Squash and sage is the perfect pairing of autumn flavors.
The sun is rising later and setting earlier. Cornfields are drying, temperatures dropping, and markets are brimming with beautiful pumpkins, squash, and gourds of every size and shape imaginable.
Should we make pasta or risotto or soup? Should we bake or steam it, braise or roast or carmelize it?
The ideas are flowing.
Here are a couple of our favorite recipes featuring one of fall’s big stars: butternut squash. Add fresh sage and you have a perfect marriage of autumnal flavors. Creamy and sweet with a subtle smokiness. An edible kind of coziness for the chilly days and nights of fall.
Butternut Squash and Sage Risotto
5 cups of vegetable broth (salted)
5 T. butter
1 onion, chopped
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1 lb. fresh butternut squash, peeled and chopped
2 cups risotto (arborio) rice
1/2 cup white wine
3 T. chopped fresh sage
3/4 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper
Bring broth to a gentle simmer.
Melt one half of the butter and add the onion.
Cook until soft and golden.
Stir in pepper flakes and cook briefly.
Pour in wine and let it boil hard until reduced.
Stir in squash and cook, stirring constantly for 5 minutes, until lightly softened.
Stir in rice, allowing it to become coated with butter and to toast the grains slightly.
Begin adding broth, one or two ladles at a time, stirring gently until almost absorbed by the rice. Keep risotto at a bare simmer throughout. Continue to add broth and stir.
Cook until rice is tender and creamy, but the grains are still firm, about 15-20 minutes.
Season with salt and freshly ground pepper, sage, Parmesan cheese, and remaining butter. Cover and allow to rest for a couple of minutes.
Tips: The quality, flavor, and salt content of the broth is very important in making a great risotto.
Use the best Parmesan cheese and rice you can find.
Risotto can be dry or on the wetter side.
Pasta with Winter Squash and Fried Sage Leaves
This is a very flexible recipe, so quantities can vary to taste. The important thing is to use creamy winter squash as the vegetable, since it will not overwhelm the subtlety of the star attraction—the sage leaves! They add a buttery, salty crunch with a wonderful delicate flavor.
1 package whole wheat pasta (penne or spirals)
2-3 lbs. winter squash
1/2 cup good quality Parmesan cheese
1/2-1 cup pine nuts, toasted
Olive oil to taste
Coarse sea salt (such as le Paludier Fleur de Sel) and pepper
Clarified butter (ghee) for frying the sage
Fresh sage leaves, about 8-10 per serving
Peel and cut the squash of your choice into bite-sized pieces. These can be steamed and set aside. Meanwhile, get the pasta going.
Now work on the sage leaves. Using a medium frying pan over medium-high heat, add a large spoonful of ghee and let it get quite hot. Throw in a small handful of sage leaves and a generous sprinkle of salt. You want the leaves to fry very quickly, to get crisp, not greasy-soggy. Keep them as separated as you can, which is easier with small batches. Stir a bit and then remove to a plate when crisp. Continue frying in small batches, repeating the procedure till all are done. You’ll get the hang of it.
Your pasta should be about done. Drain and return to the pot. Add a nice splash of olive oil, salt and pepper, the steamed squash, and pine nuts. Stir. Add about 1/2 cup of Parmesan, or more if you like. Stir. Taste and adjust seasoning and cheese.
To each serving add an exuberant amount of sage leaves on top. Eat immediately and swoon.
Hear the authors on the cooking show “Great Taste”with Steve Boss every other Wednesday 7-8 p.m. on KRUU 100.1 FM.