Before I move on to October's topic and the recipe I'm contributing, a little update on Cucina Conversations: monthly posts aside, the little community we've created has been a great source of information and support, a place where we can all go to ask questions like, "Has anyone cooked with purple carrots before?" or "Has anyone ever seen this type of butternut squash? *photo here*" or "Has anyone ever cooked with fejoias or tamarillos? What about medlars?" (I had never heard of any of those fruits before either, don't worry). I've said it before and I'll say it again -- I'm so happy to have found such great bloggers to connect with (and discuss weird fruits and vegetables with!) and am proud to share their excellent recipes every month.
While Halloween (October 31st) has become a more popular holiday in Italy -- you'll see the occasional trick-or-treater, my local bakery sells ghost and skeleton shaped cookies -- Ognissanti got here long before, dating all the way back to the 8th century. Called "All Saints Day" in English, Ognissanti -- which, as you might have guessed, has its roots in Catholicism -- is celebrated on November 1st, and is an official holiday in Italy. It is a day in which families honor and remember their deceased loved ones, traditionally celebrated by attending mass and then enjoying a big family meal, and is followed by Il Giorno dei Morti ("All Souls Day") on November 2.
I'll be honest: I didn't exactly stick to theme as I perhaps should have this month -- Rosemarie's castagnaccio and Lisa's fave dei morti for example are far more traditional choices, both sweets that are baked and eaten specifically for Ognissanti. The thing that you have to understand, however -- and I've already touched on this here, so you've been warned! -- is that my brain did what it always does in the Fall, and jumped immediately to Pumpkin (can't stop, won't stop). Before properly researching recipes with a deeper cultural significance, I immediately informed my fellow bloggers that I'd be making Pappardelle con Zucca e Funghi Porcini, a quick decision based more on seasonal ingredients than actual compatibility with the theme. In hindsight, it can work for this month's topic -- after all, Ognissanti is celebrated during pumpkin and porcini season, with a big meal that could very well include a primo like this one -- but I'll try and do my recipe research homework a it more carefully. Anyways, I don't think you're all that disappointed with today's recipe, are you? Just look at those photos!
I ordered a pasta with pumpkin and porcini mushrooms at a vegetarian restaurant in my neighborhood not long ago, expectations and hopes high (sweet seasonal pumpkin! luxurious porcini!) Long story short: the resulting dish was, well, just fine. I felt like it had a lot of potential but needed more flavor, a little punch of something extra, and that I could do it better myself. After a few recipe testing sessions in my own kitchen -- and without patting myself on the back too much here -- I think I have. I used more butternut squash instead, which has the same flavor as pumpkin but is it a bit easier to cook with at home (no deseeding or cleaning necessary). I roasted said squash instead of boiling it or steaming it in the pan; I added in some onions, that were slowly cooked instead of just sauteed; and I added a good dose of sage and freshly grated cheese. The result was fantastic, earthy rich porcini mushrooms, sweet caramel-like onions, intensely, well, squash-y squash (thanks, roasting!), salty Parmesan, and cozy sage, all helped along with a dash of white wine and a few whole garlic cloves. The perfectly coats the pasta and is a bright beautiful orange, making it super festive and autumnal, perfect for Ognissanti or Halloween or even as a vegetarian option for Thanksgiving. This is Fall that can be twirled around your fork and eaten with a sprinkling of of Parmesan cheese, people.
Here are the links to the other recipes for this month's Cucina Conversations:
-Carmen's Savoiardi in honor of her grandfather over at The Heirloom Chronicles;
-Fave dei Morti -- Italian almond cookies made to celebrate Ognissanti in Italy -- made by Lisa at Italian Kiwi;
-'Nzulli -- or biscuits made by Marialuisa's Nonna Mena -- over at Marmellata di Cipolle
-Necci con la Ricotta -- Tuscan chestnut pancakes -- courtesy of Daniela at La Dani Gourmet;
-Apple Sbrisolona, or rather the Italian version of Apple Crumble, made by Flavia aka Flavia's Flavors, to be posted soon as well;
-Castagnaccio -- a dessert made with chestnut flour and typical of Ognissanti -- prepared by Rosemarie aka TurinMamma, to be posted shortly;
A couple of notes on this recipe: Like I said, I used butternut because it's easier to prepare than pumpkin but feel free to use pumpkin if you'd like (also: in Italian the word for squash and pumpkin is the same -- zucca -- so I feel they're fairly interchangeable here!) You can use any cut of pasta you want here, but I happen to like a longer one. If you don't have dried porcini or think they're too pricey, I've also made this with sliced white button mushrooms. The flavor is a bit different of course, but they work in a pinch. Just make sure you saute them longer with the onions as they'll require a bit more cooking and release water that will need to evaporate. That being said, you can also make this with fresh porcini, if they're in your price range. I mashed up the squash with a potato masher, but if you want a smoother sauce, feel free to blend it with an immersion blender or give it a whirl or two in the food processor. Finally, don't pay too much attention to the onions in the photos below -- I photographed the step-by-step part on my first try recreating this recipe, where I sauteed chopped onions instead of caramelizing. Go for the slow cooking of the half-moon shaped ones, it's worth it!
If you like savory pumpkin dishes, you might also like this risotto with pancetta and butternut squash. For any sweet pumpkin dishes, you can find everything you could ever dream of here. For more mushrooms, check out this polenta I made.
About 1 1/2 lbs (I used 770 grams) butternut squash, cubed
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 garlic cloves
2 ounces (50 grams) dried porcini mushrooms
1/2 cup (112 grams) white wine
3/4 cup-1 cup freshly (110 grams) grated Parmesan cheese, plus a little more for serving
2-3 tablespoons sage, depending on how sage-y you want your pasta
3/4 pound (340 grams) pappardelle pasta
First things first, reconstitute those mushrooms! Place the dried porcini mushrooms in a bowl and add just enough tepid water to cover them. Set aside for at least half an hour.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Toss your butternut squash in a roasting pan -- line it with aluminum foil, this makes clean up much easier -- with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Roast the squash for about 40-45 minutes, or until it is tender and easily pierced with a fork.
Next, add the wine to the pan and let it cook down and evaporate, about 7 or so minutes. Your kitchen will smell great at this point. Check your butternut squash. If it is done roasting, take it out of the oven and use a spoon to move it to another bowl.
Mash up the squash with a potato masher, or use an immersion blender or food processor if you have either of those (the immersion blender and food processor will make a smoother butternut puree). Add the squash to the pan with the mushrooms, onions, and sage, and stir everything together. Taste the sauce and check for seasonings -- add salt and pepper as needed.