I could eat happily all year-round with easy access to local produce and a copy of The New Southern Garden Cookbook: Enjoying the Best from Homegrown Gardens, Farmers' Markets, Roadside Stands, and CSA Farm Boxes (University of North Carolina Press 2011). Sheri Castle, a North Carolina cooking teacher and recipe developer, has a knack for combining seasonal ingredients in appealing and uncomplicated ways, as this vibrant pasta dish illustrates. Browned butter pulls the flavors of the spinach, squash, pasta, and hazelnuts together; fresh sage and grated aged Gouda add extra layers of the autumnal flavor. It’s a beautiful company dish that’s fast to assemble once you dice the squash, and needs no more than a simple salad to complete the meal.
3 pounds winter squash, such as red kuri or butternut, peeled and seeded
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and ground black pepper, to taste
1 pound uncooked orecchiette pasta (or other short, ridged pasta)
10 ounces baby spinach
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
3 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
1/2 cup coarsely chopped, skinned hazelnuts, toasted
1 cup freshly grated aged Gouda or Parmesan
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the squash into 3/4-inch cubes and spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet lined with foil. Drizzle with the oil. Roast until tender, about 45 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, cover with foil to keep warm, and set aside.
2. Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain and return to the pot. Add the spinach and toss with tongs so that the heat of the pasta wilts the spinach. Add the squash and gently toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper, cover with foil to keep warm, and set aside.
3. Melt the butter in a small, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Let the butter cook, gently swirling the pan often, until the butter is covered in white foam and begins to brown in the center, 2 to 3 minutes.
4. Lift the pan off the heat and continue swirling until the butter is deep golden brown throughout and smells nutty and toasty. Drop in the sage and nuts, which will bubble furiously at first. As soon as the sizzling stops, pour the browned butter over the pasta and squash and toss gently to combine. Sprinkle with the cheese and serve at once.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.