Even though it’s still abnormally hot here in DC, it’s definitely fall. I know it’s definitely fall because there’s a huge pile of squashes and gourds stacked at Whole Foods in a decorative fashion that most people walk by. Of course, with a tiny amount of work, the average squash is about as versatile as butter, but most people are scared of it’s rough exterior.
What people don’t know though is that squashes are like cowboys. They’re rough on the outside, but they have tender hearts.
So while people were passing by the nicely stacked pile of butternut squash, I grabbed one and thought I’d figure out what to do with it later.
Later came about two aisles down when I spotted some ziti. I figured putting those two things together might just work out.
1) Slice the butternut squash in half lengthwise and lay skin-side up on a large baking sheet. Poke a bunch of wholes in the skins with a fork and bake at 350 degrees until the squash is very tender, 45-60 minutes.
2) Let squash cool for a few minutes and then scoop squash into a large bowl (or food processor bowl)
3) Add half and half, nutmeg, cayenne pepper, and 1/2 of the grated cheese and process until smooth. If you don't have a processor you can just mash well to combine everything.
4) Cook ziti according to packaging, drain, and combine ziti and butternut squash mixture.
5) Butter a 9x13 baking dish very well.
6) Add ziti mixture to baking dish and sprinkle on rest of cheese. Bake at 350 degrees until cheese is melted and ziti is slightly brown around edges, about 25-30 minutes.
7) Cool for a few minutes and serve it up!
Roasting the squash
This recipe is actually pretty hands off. To start you need to bake the butternut squash. If you’ve never done this before, the easiest way to slice a large gourd or squash is to sit it on a sturdy surface and stab it right in the middle with a large knife so the knife is standing straight up in the air, perpendicular to the squash.
Then slowly push the knife down and it should easily slice half the squash open. Repeat on the other side and you’ll be all set with two even halves of squash.
Lay these on a baking sheet and poke some holes in the skins with a fork. Take some aggression out!
Bake these at 350 degrees for 45-60 minutes until the squash are super-tender. The cooking time will vary depending on the size of the squash.
When they come out, they’ll be really tender and very hot!
These will need to cool for probably 10 minutes until you can handle them.
Making the Sauce
When the squash are cool enough to handle, scoop all the meat out with a spoon and add it to your food processor bowl, or just a big bowl for mashing.
Then you’ll need the things below. The fresh nutmeg is especially awesome in this.
Combine the half and half (or cream), cayenne pepper, nutmeg, and about half of the cheese with the butternut squash. Puree it until smooth and season with a good pinch of salt and pepper.
If it’s not really creamy, add a bit more Half & Half or cream. Also, give it a taste at this point. It should be really smooth and flavorful with just a tiny amount of spice.
While you’re doing all this you should be cooking the ziti. If you’ve never made ziti before, it’s basically like a thick penne pasta which makes it great for baked pasta dishes because the noodles don’t fall apart at all.
These are my cooked noodles.
Mix the butternut squash mixture and the ziti noodles together really well. You’re going for something like this.
Resist eating this as-is because it’s really very tasty at this point.
Maybe the most important part
Butter the pan (a 9×13 pan to be exact)! If you don’t butter this bad boy really nicely, the ziti will stick badly to the pan.
This is important.
Add all the ziti and smooth it out, then sprinkle on the rest of the cheese.
Bake this delicious thing for about 25-30 minutes or until the cheese is really melted and the ziti is slightly browned around the edges. It’ll be really hot at this point. Too hot to eat for sure. Let it cool for a few minutes before eating/serving.
When you do serve it up though, you’ll love it. I promise.
If you’ve had ziti before you’re probably used to a tomato-based thing with lots of mozzarella cheese and trust me I like that just as much as the next guy. But this is equally delicious… if not more so just because it’s so different.
So the next time you pass by that decorative display, mess it up and take one of those beautiful cowboys home.