“Meanwhile.” The word makes me cringe whenever I read it in a recipe. As you probably know, it typically implies multi-tasking—not one of my strengths. So when I read today’s recipe, one suggested by my better half, and “meanwhile” appeared twice, you can imagine how I felt.
The recipe’s first instance of the word appeared in its second step, which involved cooking some butternut squash for 6 to 8 minutes. The second occurrence appeared in the third step, which entailed preheating the oven and cooking the pasta to a shy-of-al dente stage, about 7 minutes.
What puzzled me was why the pasta needed to be started before finishing the recipe’s fourth step, which was to finish cooking the butternut squash.
For my own sanity, I rearranged some of the steps and broke down others into individual steps. This reordering suits my style of cooking and helps me estimate when I’ll be serving dinner. Of course, more seasoned or talented cooks might prefer the meanwhile style and if they do, they can find the original recipe on the New York Times “Cooking” site: “Spicy Butternut Squash Pasta with Spinach,” here.
The recipe, by Yasmin Fahr, yields a hearty, satisfying, cheesy pasta dish filled built around a chunky puree of butternut squash and wilted spinach spiced with smoky cumin and red-pepper flakes and topped with milky mozzarella, nutty Parmigiano, and (somewhat surprisingly) sliced jalapeño. The pasta is then baked until browned and then served with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkling of chopped parsley.
“Quintessentially autumnal,” quipped my husband after his first taste. “Yum” was my reply. This is the type of vegetarian dish that could satisfy even a die-hard carnivore like me.
Except for the sequence of steps, I pretty much followed the recipe, except for substituting chicken broth for vegetable, which I didn’t have on hand. I also lengthened some of the cooking times: once for getting a deeper color on the squash and then for getting it to tender, I also added a 4-5 minutes under the broiler for browning to the recipe’s final step.
Pasta with Spiced Butternut Squash (adapted from a recipe by Yasmin Fahr on the New York Times “Cooking” website.)
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
1 medium butternut squash (about 2 1/2 pounds), peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 6 cups)
1 tablespoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon red-pepper flakes, or to taste
1 pound penne or other tubular pasta
1 cup low-sodium vegetable broth (or water) (Not having vegetable broth, I used chicken.)
¾ cup grated Parmesan
3 packed cups baby spinach
1 (8-ounce) ball fresh mozzarella, torn into bite-size chunks
1 jalapeño, sliced into rounds
⅓ cup flat-leaf parsley and tender stems, roughly chopped
1. Bring a large covered pot of heavily salted water to a boil.
2. Pre-heat the oven to 400°F with a shelf in the middle position.
3. In an ovenproof Dutch oven with a tight-fitting lid, heat the oil over medium-high until shimmering.
4. Add the squash and season with salt, cumin, and red-pepper flakes.
5. Cook, stirring every minute or so, until squash becomes browned in spots and feels just tender, 6 to 10 minutes.
6. When the squash is just tender, add the broth.
7. Stir and bring to a bubbly simmer. Then cover, lower the heat, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the squash is soft and easily mashed, 10 to 20 minutes. After 10 minutes, check from time to time for doneness.
8. Turn off the heat, and with a potato masher or the back of a wooden spoon crush half of the butternut squash, leaving the rest chunky.
9. Season the squash to taste, allowing for the Parmigiano that will be added later.
10. Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook, uncovered, until not quite al dente, about 7 minutes, or 3 to 4 minutes less than the package instructions. (Don’t overcook; the pasta should be a little too firm to the bite.)
11. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta water and drain.
12. Add the cooked pasta to the pot along with 1 cup reserved pasta water and 1/2 cup grated Parmesan, stirring vigorously to combine. Stir in the spinach one handful at a time until it wilts down a little.
13. Sprinkle the top with the remaining 1/4 cup Parmesan, the mozzarella and jalapeño, then place in the oven, on a sheet pan if you are worried about dripping.
14. Cook until the top is melted and browned in spots, 12 to 15 minutes. If you desire a crisper top, place under the broiler for an additional 4 -5 minutes.
15. Drizzle with olive oil, top with parsley and serve in warmed pasta bowls.
Wine Pairing: Sauvignon Blanc