I don’t know about you, but sometimes I need a bit of an extra nudge to eat more veggies. Roasting them to coax out their natural sweetness is defnitely my usual approach, but you can’t beat it when they masquerade as something even more luscious. A tall order? Sure. But boy does this winter squash carbonara ever achieve it… and well.
It’s almost magical how the sauce manages to taste and look just as rich and creamy as its heavy-cream- and egg-yolk-based counterparts, despite being made without either. And as much as I LOVE cheese, it really is delicious without it. So feel free to skip the Parmesan to make it a bit more budget-friendly AND a great option for those who are dairy-free.
With this recipe in your back pocket, sticking to those healthier eating resolutions just got whole lot easier. Plus, I’d even venture to say that this pasta would be an easy sell for kids and picky eaters at any age. Just leave off the sage, and call it mac and cheese with bacon — its bright orange hue is totally reminiscent of the blue box favorite. Wins all around.
Do you have any healthy food hacks for us? Share yours in the comments or on Facebook!
Winter Squash Carbonara With Pancetta and Sage (Gluten-Free and Dairy-Free Friendly)
Preparation and Cook Time: 45 minutes – 1 hour, mostly inactive
Serves: 3 – 4
To stretch this dish a little further, feel free to use a full pound of pasta.
- 2 tablespoons (28 grams) olive oil
- 1/4 pound (113 grams) diced (1/4″ cubes) pancetta
- 1 tablespoon fresh sage leaves, chiffonade
- 1 pound (about 3 cups) peeled and diced (1/2″ cubes) kabocha squash
- 1 cup (113 grams) chopped onion
- 1 tablespoon (14 grams) minced garlic
- 2 cups chicken broth
- 1/4 cup (28 grams) finely grated Parmesan, plus more for serving (optional, but recommended)
- 12 ounces penne (gluten-free¹, if desired)
- Kosher salt, black pepper and red pepper flakes, to taste
Make Crispy Pancetta and Sage Garnish:
Set a 4-quart sauté pan or saucepan over medium heat. Add oil and warm until shimmering. Add pancetta, cover with a mesh splatter shield (optional) and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp (about 5 minutes). Remove pancetta to a paper-towel-lined plate, leaving behind as much oil in the pan as possible. Sprinkle sage into the pan, and fry until crisp (happens almost instantly). Remove to plate with pancetta; set aside.
Add squash, onion and garlic to pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent and browned in spots (about 10 minutes). Add broth, increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Stir, cover with splatter shield (optional), reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until squash is soft and falling apart and liquid is reduced by about half (about 20 minutes).
Transfer to blender, but do not cover the top completely unless you want an explosion to occur — I just hold several layers of floursack towel over the small, center hole to help protect my hand from the hot liquid — and process until smooth, you’ll have about 3 cups (if needed, add water to make 3 cups or return to pan and simmer until reduced further). Add 1/4 cup Parmesan (if using), and blend until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper; set aside.
DO AHEAD: At this point, sauce can be cooled, transferred to an appropriate container and refrigerated for several days or frozen for several months. Simply reheat in a saucepan over low heat before proceeding.
Once the squash mixture is just about done simmering, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente. Drain pasta well and return to the pot. Add pureed squash mixture to the pasta, stir well to coat and season to taste with additional salt and pepper. Transfer pasta to large bowl and sprinkle reserved pancetta, sage and more cheese over top. Serve immediately.