Pasta con zucca e funghi (Pasta with Winter Squash and Mushrooms)

Frankpasta, primi piatti34 Comments

Pasta con zucca e funghi

An easy and versatile cold weather dish, pasta con zucca e funghi or Pasta with Winter Squash and Mushrooms, is the kind of pasta that you can prepare in 30 minutes or less. You just put the pot on the boil and start preparing the dressing for the pasta, which Italians would call a “condimento“— mushrooms and squash sautéed in olive oil and butter with shallots and fresh herbs. Toss it all together and you’re ready to eat.

It’s a match made in heaven. The woodsiness of the mushrooms and the sweetness of the squash play off each other delightfully.

An incredibly versatile dish, you can dress pasta con zucca e funghi up or dress down to suit the occasion, depending on your choice of ingredients (see Notes). And if you like, a bit of cured pork, in the form of prosciutto, Speck or sausage, adds a bit of heft and depth of flavor, while finishing with grated parmigiano-reggiano lends creaminess and extra umami. The recipe can can be varied for vegans, lacto-ovo vegetarians and carnivores.

Pasta con zucca e funghi makes a quick and easy weekend supper or, in its fancier incarnations, a lovely first course for a special occasion dinner.

Ingredients

Serves 4-5

  • 350g (12 oz) pasta (see Notes)
  • 250 g (8 oz) mushrooms, sliced or cut into pieces (see Notes)
  • 250 g (8 oz) winter squash, peeled, de-seeded and cut into small dice (see Notes)
  • 2 shallots, finely minced
  • A sprig or two of fresh sage or rosemary
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Optional:

  • 50g (2 oz) Speck or prosciutto, cut into fine strips or dice
  • 50g (2 oz) freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano
  • A sprig or two of fresh parsley, finely minced

Directions

Put a large pot of well-salted water on to boil for the pasta.

In a large sauté pan, brasier or wok, sauté the shallot gently in olive oil. Take care they don’t brown.

When the shallots have softened, raise the heat a bit and add the mushrooms and toss. Sauté over moderate heat until the mushrooms have softened and lost their excess liquid. (They will shrink quite a bit.) Add the diced squash, seasoning generously with salt and pepper. Continue sautéing for a minute or two.

Now add the herbs, drizzle in a few spoonfuls of water and cover. Simmer for 5 minutes or so, until the squash is tender, stirring from time to time and adding a few spoonfuls of water as needed to prevent things from drying out. When the squash is tender, remove the herbs.

While the mushrooms and squash are simmering, start cooking your pasta.

When the pasta is just ever so slightly underdone, add it to the pan with the mushrooms and winter squash, along with a ladleful of the pasta water and, if using, the freshly minced parsley and/or the Speck or prosciutto. Toss over low heat, perhaps a minute or two, until the condimento coats the pasta nicely.

If using the cheese, add it at the very end, along perhaps a half ladleful of the pasta water. Toss again until the cheese has melted into a creamy coating for the pasta.

Serve immediately sprinkled if you like with a pinch of minced parsley for color.

Pasta con zucca e funghi

Notes

Like a lot of simple recipes with only a few ingredients, the results you’re going to get will depend on the care you take in choosing your ingredients. Here are a few tips for choosing the three main ingredients:

Choice of pasta

You can make pasta con zucca e funghi with a wide variety of pastas. For everyday family style meals, short dry pastas—casarecce (as pictured) or penne, pennette, rigatoni, gemelli, conchiglie (shells) to name just a few—work quite well. Fresh egg ribbon pastas like tagliatelle or pappardelle are particularly lovely and add a touch of elegance for a special occasion. I’d avoid long, thin pastas like spaghetti or linguini, as they don’t pair terribly well with this rather chunky condimento.

Choice of mushrooms

Classically, you’d make pasta con zucca e funghi with fresh porcini mushrooms. If you can find (and afford) them, then they’s an ideal choice, especially for a fancy dinner. Unfortunately, they’re practically impossible to find where I live currently. Some recipes for this dish call for easier to find dried porcini, but I wouldn’t recommend them. Dried porcini have a very assertive taste which, in my opinion, would tend to overwhelm the delicate taste of the squash.

As an alternative, you can really go with any fresh mushroom that strikes your fancy. Or a mix. I’m rather fond of those ‘medleys’ of various types of pre-cut mushrooms. For today’s blog I used oyster mushrooms I found in a local Chinese supermarket, and they worked very well indeed. The only ones I wouldn’t recommend here are “white” mushrooms, which tend to lack flavor.

Choice of squash

As for the squash, some advice mostly for our American readers: As I’ve mentioned several times before, although Italian zucca looks very much like pumpkin, zucca has a far more intense taste and a denser, more velvety texture than any pumpkin I’ve been able to find here in the US. Pumpkins tend to be unpleasantly fibrous and can be practically flavorless. The usual substitute you’ll in find in many recipes, butternut squash, isn’t much better. It has a more pleasant texture but scarcely more flavor. When I first arrived from Italy back in the mid-2000s, I resorted to baby yams (in reality, baby sweet potatoes) which approach zucca in flavor and texture. I still use them, but the good news is that nowadays we can also choose from a variety of quite edible winter squashes. Personally, I’m particularly partial to Kabocha squash. I’ve also hear good things about buttercup squash. (In fact, Kabocha is a type of buttercup.)

Admittedly, prepping winter squash is a chore. You need give it a good wack with a heavy knife or cleaver to open it up. Then comes the somewhat tedious work of peeling the tough skin and scooping out the seeds, before you proceed to cut the flesh into small dice. These days you can buy packaged pre-prepped winter squash in many supermarkets. You’ll save yourself time and effort, but be aware that it’s probably going to be the dreaded butternut squash. And you’ll still need to cut the chunks into small dice.

Variations

There are lots of ways to mix things up here. If you’re a carnivore, as indicated you might like to add a bit of cured pork such as chopped prosciutto or Speck to the condimento. Do this right before you add the pasta, to avoid ruining the sweet flavor of the cured meat. Or you could add some crumbled sausage meat, in which case sauté it first, followed by the shallots and proceed per the recipe from there.

And also as indicated in the recipe, you can add cheese or not, again at the very end. Many recipes don’t call for cheese, but I rather like the extra umami and creaminess lends to the dish. You could even double down with a pat of butter as well, which not only enriches the condimento but lends it a lovely ‘soft’ flavor and texture.

If you like more assertive, earthy tastes, try a clove or two of garlic instead of the shallot. You can vary the herbs as well. I particularly like rosemary, but sage is a classic pairing with mushrooms and would be lovely here. Could you even try both. A bit of parsley at the end is totally optional but add a welcome bit of freshness and color.

Finally, if you want to get really fancy for a special occasion, this same condimento can be used to make a lovely “white” lasagna called lasagne con zucca e fungi. Follow the basic technique laid out in our recipe for asparagus lasagna, layering pasta sheets, béchamel and the sautéed winter squash and mushroom one after the other. If you like, you can sauté some of the squash separately and purée it with a bit of béchamel, just as you purée the asparagus in that recipe.

Pasta con zucca e funghi

Pasta with Winter Squash and Mushrooms
Total Time30 minutes
Course: Primo
Cuisine: Italian
Keyword: quick, vegetarian

Ingredients

  • 350g (12 oz) pasta
  • 250 g (8 oz) mushrooms, cleaned of any grit and sliced or cut into pieces
  • 250 g (8 oz) winter squash, peeled, de-seeded and cut into small dice
  • 1-2 shallots, finely minced
  • A sprig or two of fresh sage or rosemary
  • Olive oil and butter
  • Salt and pepper

Optional

  • 50g (2 oz) Speck or prosciutto, cut into fine strips or dice
  • 50g (2 oz) freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano
  • A few sprigs of fresh parsley, stems removed and finely minced

Instructions

  • Put a large pot of well-salted water on to boil for the pasta.
  • In a large sauté pan, brasier or wok, sauté the shallot gently in olive oil and a nob of butter. Take care they don't brown.
  • When the shallots have softened, raise the heat a bit and add the mushrooms and toss. Sauté over moderate heat until the mushrooms have softened and lost their excess liquid.
  • Add the diced squash, seasoning generously with salt and pepper. Continue sautéing for a minute or two.
  • Now add the herbs and drizzle in a few spoonfuls of water and cover. Simmer for 5 minutes or so, until the squash is tender, stirring from time to time and adding a few spoonfuls of water as needed to prevent things from drying out. When the squash is tender, remove the herbs.
  • While the mushrooms and squash are simmering, start cooking your pasta.
  • When the pasta is just ever so slightly underdone, add it to the pan with the mushrooms and winter squash, along with a ladleful of the pasta water and, if using, the freshly minced parsley and/or the Speck or prosciutto. Toss over low heat, perhaps a minute or two, until the condimento coats the pasta nicely.
  • If using the cheese, add it at the very end, along perhaps a half ladleful of the pasta water. Toss again until the cheese has melted into a creamy coating for the pasta.
  • Serve immediately sprinkled if you like with a pinch of minced parsley for color.

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34 Comments on “Pasta con zucca e funghi (Pasta with Winter Squash and Mushrooms)”

  1. Pasta con zucca e funghi sounds absolutely delicious! I’m a big fan of both squashes and mushrooms, and this combination looks perfect for a chilly evening. Do you have any recommendations for specific types of winter squashes that would work best in this recipe?

  2. Oh you are so right about opening up winter squash – they take a sharp knife and a lot of work! You also make a good point that there are so many new types of squash that have popped up in recent years. This dish sounds fantastic, and I can see how the mushrooms pair well with the squash! We’re making fresh pasta this week, and I might have to go this route. Yum!

  3. I love both squash and mushrooms as an ingredient for pasta sauce, but I don’t think I’ve ever paired them together – how delicious! And the addition of prosciutto would be terrific, too.

  4. Frank,
    I’ve been enjoying your recipes, thank you!
    Quick question: at what point do you add the herbs to the pan, when you add the squash or earlier?

    1. Oops… Thanks for the heads up! You can really add it at a number of points, but personally I add it just before covering and simmering the vegetables until tender. I’ve corrected the recipe!

  5. Frank, this recipe, like all the others I’ve tried, was delicious,
    Thanks, have a Merry Christmas and stay well.
    Alex Liberatore

  6. Glad to have you back and feeling better. We were down in Arizona for a month so I’ve been a little MIA myself.
    We do get a variety of squashes here because we are fortunate enough to have a really good cross-section of nationalities and their interesting neighbourhoods and markets. In fact, just yesterday I came across a Mama squash (it turns out to be a Kabocha squash) in Toronto’s East end, which I now regret not picking up. It’s disappointing that your butternut squash is so flavourless, ours tend to be sweet and creamy. Have you considered roasting the squash to caramelize and accentuate the sweetness? Not authentic but might get better results with flavourless options. I’m definitely putting this dish on our menu plan if I can find kabocha closervto home.

    1. Thanks, Eva! You’re lucky to have access to butternut squash that’s actually tasty. Maybe I should give it another try. And to answer your question, yes I have roasted squashes to concentrate the flavor. But as you allude to, it also lends it a “smokey” flavor that, while not unpleasant—in fact I rather like it—isn’t very Italian. For Italian dishes I just prefer to try to find a flavorful squash if I can. And if not, go with baby yams.

  7. Why the “dreaded butternut squash?” I’ve been cooking with it for years! And I now find them smaller, a plus when cooking for two.they

    1. “Dreaded” was a bit of poetic license, but as mentioned in the post, I find butternut squash rather lacking in the taste department.

  8. It’s good to have you back Frank!
    This looks like a perfect antidote to Christmas – I’ll be cooking it between the festivities.

    1. Thanks, Angie! I love mushrooms, too. Just had a lovely dish of scrambled eggs and sautéed mushrooms just the other day myself (for lunch). They were divine. 🙂

  9. You have been missed – it is lovely to see you posting~ As it is around 42C outside – no, no AC here – your recipe as it stands will truly have to be made 5-6 months down-the-track . . . but I shall probably try a ‘summer version’ with our small summer squash and Chinese mushrooms ‘just to be different’ 🙂 ! be well . . . . . .

    1. Ah yes, always the challenge when you’re food blogging on seasonal recipes when the seasons are reversed depending on where you live… They should do something about that. 😉

  10. Yes, you have been missed Frank. Glad to hear all is well. In Australia, we’re preparing for our hot Christmas so these gorgeous recipes will need to wait until it’s cooler. As always, it’s the detail about the small touches and techniques that make your recipes and posts such a joy to read.

    Buone feste!

  11. It’s nice to see you back, Frank! I figured you were busy, but I’m sorry to hear that you dealt with any kind of illness.

    I’m really glad you said what you did about porcini mushrooms. The thing that always amazes me is how little they seem to resemble fresh porcini.

    The thing about winter squash is that if you need 8 ounces, you end up with at least a pound and a half if not 8 pounds of additional squash, leftover. Time to make soup, I guess.

    Mark saw your recipe before I did, and suggested we make it soon. It sounds wonderful! Thanks for sharing it…

    1. So true about winter squash. Even the smallest of them will give you enough for several dishes. The good thing is they keep for a good while. And when in doubt, yes, make soup! 😉

      Hope you enjoy this. Pretty sure you will.

  12. Frank, I just posted a comment earlier today that I’ve missed seeing your recipe posts recently & hoping everything is alright. Sorry to hear of illness but glad to see you are back sharing with us again. Safe travels & wishes to enjoy the holidays coming from the AZ desert!

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