This is the time of year when I cannot get enough of butternut squash, not simply as a side dish vegetable, but as the basis of a hearty soup or a baked pasta main dish. This dish takes a few steps to assemble, but once done – as with lasagna – you have a meal that serves 6-8, needs only a simple salad alongside, and holds up very well for leftovers to be quickly reheated (nuked or otherwise).
I’ve made this with both 1% milk and with plain soymilk, with a variety of pasta shapes such as ziti, rotelli, penne and farfalle, and with either fresh or dried rosemary. There’s been no discernible difference in taste or texture – it’s always a winner.
Made as written, it’s completely vegetarian. I’ve also done this with sliced pre-cooked Italian chicken sausages instead of mushrooms for a distinctly different flavor profile, but my family prefers it this way:
BAKED ZITI WITH BUTTERNUT SQUASH & MUSHROOMS
1 20-ounce package peeled, seeded butternut squash, cut into 1/2” dice
1 medium sweet onion, chopped coarsely
1 8-10-ounce package Crimini mushrooms, quartered or cut smaller if they’re very large
2 tbsp canola oil
4 cups 1% milk or plain soymilk
2 sprigs fresh rosemary or 2 tbsp dried
1 tbsp minced garlic
4 tbsp unsalted butter
4 tbsp flour
8 ounces ziti, penne, rotelli, farfalle, or similar pasta shape, cooked just al dente and drained and set aside
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar
1 cup shredded Asiago
1 cup grated Romano
1 cup Panko bread crumbs
1/2 tsp dried thyme or 1 tsp fresh
Salt & pepper to taste
In large shallow roasting pan toss squash, onions, and mushrooms with canola oil and roast in 450 oven for about 25 minutes, stirring once or twice, until tender and just turning golden brown. Set aside.
In a small bowl, combine the grated Romano, Panko, and thyme.
Bring milk and rosemary to simmer in a saucepan, and heat for about 10 minutes. Pour through a sieve into a large measuring cup to strain out the rosemary.
In large heavy saucepan (maybe the one you used to cook the pasta), cook garlic in butter over low heat until softened, stir in flour and cook the roux about 3 minutes. Remove pan from heat and whisk in the milk until smooth. Return to low heat and simmer, whisking occasionally, until thickened, about 10 minutes. Stir in the vegetable mixture, shredded cheeses, and salt and pepper to taste. Add the pasta, combine well, and pour all into a buttered baking dish or lasagne pan, about 13 x 9 x 2”. Sprinkle top evenly with the Romano/Panko/thyme mixture. Cover with foil.
Bake in middle of oven at 375 for 20 minutes, then remove foil and bake another 10-15 minutes until crumbs are golden brown and cheese starts to bubble up around the sides. Let stand about 5 minutes before serving.
Makes 6-8 hearty portions as a main course.