Monday, September 24, 2007

Penne with Roasted Butternut Squash, Crimini Mushrooms, & Pangrattato

Pangrattato is a preparation of seasoned dry breadcrumbs that's especially popular in Calabrian and Sicilian cuisine. These breadcrumbs – sometimes known as mollica in both fresh and dried forms, or as “modica” (mo-DEE-kah) in Sicilian slang - are still a staple in many southern Italian homes.

And many home cooks consider them so fundamental for stuffings, breading, baking, and sauces, that they keep a tub of them in the fridge all the time. The oven-dried crumbs are usually pre-seasoned with some combination of salt and pepper, garlic, oregano, parsley, and pecorino or parmesan cheese.

But historically, pangrattato was true peasant food - used as a substitute for expensive grated hard cheeses. When sprinkled into a sauce as it bubbles on the stove, the crumbs add savor and work as a thickening agent. When browned in olive oil, they lend welcome flavor and crunch to finished pasta dishes. In fact, I sometimes prefer pangrattato to cheese for the harmonious way it enhances flavors without adding too singular a note of its own.

Here the crisp, garlicky breadcrumbs lend a nutty pungency to the season’s first sweet-roasted butternut squash. Layered with the earthiness of crimini mushrooms, woody herbs, and the gentle twang of lemon zest, this penne celebrates (or, in New York’s case, yearns for) autumn. Unless you’re especially sensitive, use a liberal hand with the red pepper here – the heat is lovely against the sunny citrus and the caramelized squash.

Serves 4

1 young butternut squash (about 1 ½ - 2 lbs)
extra virgin olive oil
5 stems fresh thyme
6 fresh sage leaves, torn up
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic
1 ½ cup coarse, fresh breadcrumbs (made from about 2 ½ - 3 oz fresh bread)
1 lb crimini mushrooms, brushed clean, stems removed, torn into 3 or 4 pieces each
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 lb dry penne
crushed red pepper flakes to taste
small handful parsley leaves

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Using a “Y” or speed peeler, peel off the rind, which is quite thin – you’re done once any green veins are gone and the yellow flesh is exposed. Starting at the thinner stem end, slice the squash into rounds about ½ - ¾ inch thick. Once you reach the seeds, scoop them, out with a spoon before continuing. Slice each round in half and then into cubes roughly 1” by 2” (see photo above).

Add a couple of glugs of olive oil to a large, heavy stove-top-safe roasting pan. Add the squash cubes, the leaves of 4 of the thyme stems, the torn up sage leaves, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss to combine. Crush one of the garlic cloves, leaving the paper on, and add to the pan. Place in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes. Gently turn the squash pieces, and roast for 30 minutes more.

Meanwhile, heat a large sauté pan over low heat. Grate the other garlic clove into the breadcrumbs and add a couple of glugs of olive oil to the pan. Add the breadcrumb garlic mixture and season well with kosher salt and black pepper. Sauté, stirring constantly, until the breadcrumbs are lightly golden and fragrant – you may need to add more olive oil if they absorb it all along the way. Remove from the heat before they're completely done - the carry over will continue to brown them for a while once they're off the heat. Reserve.

Once the squash is roasted, remove to a dish and place the roasting pan on top of the stove over medium low heat. Discard the garlic clove, and wrap an oven mitt or side towel around the handle(s) of the pan to protect your hands – it’s easy to forget that the pan’s just been in a 350 F oven!

Put a large pot of well-salted water over high heat to boil.

Add some more oil to the roasting pan, and toss in the mushrooms. Season well with salt and sauté, stirring often, until much of the moisture is gone and the mushrooms are golden brown. Add the leaves of the remaining thyme stem and the lemon zest. Turn off the heat.

Add the penne to the water and boil, stirring occasionally, until par-cooked (about half-done). Before draining, add about ½ cup of the cooking liquid to the mushrooms and reserve another ½ cup for finishing. Then drain the pasta. (Note: My penne took about 5 minutes to par-cook, but timing always varies according to brand).

Turn the heat back up to medium, stir the penne and the squash into the mushrooms, and season to taste with crushed red pepper. Add some more olive oil if necessary and sauté, stirring gently but often, for about 2 minutes, or until the penne is al dente.

If the pasta seems dry, add more of the cooking water. Tear in the parsley and toss the vegetables and pasta with ¾ of the breadcrumbs. Check the seasoning with more salt and crushed red pepper. Drizzle with more olive oil and brighten with a little lemon juice if desired. Sprinkle with the remaining breadcrumbs and serve immediately.


Maryam in Marrakesh said...

It all sounds so delicious that I can barely stand it! How do you expect me to keep my girlish figure?

Diane said...

What a wonderful recipe for the start of Autumn. This dish is on my list to make this week.

Becky said...

This looks SO good! I only wish the weather were more autumnal here in Boston, but I'm sure it will be turning chilly soon enough and then there will be butternut squash galore in my kitchen. I'm going to bookmark this!

Mercedes said...

Ok, I've always wondered this. My breadcrumbs always seem to turn soggy within a few minutes of tossing with the pasta. I've tried both sauteeing them in oil and drying them out in the oven, but no matter how crispy they are at the outset, they turn soggy, which is really not appealing.
Am I using the wrong breadcrumbs, or is this just the way the dish is supposed to be?

roopa said...

Oh, yummy. I make something very similar to this in the fall months, but seeing as how it's 88 degrees here in Baltimore, I can't possibly bring myself to make this just yet. I'm sticking with roasted eggplant and sungold and sweet 100 cherry tomatoes until it drops below 70 degrees!

clumsy said...

Peasant food today is some of the most satisfying, interesting, and easy ways to eat, and I love the idea of getting down to basics and cooking traditionally. And butternut squash--the perfect ingredient at the onset of autumn!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Maryam, sadly my girlish figure headed south long ago. I just like to eat too much!

Diane, thank you! I hope you enjoy it!

Becky, I feel your pain. We are in the 80s every day this week. Enough is enough! I crank the ac and cook fall food - it's utter delusion, but it makes me happy.

Mercedes, yes! They do go soggy, and that is supposed to happen. They sort of blend with the pasta water, and that's considered a "sauce," lumpy though it is. I feel the same way you do though, and that's why I reserve a full quarter of the crumbs to shower over at the very end. But maybe try saving them all until the end - let me know what you think if you try that.

Roopa, this summer just won't quit, will it?! We're in the 80s here too, and it's wretched. Roasted eggplant and cherry tomatoes sounds heavenly to me right about now!

Clumsy, I'm so attracted to the more rustic, traditional home cooking too. Real solutions created and honed over the centuries by real people.

Rose said...

My sister used to live in Marseille and when I visited a friend of her would invite us to have a typical marseillais dish where I remember she made this bread crumbs mixture but with with fish fillet. It was delicious. I Your dish sounds very fragrant with the sweetness of butternut squash and the thyme...I am hungry!

winedeb said...

No chill in the air down here yet and will not be for a few months. But...that does not stop me from craving the autumn dishes. I just crank up the A/C a bit! I enjoy foods with the crimini mushrooms as they seem to have so much flavor. I also have a hard time with the breadcrumbs. Seems I either get them too big or too brown! Time to practice!

Sophie said...

Gorgeous, I love pangrattato - I imagine it would be lovely with butternut squash. One of Jamie Oliver's earlier books has a recipe well worth looking out for a pasta dish with salami, fennel and pangratto

Figs Olives Wine said...

Rose, how incredibly lovely! These braedcrumbs on fish would be heavenly. I must try that sometime - thank you!

Winedeb, I'm all about the ac and mock-autumn too. I'm done with the heat even if it's not quite done with me! I wouldn't worry about big breadcrumbs - I like the crunch they give. And as for them being too brown, that's not your fault at all! The carry-over cooking here is definitely a factor. Remove them from the heat before they seem done, because the oil stays hot and continues to cook them. Let me know how that goes.

Sophie, thank you! I missed that recipe, but I'll have to look for it - it sounds right up my alley, so thanks for the tip! said...

the bread in the last post=heavenly. and this pasta? just too good. how do you do it, 'manda?

Jan said...

I love crimini, but I've never thought to pair them with butternut squash - sounds wonderful!

Maryann said...

Wonderful, as always Amanda! We use the bread crumb mixture after cooking seafood. We add it to what is left in the pan (olive oil or butter) and it makes a sauce. Lovely. Great job.

Figs Olives Wine said...

Jo, thank you! I'm so glad you like. Do you think people will think I'm weird if I show up to the reading Sunday with some Ionian Wedding Bread? Pass around some braids? Can you imagine? hehe

Jan, thanks! They bring out the best in each other I think. Great for this time of year.

Maryann, how wonderful! The flavors must be heaven. I really want to try that!

Lucy said...

Ooo, lovely, chunky penne sauce Amanda, full of delightful autumnal bits. The lemon, sage and red pepper would perfectly balance the gentle sweetness of the squash. I think you're absolutely right about pangrattato - there are times when grated cheese just seems to make a dish heavy. I sometimes make it with a few anchovies for tomato-based pasta dishes...right, I've got good, strong, old bread in the pantry right now. Lunch, I think!

I think there's something wrong with my feedreader...I will fix it as I've missed this and your Ionian Bread post - off to check it out now.

Stunning photos.

Anh said...

Wonderful as always... I will definitely try this out, but perhaps have to substitute some other mushrooms.

Joanna said...

Great post, as ever. I love that flavoured breadcrumbs were a way to substitute for expensive cheese - because I use them to cut out cholesterol-laden cheese!

Great Big Veg Challenge said...

Lovely to have ytou back blogging after your short break bridesmaiding.
This looks delicious - I have made a note so that when we hit Squash we will try it out.

Figs Olives Wine said...

Lucy, thank you so much! I actually like anchovies in my pangrattato too! I guess great minds think alike. I still have to work out a feed reader. It's quite beyond me, but I know it would make my life so much easier.

Anh, thank you! I think any mushrooms would work here - once you get the golden brown color on them, they take on the earthiness I like against the sweet squash. Let me know what sort you end up with.

Joanna, thank you! It never occurred to me to use pangrattato for health reasons, but of course, it's a brilliant idea! I shall have to relay that tip to other interested parties. And thank goodness - like everything else you cook - it's healthy and still soul-satisfyingly delicious.

Charlotte, it's lovely to be back, thanks! I can't wait to hear what Freddie thinks about winter squash. It's so sweet that I'd imagine it could be great for kids.

Valli said...

Buon Appetito!!

Homesick Texan said...

What a beautiful dish--I know now what I'm making for dinner.

David Hall said...

tomorrow, this is being made as i have a nice fat squash sitting just waiting for a luscious dish like this. THANKYOU!


Cynthia said...

Thanks for the reminder about pangrattato, I totally agree with all you said about it and its flavours etc. I'd seen Lydia Bastianich make it on PBS but you know how it is sometimes... you go to cook and forget these wonderful, flavourful little things.

I know I'd enjoy your penne dish.

sognatrice said...

My neighbor just brought me some butternut squash yesterday; looks like I have something to do with it now :)

Jen said...

More wonderful recipes, Amanda! I was just writing to Michelle on Bleeding Espresso that between the two of you, I could not cook one of my own recipes for weeks. I really hope you're going to be able to publish something with all of these soon. I talk up your blog with every foodie I know. It's truly fabulous.

Figs Olives Wine said...

Valli, grazie!

Homesick Texan, thank you. I hope you enjoy!

David, how fabulous to have a ripe squash tucked away. Really hope you enjoy!

Cynthia, I know just what you mean! It takes so much work to remember all these things. I love Lydia Bastianich too by the way. Her restaurant here in NYC is named Felidia and it's extraordinary.

Sognatrice, what a fabulous neighbor! And it seems only fitting since you're in the heart of pangrattato country. Hope you enjoy!

Jen, that is extremely kind of you, and I'm flattered! I really appreciate the kind words, and I'm really so glad you like the blog.

tribecachef said...

The pairing of butternut and mushrooms is a great one, and one you really don't see often. Great idea.

Figs Olives Wine said...

Tribecachef, thank you! I must confess that mushrooms with just about anything sounds heavenly to me this time of year!

Christina said...

I've been waiting for inspiration on what to do with the lovely winter squash I picked up last week at my farmers' market. You've given it to me. Thank you!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Christina, how great are those first winter squash brought home from the market?! It's such a great season for produce isn't it? Hope you enjoy the pasta.

tannaz said...

i made these breadcrumbs in the leftover brown butter (supplemented with a little oliv oil) from molly's brown butter corn recipe (late september i think on orangette), with whole wheat bread, adding a little sage.

I really didn't think breadcrumbs could be a worthy replacement for grated cheese, but wow, their toasty, nutty flavor, and unexpctedly light crispy texture were irresistible!

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