Pasta Al Forno with Pumpkin and Pancetta

CBC’s founder Carmen recently introduced me to this awesome website: Food 52. This resulted in HOURS of time spent browsing all the delicious recipes, and one fateful evening, (with the help of my friend Wei En) I decided to make Food 52’s recipe for “Pasta Al Forno with Pumpkin and Pancetta”

The recipe was cheesy and delicious, and was essentially a very fancy version of my favorite food: Mac and Cheese.

From the delicious aroma of frying pancetta, to the fabulous cheese and cream covered pasta, to the TASTY final product, this recipe was a hit!

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I couldn’t resist making a couple of changes to the recipe, so here is food 52’s version, with my edits.

Ingredients:

  • 13-4 pound cheese pumpkin or butternut squash 
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Olive oil
  • 1/4pound pancetta, diced
  • 1pound conchiglie rigate (shells)
  • 2cups heavy cream
  • 1/4pound shredded fresh mozzarella
  • 1/2cup grated Pecorino Romano
  • 1/2cup fontina, coarsely grated
  • 1/4cup crumbled gorgonzola (I substituted gorgonzola for Goat Cheese) 
  • tablespoons ricotta
  • teaspoons chopped thyme leaves (I used a tablespoon of dried thyme and a tablespoon of dried rosemary)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Halve the pumpkin and scoop out the seeds. Cut the pumpkin into 8 equal wedges and arrange on two baking sheets lined with foil. Sprinkle the wedges with salt and pepper and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Bake for about an hour, until the pumpkin is caramelized and tender when pierced with a sharp knife. Remove from the oven and let cool until you can handle the pumpkin without burning yourself. (I skipped this step and used the puree that I had frozen from when I had pumpkins in the fall- [check out my process here] though I see no reason why you couldn’t used canned pumpkin as long as it was unsweetened). 
  2. In the meantime, crisp the pancetta in a medium saucepan over medium heat, about 10 minutes. Remove and drain on paper towels, discarding the fat. (It only took me about 6 minutes, keep an eye on the Pancetta as it is easily burned!)
  3. Turn the oven up to 500 degrees. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta for exactly 5 minutes, drain and run cool water over it for about 10 seconds. Set aside in the colander.
  4. Scoop enough of the cooked pumpkin from the rind to make 2 cups. Combine this with the cream in a blender and puree just until smooth (be careful not to over blend, or you’ll whip the cream). (I mixed by hand and it worked just fine!) Scoop out some more of the pumpkin (you probably won’t need the whole thing) and chop roughly to make about a cup and a half. (I didn’t have enough pumpkin to do this step, and although the texture was a little different it turned out fine) 
  5. Combine the pumpkin and cream, puree with the cheeses, salt, thyme and pancetta in a large bowl and stir gently to combine. Add the pasta and the chopped pumpkin and fold together just until combined.(I also added salt and pepper at this point, as well as some extra seasonings: more thyme, rosemary, garlic, basil etc.)
  6. Spread the pasta evenly in a casserole or baking dish. Bake uncovered for 7 to 10 minutes, until the top is browned and the bottom layer of pasta is just tender.
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