Sunday, January 28, 2018

Baked Pasta with a Squash, Ricotta and Garlic Sauce

This delicious and cheesy pasta dish is comforting while still being healthy!

My husband came up with the idea to make a pasta sauce from butternut squash. He will come up with recipe ideas from time to time, and then I help him try to implement them. He thought of putting ricotta in the sauce (he really likes ricotta) and I suggested the roasted garlic. We went through a few iterations, and actually decreased the amount of pasta in the end, to make more room for delicious roasted vegetables.

Baked Pasta with a Squash, Ricotta and Garlic Sauce
Yield: 8 Servings

Cheesy sauce:
1 medium butternut squash (or other winter squash), about 2 1/2 lbs
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 head of garlic
10 oz ricotta cheese (2/3 of a 15 oz container)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 - 1 cup low-sodium vegetable broth

2 onions, thinly sliced
1 zucchini, cut into half moons
2 medium heads of broccoli, chopped into florets
1 small head of cauliflower, chopped into florets
Olive oil
salt and pepper

8 oz short pasta (penne, rotini and cavatappi work well) - whole wheat is healthiest!
1 cup shredded cheese (use your favorite)

Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with nonstick cooking spray.

Peel the butternut squash and cut into rounds. Spread out in a single row on the baking sheet, spray well with cooking spray, and season with 1/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp pepper and cinnamon. Bake squash for 30 minutes, flipping over every 10 minutes and re-spraying, or until soft and caramelized.

Roasted butternut squash
Gently remove the outer papery edges of the head of garlic. Using a sharp knife, cut off the top 1/2 inch or so, just to expose the individual cloves. Put on a piece of foil and drizzle with a little oil, then wrap up the foil so it is completely covered. Roast at 400 for around 45 minutes, or until soft and caramelized but not dried out. To save time you can put it on the same baking tray as the squash, and check on it after the squash has finished cooking. Let garlic cool, and then squeeze out the individual cloves.
Roasted and caramelized garlic
Put the squash, garlic, and ricotta in the bowl of a food processor. Add about 1/2 cup of the vegetable broth to start, as well as 1/2 tsp each of salt and pepper. Process until very smooth. Add additional vegetable broth, if necessary, to make a sauce-like consistency. I try to make mine similar to a thick marinara, or almost like a can of pumpkin puree. Depending on the water content of your squash, you may need more or less liquid.

Once the sauce is made, you can refrigerate it for up to 3 days before proceeding with the rest of the recipe.

Line two baking sheets with foil, sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. Preheat oven to 400 F. Spread out the onions and cauliflower on one tray, and the zucchini and broccoli on another tray. Drizzle the veggies with some olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Roast for 20-30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes, until veggies are soft and caramelized. The zucchini might cook faster than everything else, so remove it before it falls apart if the rest of the veggies haven't cooked.

Reduce oven to 375 F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta, stir well to make sure nothing sticks to the bottom, and cook according to instructions on the box. Check 1-2 minutes before the recommended time. Once the pasta has finished cooking, reserve some of the pasta water and then drain the pasta and return it to the pan. Add the squash ricotta sauce and all of the roasted veggies, and mix well. If the sauce is too thick to stir, add a few splashes of the pasta water.

Spread out well in a 9x13 pan. Cover with foil, and bake for 20 minutes. Remove the foil and sprinkle cheese evenly over the top. If the pasta looks a little dry, add a few splashes of the reserved pasta water (don't stir after you add it). Bake for another 15 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and bubbling.

Feel free to use any vegetables that you love or that are in season! Sauteed greens would be great, as would some roasted eggplant or sauteed mushrooms.

The squash ricotta sauce can be prepared in advance and stored in the fridge for up to 3 days before mixing together the pasta.

You can make this entire dish in advance, and store it in the fridge for up to 1 day before cooking. Increase covered baking time to 30 minutes, and you may have to increase uncovered baking time to 20-25 minutes (keep an eye on it).

Store leftovers in the fridge - they reheat really well!

For anyone counting containers (21 day fix or 80 day obsession), this is:
1 yellow 
2 green 💚💚💙 
1 blue 

Just pair your favorite protein with it and you have a full meal!