Over the past few months I've begun to think of pasta more as a vehicle to carry delcious combinations of flavour rather than the decision maker for a finished dish. Until farily recently, I've tended to see pasta as a set of classic recipes - carbonara, arrabiata, Norma, putanesca, pesto, walnut and gorgonzola... all those tried and tested delicious Italian masterpieces that have been with us for as long as pasta itself. However, of late, I've started to think differently.
Pasta is the perfect carrier for so many different flavours and textures. It brings a plate of food together in a way that the potato doesn't; pasta gives you the authority to mix everything together, creating a plate of food with many component parts that come together as a cohesive whole. It's so versatile too. I've really taken to making velouté style sauces to beautifully coat individual pasta shapes before adding further flavours and textures to add interest - think of vegetables you can do this with and how to build a dish up from there (in teh recipe to follow, the foundation is a rich pumpkin base to which i've added crispy pancetta and a pangrattato; you could do a rich onion velouté and add blue cheese and a thyme and truffle pangratatto for texture perhaps with a few walnuts running through).
I'm also loving using pasta cooking water to add viscosity and additional moisture to dishes that would otherwise be quite dry. I recently made a red chicory and pancetta pasta dish that became quite special after I'd added a good ladleful of pasta cooking water and parmesan, emulsifying to create something creamy and unctious.
Different pasta shapes add their own spin on a sauce too and deciding which pasta to use is crucial. With a particulalry loose sauce, for example, you're going to need a pasta that has a hand platform for the sauce to settle in, like lumache which I've used here, shells or orichiette (if you used tagliatelle, or spaghetti, the sauce will all drip off and pool at the bottom of your bowl). I love how lumache scoops up the sauce so that each mouthful is the perfect balance of pasta and flavoursome sauce.
- 1/2 small pumpkin - about 250g, seeds scooped out and cut into 2
- Olive oil
- 1 tbsp duck fat (optional)
- 1/2 onion, finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- Freshly ground nutmeg
- 200ml clear chicken stock
- 50g butter
- 6-8 slices of pancetta (depending on the size)
- 25g sourdough bread (inc the crust) , torn into 1cm pieces
- 200g dried lumache pasta
- 50g Parmesan, grated
- 2 x egg yolks
- 1-2 spring onions (green tops only), finely sliced
- Salt and black pepper
Preheat your oven to 175°C. Rub the pumpkin with some olive oil and season with salt. Cover loosely with tinfoil and roast in the oven on a tray for about 30 to 40 minutes until soft.
On a separate tray lined with some non-stick paper, lay out the pancetta slices and roast in the oven for about 10-15 minutes until brown and crisp. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a wire rack/plate. Toss the torn bread in the fat released from the pancetta and place in the oven on the tray used for cooking the pancetta. Cook for 10 minutes until crisp. Leave to one side.
Once the pumpkin is cool enough to handle, scrape away the flesh from the skin, making sure you don't leave any flesh behind.
Melt the duck fat in a small saucepan and gently fry the onions until soft - about 10 minutes. Now add the cooked pumpkin, garlic and a good sprinkling of nutmeg. Cook gently for a further 3-5 minutes of so, breaking up the pumpkin a little. Then add the chicken stock. Allow to simmer for about 5 minutes before removing from the heat and blending with a stick blender. Pass through a sive to ensure an extremely smooth sauce. Now stir in the butter. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt if you think it needs it. Remember it should be quite rich and intesnse as the flavour will dilute once the pasta is added.
In a small blender, blitsz the toasted fat covered bread to break it down into smaller crumbs. Season with salt.
Cook your pasta. Drain roughly (you want the starchy water that will have collected inside the shapes). Mix into the sauce with most of the Parmesan and a grind of black pepper.
Place in bowls and top with the cooked pancetta, pangrattato, finely sliced spring onions, egg yolk and the rest of the Parmesan.
I had some of the squash sauce left so used it again in a lightly alternative way. I blackened some corn kernels ears under the grill. Meanwhile I had some frozen chicken skin so blitzed it and then fried till crisp. Drained off some of fat left in the pan and then added the squash sauce and a few of the blackened kernels from the corn. Then added cooked pasta (this time fusilli bucati) and pasta water, a good handful of Parmesan (actually I lie, I had a hard Greek salty cheese so used that!). Served up and sprinkled with crispy chicken crumb, more blackened corn and an egg yolk again. Tasty!!