On a recent trip to New York I was lucky enough to score a table at The Four Horsemen a much lusted-after restaurant in Brooklyn (AKA cool New York). One of my favourite dishes of the evening was the house made maccheroni, with Gold Bar squash, citrus butter and ricotta Salata. There were also crunchy breadcrumbs and a light creamy sauce. I felt it was a sauce made by emulsifying cheese with pasta water. I tried my best to imitate the textures and flavours and I could not be happier with my interpretation!
I chose butternut squash because I have never seen gold bar squash at any grocery store or market in my area so I went with what would be most similar and accessible for me and my those who choose to make this. I wanted to create a light creamy sauce using both a milder cheese like Gruyère, which is also interesting and nutty and a spicy, salty cheese like Pecorino. When you have a lot of sweet earthy flavours, I thought it would be interesting to introduce salty elements. Enter the bacon! Bacon goes so well with squash and creamy sauces. Well, let’s face it bacon is literally good on everything including dessert!
The toasted breadcrumb topping offers crunch and texture and the ricotta Salata, is added at the end because it’s not melty at all. It needs to be grated directly over the whole ensemble, like a snowy capped mountain! Ricotta Salata is mild, a little crumbly, kind of like Feta but a lot less salty. I love using it on sauceless pastas that include roasted vegetables. It goes remarkably well with savory caramelized flavours.
Cheesy Maccheroni With Toasted Squash & Ricotta Salata
- 1 3lb butternut squash peeled, seeded and cut into cubes
- 3 tbsp olive oil + 1 tbsp divided plus more as needed
- Kosher salt
- black pepper
- 1 whole head of garlic
- 1 small sprig rosemary or a couple of leaves of fresh sage
- 1/2 tsp nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp sweet or smoked paprika
- 250 g Maceroni medium shells or similar
- 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
- 1/2 Cup cup grated gruyere cheese
- 1/2 cup ricotta Salata grated or more
- 1/2 cup Panko breadcrumbs To be pan toasted. See recipe notes
- 2-3 strips of cooked bacon chopped (Optional but amazing)
- 2-3 tsp reserved bacon fat or olive oil
- Heat oven to 425F
Start by prepping the toppings :
- Bacon (optional) – Place 2-3 bacon strips on a baking sheet, lined with parchment. Cook for about 20 minutes or until crisp, depending on thickness. Place bacon on paper towels and reserve about 2 tsp bacon fat from the baking sheet. You’ll need it for the panko breadcrumbs.
- Breadcrumb topping – In a small non-stick frying pan, heat about 2tsp of reserved bacon fat or olive oil and place the breadcrumbs in the pan. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon until golden. This happens quickly so stay close. Set aside in a small bowl.
- The squash -Arrange the butternut squash cubes on a baking sheet lined with parchment and season well with kosher salt. Drizzle with 3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and toss to coat. Spread the butternut squash in a single layer.
- The garlic- Peel the loose outer skins from the garlic leaving cloves intact. Slice off the top ¼ to ½ inch, exposing the cloves. Put the garlic, cut side up, in a piece of foil. Drizzle with the top of the garlic with 1 tbsp olive oil. Next, bunch the foil around the bulb, encasing it but still leaving room for air to circulate inside the parcel. Place it on the sheet pan with the butternut squash.
- Place the sheet pan on the middle rack of your heated oven. Roast for about 20-30 mins. You want them to retain some firmness but to be golden and caramelized around the edges. Do not overcook. Note: The garlic may need 10 more minutes to really caramelize. Leave it in while squash cools.
- The Pasta – While the butternut squash is roasting, boil a large pot of well salted water. Add the pasta and cook to package al dante. (It’ll continue to cook with the sauce later) Before draining the pasta, reserve about 2 cups of the pasta cooking water (essential to make sauce). Drain the pasta into a colander and set the pot aside for later.
- When the butternut squash is ready, remove it from the oven. Reserve about 1 to 1 ½ cups of the cubed butternut squash and put the rest in the bowl of a small food processor. Squeeze the roasted garlic out of its paper husks and add half or all of the garlic to the food processor as well. Add a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Pulse a few times, adding 2-3 tbsp of pasta water and purée until the squash mixture is smooth and creamy.
- The sauce. Transfer the pureed butternut squash to the pot where you cooked the pasta. Add the rosemary, nutmeg, and paprika, and the grated cheeses. Cook over medium-low, stirring regularly, and add about 1/4 cup of pasta water to start. Stir until fully incorporated. The cheese will melt and the butternut squash will become creamy and smooth to your liking.
- Add the pasta from the colander to the pot with the sauce. Stir to combine and finish with more cheese if you like. If the sauce is thickening too rapidly, add more pasta water and stir until pasta is evenly coated with sauce and is glossy.
- Stir in the reserved roasted squash pieces, careful to keep them intact.
- Ladle into bowls, add some bacon bits (if using), then add a nice sprinkling of breadcrumbs then grate on lots of ricotta salata.
- & the most important thing – Enjoy! Xox