicken stock.
  5. Blend until smooth and pass through a sieve into a bowl and reserve.
  6. Heat a pan over a medium heat and melt 10g of butter.
  7. When it stops foaming, add the pancetta and fry until golden brown and crispy.
  8. Lower the heat and remove the pancetta and reserve.
  9. Add the garlic and sauté for 2-3 minutes being careful not to colour it.
  10. Deglaze the pan with the white wine and boil off the alcohol.
  11. Add the pureed pumpkin and white pepper and simmer until reduced by a third (around 20 minutes).
  12. Meanwhile, heat a pan over a high heat and pour in some oil.
  13. Fry the sage leaves until crispy (around 20 seconds). Reserve.
  14. In a pot of boiling, heavily salted water cook the penne until al dente (around ten minutes).
  15. A few minutes before the pasta is done, stir the pancetta back into the pumpkin to heat through.
  16. Adjust the seasoning of the sauce if necessary and then add the lemon juice.
  17. Drain the pasta and mix it into the pumpkin sauce.
  18. Divide between two plates, topping with the sage leaves and Parmigiano-Reggiano.

 

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