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I will own up to it right then and there: I am an inveterate collector of pasta. Guilty as charged.
In fine food shops and Italian markets, I love to study the different shapes and imagine which will lend themselves to smooth sauces or chunky ones. I love their names (rooster’s crests, radiators, little ears, thimbles), the traditional packaging, and the fact that, for just a few euros, I can treat myself to a package of something novel — not to mention the promise of an easy meal.
Before I had children, I had to rein in my purchases, as my kitchen cabinets overflowed faster that Maxence and I actually ate pasta. But with two young boys who would eat it at every meal if I let them — their dream breakfast is cold leftover pasta, a recessive trait for sure — I am free to buy whatever I please, knowing I will easily find a use for it.
And I recently fell hard for a package of lumaconi, those large snail-shaped pasta sold in big bulging packages that scream “Buy me, I’m special!”
Lumaconi are the kind of pasta whose life pursuit is to be stuffed with a sauce and gratinéed in the oven for an immensely satisfying vegetarian main dish, or a festive side to a roast bird. And as the holidays approach, I thought I would suggest a simple, seasonal sauce of roasted butternut squash and chestnuts.
You sprinkle the whole thing with cheese so it will brown nicely…
… and you squeeze lemon juice over the top just before serving. You end up with a golden and appetizing dish that boasts al dente pasta, a silky sauce that sticks to the ribbed sides of the lumaconi, little pockets of melty cheese with chestnut bits, and a top layer that is toasted and crunchy and irresistible. (Keep an eye on the little cousins who may be tempted to eat just the top.)
It’s a recipe that is wowing but easy to make — the technique is straightforward, and many of the steps can be made in advance — and easy to live with — it’s lovely at room temperature, and almost tastes better reheated.
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1 small butternut squash or other firm-flesh winter squash, about 800 grams (1 3/4 pounds), seeds and fibers removed, flesh cubed (no need to peel if organic)
Fine sea salt
100 grams (3 1/2 ounces) cooked peeled chestnuts from a jar, chopped
1 small bunch flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
1 organic lemon
Coarse sea salt
250 grams (9 ounces) uncooked lumaconi (large snail-shaped pasta, such as these)
150 grams (1 1/2 cups) freshly grated cheese, such as Comté or Parmesan
Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F).
On a rimmed baking sheet, arrange the butternut in a single layer. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt. Mix with your hands to coat well.
Insert in the oven and roast for 30 minutes, until tender.
Process in a blender or food mill until smooth. This can be prepared up to a day ahead, or even frozen. Thaw before using.
Measure 500 grams (2 cups) of the butternut purée into a medium mixing bowl (reserve the remaining purée for another use). Add the chestnuts, parsley, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Grate the zest of the lemon finely into the bowl and mix thoroughly.
In a large saucepan, bring water to the boil with some coarse salt and a drizzle of olive oil. Add the lumaconi and boil until just shy of al dente, about 10 minutes.
Drain, return to the saucepan, drizzle with olive oil, and shake to coat so they won’t stick to one another as you work.
Grease a round 25-cm (10-inch) baking dish or cast-iron pan with olive oil.
Increase the oven temperature to 220°C (425°F).
Spoon about 1 tablespoon of the filling into each lumaconi, and arrange in the prepared dish, snugly but in a single layer. When you’re done, dot the top of the lumaconi with any remaining sauce.
Sprinkle with grated cheese and bake for 20 minutes, until the top is browned in places.
Squeeze some lemon juice over the top and serve, with a lightly dressed green salad, or as a side to roast chicken.
If you have access to high-quality, ready-made puréed winter squash, you can use that in a pinch.
This recipe can be made with other kinds of large, stuffable pasta, such as tube pasta or conchiglioni.
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