Cool weather means winter squashes. And in my house, winter squashes more often than not mean butternut.
This recipe with pasta, butternut squash, and bacon is easy enough that you could likely pull it off during the week, but it feels fancy enough—thanks to the brown butter—that you could serve it for guests, too.
Recipes like this are so versatile! You can serve them in a lot of different contexts—weeknight meals or fancy dinner parties—and because of that, they’re more likely to make repeat appearances at my house. (They also happen to pass muster with my boys. I suspect the bacon has something to do with that . . . )
MAXIMUM FLAVOR FROM A FEW SIMPLE INGREDIENTS
Roasting the squash brings out the sweetness and gives us a flavor base to work with. The salty bacon plays off the squash.
Browning the butter is the basis of what will become a sauce for the pasta. It develops a nutty flavor as it browns, and the sage infuses the butter with an earthy, herbal note. This is a classic flavor combination, and for good reason.
HOW TO PEEL AND CUT BUTTERNUT SQUASH
If you aren’t buying one of those packages of pre-cut squash in the supermarket, you need to peel and cut this baby up. I find it easier to handle if I cut off the stem end and the bottom so it stands straight up more easily. Then, you just peel it all around using your standard veggie peeler.
Then, I usually cut the squash right at the spot where the straight and curved parts meet. I then slice the long straight part of the squash lengthwise, and then into smaller strips, and then cube it from there. The base of the squash, that curved part you’ve cut off, can be cut lengthwise, too, sliced into strips, and then cut into curvy cubed pieces.
- Take a look at our full step-by-step guide: How to Peel and Cut a Butternut Squash.
HOW TO MAKE BROWN BUTTER
Browning butter is not a difficult thing to pull off and its benefits go well beyond this dish. You simply heat the butter in a saucepan, pay attention to what it looks and smells like, and pull it off the heat just as it’s starting to brown, but not burn.
It will start to foam up and the solids will separate out. You’ll know it’s ready because it will smell nutty.
- Take a look at our full step-by-step guide: How to Make Brown Butter.
MORE FAVORITE FALL PASTA DISHES!
- Sausage, Spinach, and Ricotta Stuffed Shells
- Chili Mac and Cheese
- Cauliflower Pasta Bake
- Pasta with Butternut Parmesan Sauce
- Cheesy Tortellini Casserole
Pasta with Butternut Squash, Bacon, and Brown Butter Recipe
- 1 pound butternut squash, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 4 cups)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon Morton’s kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
- 1 pound pasta, such as penne, rigatoni, or other short-shaped pasta
- 8 ounces bacon (7 to 8 slices, depending on how thickly they are cut)
- 1/4 cup sliced shallots
- 1 stick unsalted butter (4 ounces/8 tablespoons)
- 4 to 5 sage leaves
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 Roast the squash: Preheat the oven to 425°F. On a rimmed baking sheet, combine the squash with olive oil, salt, and pepper on a rimmed baking sheet, and toss to coat.
Roast for 20 minutes, tossing half way through to evenly brown. When it’s ready, the squash will be soft and some of the edges will have browned.
2 Cook the pasta: Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook the pasta to al dente, or according to package directions. Drain well and set aside.
3 Fry the bacon: In a large, deep skillet (I used cast iron), put the bacon in a cold pan and cook over medium heat until crispy. Remove from the skillet and drain on paper towels.
4 Cook the shallots: Place the skillet back on the stove, but with the heat turned off. Drain all but about 2 tablespoons of the bacon grease.
Add the shallots and cook in the residual heat from the skillet; this helps prevent the shallots from burning. If they don’t seem to be cooking fast enough, turn the heat to medium-low and cook for just a couple of minutes until they start to soften and become aromatic. Transfer the cooked shallots to a large bowl.
5 Combine the bacon, shallots, squash and pasta: After the bacon cools, cut it into small pieces using kitchen scissors (or using a chef's knife), and combine with the shallots in a large bowl—or you can use the stockpot you cooked the pasta in (I like to do this if it's just me and the boys).
Add the pasta and toss to combine. When the squash comes out of the oven, add the squash to this bowl and toss gently together.
6 Brown the butter: In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Stir it constantly and keep an eye on it so it does not burn. (See here for full instructions on how to brown butter.) It will start to crackle, foam, and smell nutty. The color will deepen to a caramel/amber hue.
Around when the butter stops foaming—or at least it starts to subside—and the butter turns slightly brown, add the sage leaves.
Remove the saucepan from the heat as soon as the sage leaves start to curl. Pour the butter and the sage leaves into the bowl with the rest of the ingredients.
7 Combine all ingredients and serve: Toss everything gently together with a wooden spoon. Taste and add salt and/or pepper if needed. Serve immediately with freshly grated cheese over the top.
If you are feeling extra decadent, add a chunk of unsalted butter or a splash of extra virgin olive oil on top when you toss, or some of the reserved bacon grease.
Leftovers keep for about 2 to 3 days and reheat fairly well. I like to add a bit of olive oil or water to the pot when I reheat it over low heat. (I try to avoid microwaving leftover pasta because it just makes it gummy.)
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