One of the first things I noticed in Italy was how the menus were written. Our limited vocabulary made them difficult to decipher, and there seemed a terse vagueness to the way food was described. Zucca, or squash, was particularly mystifying — what kind of squash was it, was it a winter or summer variety, and how was it prepared? The waiters would be equally mystified that we should even have to ask. Perche, signora, the type of squash depends on the place and season, and the preparation depends on the squash. Now, many years later, it seems so obvious. The ingredient leads the way.
This Queensland Blue is part of the collection of winter squash we’ve been working through since last fall. Vividly colored inside and out, it has a cinched waist and sweet, smooth flesh; The Compleat Squash describes it as “spendiferous.” Reportedly, the Australian blues are legendary for their shelf life, up to two years for some. Most likely conditions here are less than ideal compared to their native land, and given our short growing season, this one may be on the small side for its type.
We like this preparation as a way of trying out different squashes, and grating gives it more texture than in the usual puree. The strands of squash retain a slight bite, echoing pasta cooked al dente. If you don’t have access to much variety, butternut squash is a good choice for this dish, about two pounds per pound of pasta. Once it is peeled, a food processor can make quick work of the grating. We used fresh linguine from Valicenti Organico, and, borrowing from their inspired combination of flavors, an extra squeeze of orange or zest, and some toasted fennel seed adds some wintertime zing.
Linguine con Zucca
Pasta with Shredded Winter Squash and Sage
Winter squash, seeded, peeled and shredded
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Sea salt and black pepper
– Bring a large pot of water to boil. Meanwhile, in a large saute pan, heat the olive oil and saute the garlic with a pinch of red pepper flakes until fragrant. Stir in the sage, then the shredded squash, and continue cooking until the squash is barely tender.
– Cook the pasta until al dente, drain and toss with the sauteed squash. If necessary, add pasta water to loosen the sauce. Season to taste, drizzle with some good olive oil, and serve with grated parmesan.