Audiocooking: Pumpkin Cheese Pasta

Pumpkin Cheese Pasta

When you’re gifted a pumpkin, and your lactose-intolerant husband is out of town, what do you do? If you’re me, you put your phone in a ramekin, put on an audiobook (The Invisibles: The Untold Story of African American Slaves in the White House) and whip up your own personal take on Food 52’s Pasta Al Forno with Pumpkin and Pancetta.


  • One small-ish pumpkin, bonus points if it’s a gift
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil (if you have garlic-infused oil, this is an awesome time to break it out)
  • 4 oz pancetta, diced
  • 4 tablespoons salted butter
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar (maybe)
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 16 ounces full fat ricotta cheese
  • 2 tsp thyme
  • 2 tsp sage
  • 2 tsp roasted garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 1 pound pasta


  • Because it was gifted to me, I have no idea if my pumpkin was a “sugar pumpkin”, a “cheese pumpkin”, or what. It doesn’t matter. They’re all edible. You could also use butternut squash if it’s more your speed. The original recipe called for a total of 3 1/2 cups of cooked pumpkin – my pumpkin yielded about 2 cups and it was fine, though I’d have preferred it a bit more pumpkin-y. You probably don’t want to use a 20-pound squash, though. You can definitely use canned pumpkin here if you’d like, but make sure you get the kind that’s just pumpkin – not sweetened, spiced “pumpkin pie filling”. If you use canned, skip the roasting bits, and add it right to the cream, cheese, etc.
  • You want about a 1/4″ dice on your pancetta. Fortunately for me, my grocery store sells it that way.
  • Wear gloves when cutting the pumpkin if, like me, you get weird “plastic hands” when exposed to squash sap.
  • This isn’t a recipe where fettucine or angel hair is a good idea – you want a fun pasta shape that will catch the goop it’s cooked in. I used “high protein” chickpea rigatoni.
  • The recipe definitely benefits from use of parmesan grated or shaved off the block by your own hand (or the hand of your willing helper), but if your dad didn’t give you a one-pound wedge of parmesan for Christmas like mine did, yes, you can use shaky cheese.
  • I used fresh thyme, because I got some in our CSA share this week, but dried would be just fine. I did use dried sage.
  • If you don’t have roasted garlic powder (why not?), you can get it at Penzey’s (not an affiliate link, I just love them), roast up some fresh garlic, or just use regular garlic powder.
  • For the mashing bit, you want this kind of potato masher, not this kind.
  • Full disclosure: this took me about four hours to make, but I was also studying, doing yoga, watching a Star Wars movie, and making meatloaf…you can get it done in about an hour if you need to.
  • There is a LOT of fat in this recipe. It’s worth it. Enjoy. (It’s awesome as leftovers.)

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.

Knock the dirt off your pumpkin and give the outside a good wash. Use a nice big knife to cut it in half (the skin is nowhere near as tough as you think it’s going to be, so it will slide right through.) Scoop out the brains and seeds – you can hang on to the seeds and roast them for snacking – and then use your knife to cut each half into four pieces. Mine looked like little viking long ships. Set them on a sheet pan lined with foil, skin side down. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Raw Pumpkin Boats
Mmmm. Pumpkin boats.

Bake for about an hour, until the tines of a fork meet little resistance when piercing the flesh. Set the pumpkin aside to cool.

Cooked Pumpkin Boats
Mmmm. COOKED pumpkin boats.

Put your pancetta into a small sautee pan set over medium heat. Cook for about ten minutes – it will get super-foamy and look a bit like bacon bits floating in dish soap.

Bubbly Pancetta
Double, double toil and trouble; fire burn, pancetta bubble.

When the time is up and the pancetta is crispy, then dump it out onto a plate lined with paper towels. Set the pancetta aside to cool.

Crispy Pancetta
Drain the pancetta on your Mickey paper towels. Obviously.

Set the now-empty pancetta pan back on the burner, drop the heat to medium-low, and add the butter. Cook gently until the butterfat is browned and smells incredibly delicious. Set the butter – you guessed it – aside to cool. (If you’ve never made brown butter before, Serious Eats has a nice step-by-step. The flavor is worth this step.)

Creepy Pumpkin
I didn’t actually take a picture of the brown butter, so here’s a slightly creepy pumpkin head animatronic from our trip to the Great Pumpkin Farm last year.

Scoop the cooled pumpkin flesh into a big-ass bowl (big enough to hold the pumpkin, the cheese, and eventually all the pasta) and add the heavy cream. Hit it with a potato masher so it’s a little bit chunky and a little bit creamy. It should mash pretty easily. If not, your pumpkin is undercooked – but all is not lost! Dump the whole thing – pumpkin and cream – into a saucepan with a couple of tablespoons of water. Put a lid on it and cook on medium heat until the pumpkin gets nice and soft. Let it cool back down, then mash it.

All mashed? OK. Taste it. Depending on the type of pumpkin you have, and your personal tastes, you might want it to be a bit sweeter. If you do, add the brown sugar to the brown butter and stir until the sugar is dissolved.

Brown Sugar and Brown Butter
I like my squash like I like my coffee…sweet and with cream.

Add the butter (with or without the sugar, this is your show), all of the cheeses, the spices, and the pancetta, and stir until combined. Taste it again and salt if necessary – but make sure to get feta and pancetta in your tasting bite so you don’t over-salt.

Pumpkin Goo!
Pumpkin goo in a big-ass bowl.

If you’ve turned your oven off, now’s the time to turn it back on, right back at 400 degrees F. Put a large pot of salted water on high heat and bring it to a boil.

When the water boils, add your pasta, but cook it about three minutes shy of the al dente directions on the box. You want this to be pasta you wouldn’t be thrilled to eat at this stage – otherwise the final product will be mushy. When it’s done, drain it and cool it by running it under cold water (or sticking it outside if it’s cold out there).

Cooled Pasta
Chickpea rigatoni, drained and cooled and ready for its pumpkin cheese bath.

Grease a casserole dish. Really and truly take the time to do this. Use oil in a spray can, rub it with a butter wrapper, drizzle oil onto a paper towel, or put your hand inside a baggie that you dip into a can of Crisco…you do not want to have to scrub this later. It kills the dairy-fat high.

Pan Greasing
An ex of mine used to keep wrappers from all the butter she used for exactly this purpose.

Add your cooled pasta to the pumpkin-cheese goo and mix it up. Hands are the best tool for this job. Clean ones, you monster. When thoroughly mixed, tip it all into your previously-greased dish, and toss the whole thing in the oven. Bake it for about 35 minutes.

Ready for the oven, in a casserole dish that’s too small for the volume of pasta I made…oh, well.

When it’s done, it’ll be bubbly, cheesy, gooey, and delicious. It’s like mac and cheese leveled up.

Hot Gooey Deliciousness
Hot, gooey deliciousness

Now enjoy your pasta, and think about the fact that it took until 2016 – 154 years after the Emancipation Proclamation – for there to be a book about slaves in the White House. Shame on us.

The Invisibles

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