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I think butternut squash is possibly one of the most delicious and underrated foods on the planet. I first discovered this gem when making a Mac n Cheese recipe that included butternut squash, but it was steamed and blended with the cheese sauce. A brilliant way to add veggies to a kid’s favorite dish. This Butternut Squash & Pesto Pasta combines fall flavor- rich, creamy Genovese pesto, roasted squash, and al dente pasta to create a filling, easy meal.
Pesto- Versatile and Insanely Delicious
I remember the first time I tried pesto. I was 20 and had just wrapped up a summer of study abroad. I met my mom in Europe, and we traveled for three weeks together, popping into various countries and cultures. Vernazza was possibly the most charming town I have ever visited, and my mom and I dined at a cliffside restaurant. I recall seeing homemade pasta swimming in a green sauce. GREEN. I thought pasta sauce was either red or off-white, like alfredo. After one bite, I became the ultimate pesto fan.
For this recipe, I am cooking with Barilla Creamy Genovese Pesto. The beauty of jarred pesto is that it does not have to be heated- it can be tossed with warm pasta directly from the jar and served immediately. In addition to being used on pasta, it can also be a condiment on sandwiches, a dip for crudites, and a way to add flavor to roasted vegetables.
Butternut Squash Tips
First off, you need to roast the butternut squash for that full fall flavor– it is incredible how sweet it tastes. Here’s my piece of advice- never purchase a whole squash and try to roast/cube it yourself. It is nearly freaking impossible. Grab a bag of pre-cut chunks (Trader Joe’s has a 12 oz. bag in the produce section) and save yourself time and possibly a finger.
Set the oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spread the butternut squash cubes evenly over the paper, drizzle with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Pop in the preheated oven and bake until tender and lightly brown, about 25-30 minutes.
Pancetta in a Pan
You can use any cured meat in this category- pancetta, bacon, prosciutto, or serrano ham. Make sure if you do use pancetta, you cut it into chunks instead of thin slices; it can get tough. You can usually find pre-cubed pancetta in a 4 oz. package. Start the pan on low to let some of the fat turns liquid, then turn the heat up to crisp the cubes. When they are nice and crispy (not burnt, you need to pay attention…as in, just block out everyone and all requests for snacks from your kids while cooking), line a plate with a paper towel and scoop pancetta on top of it to drain.
Al Dente Pasta
Ugh. One of the most disappointing things to me when it comes to food is when pasta is over-cooked. Al dente, that perfect firm yet cooked happy place where pasta is best consumed, can be tough to achieve. Since you aren’t heating sauce and dropping the pasta in (effectively “double cooking” the pasta), you can pull it out of the water when it is cooked to the point where a sample piece doesn’t have that chalky, gritty center but still holds its shape.
I love using Rigatoni- it retains sauce on its surface incredibly well. Add salt to your water prior to boiling-this helps it boil faster, and flavors the pasta. Do NOT add oil to the water- this will make it incredibly difficult for the pesto to coat the pasta pieces. Also, I always go back to Barilla pasta. Yes, I know this post is sponsored by Barilla, but every time I try a “gourmet” pasta, it never measures up to Barilla. I love working with brands that I already use!
Once the pasta is cooked and drained, return to the pan or serving bowl and mix in the pesto straight from the jar. One jar of pesto is a perfect amount to coat one 16 oz. package of pasta. Add in the roasted butternut squash, and sprinkle with the crispy pancetta.
This is one of the easiest fall flavor dishes I have ever cooked and was a favorite for all that tried it out! The herbal, cheesy flavor of the pesto complements the sweetness of the squash and saltiness of the pancetta. This dish can be made in about a half-hour- roasting the squash takes the most time.
Pesto Pasta with Butternut Squash and Pancetta
- 1 box Barilla Rigatoni
- 1 jar Barilla Creamy Genovese Pesto
- 12 oz. cubed Butternut Squash
- 4 oz. cubed Pancetta
- Olive oil, salt & pepper
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spread cubed squash over it. Drizzle with olive oil, add salt and pepper. Bake in a 400-degree oven for 25-30 minutes or until lightly browned and fork-tender. Boil water and prepare pasta- cook to al dente. Cook pancetta in a skillet until crispy. Drain pasta and immediately mix in pesto and squash. Top with pancetta and serve.