This week, a Merrill-ific dinner, because who doesn't love that? Her so-good-it's-silly Pasta Al Forno is rib-sticking, whole-body-warming food. Plus, it serves 8, so make the full batch and you'll have enough for dinner tonight and tomorrow night: always a bonus, but this week a must. Shaved brussels sprouts offer freshness and crunch, welcome alongside the creamy baked pasta.
Serves 6 to 8
1 3-4 pound cheese pumpkin or butternut squash
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 pound pancetta, diced
1 pound conchiglie rigate (shells)
2 cups heavy cream
1/4 pound shredded fresh mozzarella
1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano
1/2 cup fontina, coarsely grated
1/4 cup crumbled gorgonzola
2 tablespoons ricotta
2 teaspoons chopped thyme leaves
1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Halve the pumpkin and scoop out the seeds. Cut the pumpkin into 8 equal wedges and arrange on two baking sheets lined with foil. Sprinkle the wedges with salt and pepper and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Bake for about an hour, until the pumpkin is caramelized and tender when pierced with a sharp knife. Remove from the oven and let cool until you can handle the pumpkin without burning yourself.
2. In the meantime, crisp the pancetta in a medium saucepan over medium heat, about 10 minutes. Remove and drain on paper towels, discarding the fat.
3. Turn the oven up to 500 degrees. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta for exactly 5 minutes, drain and run cool water over it for about 10 seconds. Set aside in the colander.
4. Scoop enough of the cooked pumpkin from the rind to make 2 cups. Combine this with the cream in a blender and puree just until smooth (be careful not to overblend, or you'll whip the cream). Scoop out some more of the pumpkin (you probably won't need the whole thing) and chop roughly to make about a cup and a half.
5. Combine the pumpkin and cream puree with the cheeses, salt, thyme and pancetta in a large bowl and stir gently to combine. Add the pasta and the chopped pumpkin and fold together just until combined.
6. Spread the pasta evenly in a casserole or baking dish. Bake uncovered for 7 to 10 minutes, until the top is browned and the bottom layer of pasta is just tender.
3 cups brussels sprouts
One 3 to 4 pound cheese pumpkin or butternut squash
1/4 pound thick-sliced pancetta
1 pound conchiglie rigate (pasta shells)
2 cups heavy cream
Cheeses: fresh mozzarella, Pecorino Romano, fontina, gorgonzola, and a smidge of fresh ricotta (or use up what's in the cheese drawer)
We assume you have salt, black pepper, olive oil, an onion, a lemon, and a little honey. If not, you'll need those too!
1. Roast the squash -- it takes about an hour. But the good news is that it takes all of 30 seconds to prepare. For the first 20 minutes of roasting time, kick back with a cocktail, or read a book. Relax.
2. Start soaking your onion slices for the salad, because they need at least 15 to 20 minutes, and a little extra can't hurt. While you're at it, mix up the dressing too.
3. Boil the pasta; set it aside.
4. Scoop out the roasted squash, mix up that gloriously gooey, cheesy sauce, and pop the whole beautiful mess into the oven to finish.
5. Shave the sprouts, toss the salad and serve! Two dinners prepared in one go! Something to be thankful for, indeed.