Butternut Rosato (Pink) Sauce for Pasta shouts Autumn

Butternut Rosato (Pink) Sauce for Pasta shouts Autumn

As summer starts to mellow into fall, I’m eager for cooler, crisper weather and thinking of seasonal food. Here’s a pasta sauce appropriate to the season. The squat pumpkin in southern Europe, “Zucca” in Italy, “Potiron” or “Citrouille” in French, is delightful, and very different from American pie pumpkins or jack-o’-lantern pumpkins. Kabocha squash and butternut squash are closer to the texture and taste, if not the shape, of European pumpkins.

Photo: Maria Dondero. Plate: Marmalade Pottery, Athens GA
Here’s an Italian celebration of “pumpkin” for fall, making it a key part of the sauce for egg pasta or fettucine. It’s a rose or pink sauce known as “rosato” in Italian and is built around caramelized butternut squash. Rose sauces are made with a marinara-style red sauce and finished with cream, mellowing the flavor and producing the delightful salmon-pink color.

First, I make a batch of marinara, part of which is used for the rose sauce. Then I caramelize cubed butternut by frying it in olive oil, cook it briefly with some marinara sauce, and stir in cream. The sauce goes well over fresh pasta, especially an egg-containing fettuccine. I finish the dish with grated Pecorino Romano, the tangy sheep’s milk cheese that I prefer on pasta (I grew up around Sicilians, who used Romano more than Parmesan). Parmesan, or Parmigiano, a cow’s milk cheese from Northern Italy, would also work and would actually be more traditional with this Northern Italian style dish.

(The rest of the marinara sauce can be used for other things, such as with lightly fried medallions of chicken breast for an impromptu Chicken Cacciatore, putting over meatballs, dipping bread sticks, or whatever.)

A wine that several friends and I found paired particularly well with this dish when we test-cooked it a while back it was an Italian “super Tuscan” red, a north-central Italian blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. A Chianti would also work.

The recipe will serve six.

1 large shallot or 1/2 small onion, minced
1 small (1 to 1 1/4 pounds) butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut in 1/2-inch cubes
4 tablespoons olive oil, plus more if needed
1 teaspoon salt, plus to taste
2 tablespoons white wine
2 cups marinara sauce (see below)
12 small fresh rosemary leaves stripped off the stem
1 cup light cream
Grated Romano or Parmesan cheese for serving

Make marinara sauce (recipe below). Prepare onion and butternut.

In large frying or sauté pan, heat the oil with the shallot or onion, and fry it, stirring frequently, until vegetable is softened. Add butternut and fry gently, covered, scraping bottom of pan frequently, adding oil if needed, until squash is tender when pierced with a toothpick. It should start to turn golden brown in places. Add the salt while frying.

When butternut is tender, stir in the wine. Fry for a minute. Add 2 cups marinara sauce plus fresh rosemary leaves. Heat thoroughly. Stir in the cream. Bring back to a gentle bubble. Remove from heat. Add a little hot water if sauce is very thick. Taste, and add salt, if necessary.

Serve over pasta, preferably fresh pasta, boiled in plenty of salted water until just tender to the bite, then drained in a colander. Sprinkle with grated Romano or Parmesan cheese.

Marinara Sauce
4 extra-large cloves garlic
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes (Hunt or Kroger brand preferred)
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, whole
1/4 teaspoon paprika
2 1/2 teaspoons sugar 
Salt to taste (1/2 - 1 teaspoon or more)
2 large fresh basil leaves
Crush garlic with side of a knife. Remove skin. Fry garlic slowly in olive oil in large pot until just starting to turn golden.

Discard garlic pieces. Add fennel seeds, fry for 20 seconds, then add tomatoes, scraping out can. Bring to a rapid boil, then lower heat. Add paprika, sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Simmer 3 minutes. Taste and add salt if necessary. Stir in basil and remove from heat. 

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