I dare you to take a big batch of this to your next potluck or family gathering. You’ll need extra makeup on so people won’t see you blush from all the compliments. Don’t blame folks if they get back in line to get a second helping. They are powerless to resist. Seriously. It is THAT good. This is the best pasta dish I have ever come up with — and possibly the best I have ever had, particularly for fall or winter meals because the melange of flavors is nothing short of exquisite. Feeding vegetarian friends? Leave out the meat. Got a gluten-free eater? Use GF pasta.
There are several different components that require separate preparation for this, so I don’t recommend you try to do it all in one fell swoop. After the recipe, I tell you how I make it easy to throw together.
- 1 lb. cooked sweet Italian sausage
- 2 onions, carmelized
- 2 cups of cooked butternut squash, cut into chunks or squares
- 4 to 6 cups of cooked pasta (you can use penne, or do as I did — cook about 6 lasagna noodles, then lay them flat on a cutting board and slice them into small rectangles with a pizza cutter. I find this creates the idea ratio of pasta to other ingredients, in terms of what each individual fork full looks like)
- 1 1/2 stick butter
- 1 tbsp. fresh sage, finely chopped (use less if you are using dried)
- 3/4 cup asiago cheese, shredded (or any hard Italian cheese, such as parmesan, romano, pecorino)
I cook and chop my sweet Italian sausage links ahead of time, chop them, and usually have them in the freezer to thaw and use. Whether you’re cooking the Italian sausage just for this dish or you have some already cooked on hand, make sure the grease is drained, then chop it up.
I also always have carmelized onions on hand. They freeze well, so doing a big batch is always smart. [Do it the quick way. Put your chopped onions into a skillet with a little butter and olive oil and turn it on high. Stir until the onions start to get dry-looking, then add a cup or 2 of hot water and keep cooking until the onions look dry once again. Add more hot water at that point (when they start to stick). Keep cooking on high until the water is all cooked out the second time. At that point, the onions should be brown and taste sweet. If not, add one more cup of hot water and keep cooking on high. The whole process will just take a few minutes and you have plenty of other prep work you can be doing in the meantime, I’m sure!]
As for the butternut squash, I’ve seen it in the supermarket recently already cut up in steam-ready bags. Feel free to take that route to shorten your prep time. If you don’t have that in your local store, buy a butternut squash. Wash it with soap and water, stab it in a bunch of places with a fork, and place it on a plate in the microwave. Start with six minutes. Give it a gentle squeeze (through a silicone potholder or something to protect your hand from the heat!) to see if it feels like it is getting soft. What you want is to have it soft enough for you to be able to cut it in half, lengthwise, with a sharp knife without potentially injuring yourself in the process, then continue to microwave it another minute or two until the squash is tender. At that point, you’re going to let it cool off before you peel the squash with a vegetable parer, scoop the seeds out, slice the squash into 1/2 thick planks, then cut it into little squares. (I use the Genius Nicer Dicer most of the time to get the job done.) [Now you can see why I was suggesting the steam-ready bags of butternut squash. If that doesn’t work for you, microwave the whole squash while you are already in the kitchen area, like when you’re having breakfast or something, even a day or two before you’re going to be putting this pasta dish together.]
Those are the three parts that take a little work — carmelizing the onions, cooking the sweet Italian sausage, and preparing the butternut squash. Once you have those three components under control (and working ahead is the smart way to do that), you’re golden and ready to proceed with the easy part.
Cook whatever pasta you have selected according to package directions. [Then, if you’re using the lasagna noodles, as I did, drain them and cut them into small rectangles.]
While your pasta is cooking getting everything else out and ready. Cooked, chopped sausage. Cubes of butternut squash. Carmelized onions. Butter. Chopped sage leaves. Shredded Italian cheese.
Pull out a skillet and begin to melt the stick and a half of butter over medium heat. Put the finely chopped sage leaves in. Keep cooking just until the butter turns from pale yellow to pale brown. At that point, add the already-carmelized onions to the pan, followed by the pasta pieces, then the butternut squash, and finally the sausage. Toss gently and allow the mixture to heat all the way through. At that point, it’s ready to be gently placed into whatever you’re serving it in and topped with the shredded cheese.
Since fights at the table are never good for digestion, I’ve found that it works well to prepare a separate bowl for each of the diners who will be joining you, thus guarding against Uncle Wedgie’s boardinghouse reach cleaning out a big serving bowl of the best pasta dish for fall or winter.