Pasta with Winter squash

Pasta con la zucca alla napoletana (Pasta with Winter Squash, Naples-Style)

In Campania, pasta, primi piatti by Frank Fariello26 Comments

Pairing pasta and vegetables is common throughout Italy, but it is probably fair to say that no region puts so much emphasis on this classic combination as Campania, the southern Italian region from which Angelina hailed. Campanians are so associated with their love of vegetables that they used to jokingly be called mangiafoglie, or ‘leaf eaters’.

Typically, the vegetable is sautéed in a soffritto—in Campania almost always it’s garlic and oil and perhaps a bit of hot red pepper—and allowed to insaporire, or take on the savoriness of the soffritto. Cooked pasta is the added to the skillet where the vegetable has been prepared, and the pasta and vegetable are simmered together to get acquainted for just a minute or two before serving.

Last week we featured a pasta and vegetable dish from Puglia, orecchiette with broccoli rabe. This week we will take a look at a classic Neapolitan dish using zucca, or Italian pumpkin, which is now at the height of its season. In Campania, they use a local squash called cocozza, which looks rather like a butternut squash with variegated green skin. Rather than cooking the pasta separately, water is added to the sautéed squash to make a kind of broth in which the pasta cooks and absorbs the flavor and color of the vegetable. The dish can be served rather loose, as a kind of thick soup, or dry, as a true pastasciutta, according to your taste.

Ingredients

Serves 4-6 people

  • 400g (14 oz) of pasta (see Notes)
  • 800g (28 oz) of winter squash, peeled, seeded and diced (see Notes)
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, slightly crushed and peeled
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • A peperoncino or a pinch of red pepper flakes

Optional:

  • A few sprigs of fresh parsley, finely chopped (optional)
  • Freshly grated parmesan or pecorino cheese (optional)

Directions

In a large saucepan or braiser, sauté the garlic in olive oil, along with the peperoncino (if using), until the garlic has just browned. Remove the garlic (and peperoncino) and add the squash. Season with salt and pepper and mix everything well. Lower the heat as far as it will go, cover the pan, and allow the squash to braise gently until it is quite soft and beginning to ‘melt’ into a kind of cream. Add a few drops of water if things get too dry; the squash should not brown. (NB: If using red pepper flakes instead of the peperoncino, add a pinch at the end of this step.)

Add enough water to the pan to cover the squash by at least a good 3 cm/1 inch. Bring to a brisk boil and add the pasta. Mix and let the pasta simmer until it is cooked al dente and has absorbed most of the water. (Add more water if the dish dries out before the pasta is cooked.) You can serve the dish rather soupy or wait until the water is almost completely absorbed. If you like, mix in some finely chopped parsley just a few minutes before serving.

Serve immediately, topped with grated cheese or not, as you prefer.

Notes

This dish is sometimes made with odd pieces of pasta mixed together, but you can also use most any kind of short pasta, like gemelli or small shells, or—most classic of all—a small ‘soup’ pasta like tubetti. In the US, good old elbow macaroni work well as a substitute for these sometimes hard to find pasta shapes. You can also use pasta spezzata, or ‘broken pasta’: spaghetti or linguine broken into short lengths. The dish is generally eaten with a spoon, like a soup.

Pasta with Winter Squash

Kabocha squash

A note for readers in the US: As I’ve written about before, regular pumpkin is not a very satisfactory substitute for zucca. Although they look alike, the zucca has an intense flavor that is key to the success of this dish. Personally, I don’t find butternut squash, which most recipes here call for as a zucca substitute, very satisfactory, either. For risottos, I usually try to find baby yams, believe it or not, but today I tried the kabocha, an Asian winter squash with a reputation for having plenty of flavor, and found it worked rather well.  Feel free to experiment; the markets are full of different varieties at the moment; one expat Italian reader recently says his zucca substitute is buttercup squash. If you are opting for pumpkin or butternut squash, you might want to use broth rather than water in which to cook the pasta to make up for the flavor deficit, even if it’s not traditional to do so, and top the dish with ample amounts of grated cheese, to make up for the loss of flavor.

There are more ‘refined’ versions of this dish as well, where the soffritto includes onion and pancetta, and is sautéed in butter, which brings out the sweetness of the squash. The squash is the sometimes puréed as well. But being true to my roots, I prefer this simple, rustic Neapolitan version.

Rather than cooking the pasta in the same pan as the squash, you can also cook it in the usual way, that is, separately in boiling water, adding it, along with a good ladleful of its cooking water, to the pan with the squash to finish off. But I prefer the method given above. As mentioned, it adds flavor, and besides, there’s one less pot to clean afterwards…

Pasta con la zucca alla napoletana (Pasta with Winter Squash, Naples-Style)

Rating: 51

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes

Yield: Serves 4-6

Pasta con la zucca alla napoletana (Pasta with Winter Squash, Naples-Style)

Ingredients

  • 400g (14 oz) of pasta
  • 800g (28 oz) of winter squash, peeled, seeded and diced
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, slightly crushed and peeled
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • A peperoncino or a pinch of red pepper flakes
  • Optional:
  • A few sprigs of fresh parsley, finely chopped (optional)
  • Freshly grated parmesan or pecorino cheese (optional)

Directions

  1. In a large saucepan or braiser, sauté the garlic in olive oil, along with the peperoncino (if using), until the garlic has just browned. Remove the garlic (and peperoncino) and add the squash. Season with salt and pepper and mix everything well. Lower the heat as far as it will go, cover the pan, and allow the squash to braise gently until it is quite soft and beginning to 'melt' into a kind of cream. Add a few drops of water if things get too dry; the squash should not brown. (NB: If using red pepper flakes instead of the peperoncino, add a pinch at the end of this step.)
  2. Add enough water to the pan to cover the squash by at least a good 3 cm/1 inch. Bring to a brisk boil and add the pasta. Mix and let the pasta simmer until it is cooked al dente and has absorbed most of the water. (Add more water if the dish dries out before the pasta is cooked.) You can serve the dish rather soupy or wait until the water is almost completely absorbed. If you like, mix in some finely chopped parsley just a few minutes before serving.
  3. Serve immediately, topped with grated cheese or not, as you prefer.

Good choices for winter squash include buttercup and kabocha varieties. For the pasta, use a short shape like tubetti (aka ditali) or good old elbow macaroni, or longer pastas like spaghetti or linguine, broken into short lengths.

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Frank FarielloPasta con la zucca alla napoletana (Pasta with Winter Squash, Naples-Style)

Comments

  1. B

    Just sounds like delicious yummy comfort food!… will defiantly be giving this one a try.

  2. Nuts about food

    There are few things I like better than pasta with vegetables… simple and delicious. I must be Campanian at heart. This looks delicious, I can almost taste it!

    1. james hazan

      unfortunately apart from buttercup, a zucca remains a zucca no matter what colour go for the green ones j

  3. tatagioiosa

    About Neapolitan pumpkin or cocozza. There is a saying like this: “The head which does not speak is said pumpkin” (La capa ‘ca nun parla è chiamata cocozza).

  4. ciaochowlinda

    Frank – I have never eaten kabocha squash, but will look for it, upon your recommendation. Like Adri, these elbows were what we knew as “macaroni” and were used for macaroni salads, macaroni and cheese, and tuna fish casseroles. I like this use a whole lot better.

  5. Susan

    I have become quite popular amongst our friends with my pumpkin (well…what we get here in Belgium is quite tasty, probably not the same variety as in the US) and sage risotto, sefved with a crisp slice of pancetta. I’m looking forward to the pasta variation for winter comfort food – thanks for sharing, as usual

  6. Drick

    I have not ever had squash with pasta, or not like this one which sounds like it melds together beautifully into one perfect bite… very interesting…
    thanks Frank for keeping in touch, updating my site is overwhelming, and I spend too much time trying to figure it out – I too went with ziplist and that is something else that is time consuming, the backlog of recipes to update… thanks again, I will certainly need to spend more time catching up with your recipes…

    1. Author
      Frank

      Your new site sure looks snazzy, Drick. Congratulations! I know how much time it takes to get a new site up and running. I have to say, there was a point when I thought you had given up the blogging thang, but now we know why you went quiet for a while. Best of luck!

  7. james hazan

    I am 81 years young,and a very good cook! today for the first time I learned about “le zucce” thank you,I wonder if we (West Yorkshire,UK) have got the ones you recommend.

    1. Author
      Frank

      Thanks so much for your comment, James. Cooking is such a joy, isn’t it? I’d be curious to know what sorts of winter squashes you can find over there—we have a good number of readers from the UK, so do let us know!

  8. Simona

    Very nice recipe, as always, Frank. I grew up not knowing anything about zucca, then met it in Milan but then I wasn’t a cook and I remember only slices of it sold in the store already clean. So, when it comes to zucca, I am not bilingual: I know only the varieties available here. I agree with you that water content and flavor are two important characteristics to keep in mind when choosing a zucca for a dish. Kabocha is a great squash for many uses.

  9. Chiara

    non amo la zucca, credo che nulla possa farmi cambiare idea però un saluto vengo volentieri a fartelo, buona settimana Frank !

    1. Author
      Frank

      Ciao, Chiara! Nel mio caso, l’ortaggio che non mi piace è la barbabietola. Che schifo! Ma ci sono tante persone che la mangiano voluntieri. Come dicono i gusti non si discutono… Buona settimana anche a te!

  10. Phip

    On your wave length…
    Just yesterday, half way into a month in Italy, I’m thinking
    “All these different vegetables!”
    The man in the market filled my bag with the last cuttings of his zucchini and it’s greens. He said they would be delicious and they were. I think that over the years I have learned more about food preparation from the food stalls than anywhere else.
    and coincidentally
    Guess what we had for dinner two nights ago…Pasta con la Zucca!
    But I can ‘t wait to try the zucca-pasta-water trick.
    Aren’t they smart!

  11. Adri

    Geez, Frank, that looks so tempting, and I smiled when I saw the elbow macaroni. When I was little “macaroni” meant elbow macaroni. There really was not much else at the supermarket, and my mom did not often make the trek to “the Italian store.” I always loved the elbow macaroni. Whether it was served with plain butter or something more complicated, I adored it, and I still do.

    About the squash, I have been pretty lucky, having grown a number of different Italian zucche in my home garden. They are glorious things with eye-poppingly bright orange flesh and skins that look a bit like space aliens. I always enjoy seeing recipes that feature them. Thanks!

    1. Author
      Frank

      Elbows will always mean comfort for many of us, Adri, won’t it? And as for growing your own zucca, wow! Too jealous for words. ;=)

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