It’s officially October and I’m officially putting squash in everything. I know some people are averse to this practice but I don’t care. I love the fall and all its trimmings. This is the only time of year that I actually feel enthusiastic about squash. Sure, I eat squash all year round but there’s something about October that makes it seem downright magical. Maybe it’s the nostalgia around pumpkin pie or the welcome return of cozy meals. But the second October hits, I start making things like this Butternut Penne Alla Vodka.
Obviously, this Butternut Penne Alla Vodka is not a revolutionary dish. I essentially poured pureed roasted squash into a classic vodka sauce and called it a day. But not every recipe on this blog is about moving the ball forward. Some recipes are included on this blog because they taste dang delicious. And to me, that’s reason enough.
Now, I’ve made vodka sauce before. I’ve made vodka sauce for this blog even. I’ve made it with nothing but the usual suspects – tomatoes, vodka, and cream. And I’ve jazzed it up with the likes of roasted red peppers, portobello mushrooms, and sundried tomatoes. Like many of my favorite sauces, vodka sauce is more or less a blank slate. Aside from a few backbone ingredients, the direction you take the sauce in is entirely up to you. Recipes like vodka sauce are a great place to start when you’re looking to become more creative in the kitchen. There is structure but still plenty of opportunities to improvise and play with flavors.
Okay, let’s break this dish down a bit. There is nothing technically difficult about this Butternut Penne Alla Vodka but you could run into a slight timing issue. If you’re making this on a Sunday afternoon with acres of time ahead of you, you don’t need to worry. But if you want to turn this into a hectic Wednesday night meal, a little forethought is required.
The second you introduce squash into any recipe, you have to cook it. Fairly obvious, I know. This “hurdle”, if you can even call it that, can be as simple as cubing the squash and simmering it in whatever you’re cooking for a one-pot sort of deal. But if you want a puree, you’re going to have to roast your squash. I mean, you could boil it, but squash retains so much moisture that way. I prefer the airy, fluffiness of roasted squash, to slimy boiled squash.
Now, unfortunately roasting squash does take a bit of time. Like, 40 minutes of time. And if you value your digits, you want to let the squash cool before you wrestle it out of its skin. But you can roast the squash ahead of time. So if you know you’re going to want this Butternut Penne Alla Vodka come Tuesday, you could roast your squash on Monday and suddenly this dish is a 30-minute wonder. And yes, you have my leave to feel like a time management superhero.
I kept things simple with sauce, pasta, and a few toppings. But you can add whatever veggies or bits of protein your heart desires. I think the last of the summer zucchini would be great in this dish. Shredded leftover chicken, sauteed mushrooms, and sliced olives also wouldn’t suck. You don’t have to go plain Jane like me. Consult with the contents of your fridge and go hog wild. But I would urge you to include the fresh mozzarella. Mozzarella and I, well, we’re having a moment lately. I just adore the texture of fresh mozzarella, particularly when it’s half-melted on top of piping hot pasta.
And finally, let’s talk about the pasta itself. I went classic with penne, but rigatoni or any other short tubular pasta would work beautifully here. Or you can completely ignore me and go with bucatini, spaghetti, or some other tangle of long noodles. I find sauces with a lot of body do well with a short pasta, but who am I to say what’s in your heart.
So that’s everything you need to know about this Butternut Penne Alla Vodka. It has all the charms of the classic but with a sweeter, buttery nuttier flavor.
Butternut Penne Alla Vodka
- Large, deep skillet
- 1 small butternut squash cut in half lengthwise
- 3 tbsp olive oil divided
- 4 shallots halved, thinly sliced
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes optional
- 1 can whole tomatoes
- 1 cup vodka
- 2 sprigs fresh basil
- 4 sprigs fresh oregano
- 1 cup Parmigiano Reggiano shredded
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 454g (1 lb) uncooked penne
- 1 ball fresh mozzarella torn
- Fresh basil leaves for serving
- Preheat the oven to 400°F
- Place the squash halves cut-side-up on a large baking sheet. Drizzle evenly with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and cover with a generous sprinkling of salt. Place the squash in the oven and roast for 40 minutes or until fork-tender. Take the squash out of the oven and let cool until cool enough to handle.
- Once the squash is cool enough, remove and discard the seeds. Scoop out the flesh and discard the skins. Transfer the squash to a food processor and blitz until smooth. Set aside.
- Pour the remaining olive oil in a large, deep skillet and place over medium heat. Once the oil is shimmering, add the shallots and a pinch of salt. Saute until the shallots are slightly softened. Stir in the garlic, tomato paste, and chili flakes, and saute for a minute more.
- Open the can of tomatoes and either crush each tomato with your hand before transferring it to the skillet or pour the entire can into in the skillet and break the tomatoes up with the back of a spoon. Pour in the vodka and add the basil and oregano sprigs and a healthy pinch of salt. Bring the mixture up to a boil and reduce to a simmer. Let cook for 10-15 minutes or until the tomatoes have broken down.
- Once the sauce has simmered, transfer it to a food processor and, using caution, blitz until smooth. Return the sauce to the skillet and stir in the reserved squash puree. Bring the sauce back up to temperature and add the Parmigiano Reggiano and the cream. Stir until the cheese melts and the cream is well integrated. Taste and season with salt accordingly.
- Cook the penne according to the package's direction. Drain the pasta and pour it into the skillet and toss to coat in the sauce.
- Divide the pasta evenly across four bowls. Top each with fresh mozzarella and fresh basil leaves. Serve immediately.