pumpkin & pancetta pasta bake

Goooood morning – right well I am back to having a very hectic few weeks coming up so thought I would get one quick blog post up before things turn to custard! This is such a bloody delicious, indulgent, cheesy flavour-packed pasta dish, it is perfect for a crappy winter’s night. The intense flavour comes from salty pancetta, grunty garlic and earthily sweet pumpkin and kumara, paired with a little nutmeg, a good hit of chilli and finished off with a crumbling of toasted walnuts and the distinctive fragrant flavour of fried sage. Seriously. It really is bloody good!
Meanwhile in other news – Hoob is still in Welly picking up extra shifts at work during the uni break, Henry is slogging away in Melbourne, dealing with the occasional uninvited mouse-guest and I have had a lovely quiet week in the manner of the calm before the storm. Next week I’ll be flat out doing a job for the famous Mr Simon Gault before heading off to Melbourne for two nights with Pog and Will – hurrah!!! Back here it’ll be down to business again for Fairfax, Cuisine and Dish and finishing off prep for the cookbook launch, which I am thrilled to say involves a wee bit of media coverage around about – keep an eye out, hahaha, but of course I’ll be letting you know when it all starts here anyway! First up was an article in Stuff last week, which you can read about here. (Can I please just point out I hate having my photo taken, and I am spectacularly crap at it – I always look like some kind of stiff, stunned possum…). Anyhoo – time to get up, it’s a gorgeous morning, I’m off for a walk (yoga tomorrow yippeeeee), and gotta get sh*t done! 🙂

 

1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1 onion, finely chopped
100g pancetta or streaky bacon, chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
350g pumpkin or butternut chopped into 4cm pieces
1 red kumara (sweet potato) peeled and chopped into 4cm pieces
sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp chilli flakes
1/2 cup cream
2 bay leaves
Bechamel:
3 tbsp butter
1/4 cup four
2 cups whole milk
sea salt &freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup gruyere or tasty cheese, grated
250g large pasta shells or tubes
250g buffalo mozzarella, drained
1/4 cup chopped, lightly toasted walnuts
1/4 cup fresh sage leaves
1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 tsp chilli flakes to garnish

Preheat the oven to 180˚C. Heat the olive oil and butter together in a large deep frying pan and cook the onion for 8 minutes. Add the pancetta and cook another 6-7 minutes, stirring occasionally then add the garlic, pumpkin, kumara, sea salt and pepper and chilli flakes. Cook, covered for 5 minutes then remove the lid and add the cream and bay leaves, and cook a further 10-15 minutes until the vegetables are just soft. Remove bay leaves just before adding the remaining ingredients as detailed below.
You can make the Béchamel Sauce either on the stove top, or in the microwave. The method is very similar. On the stove top, heat the butter in a saucepan over a gentle heat until just melted. Stir in the flour with a wooden spoon. Add  the milk in three lots, stirring continuously, until well incorporated. Add salt, pepper and nutmeg. Keep stirring while cooking over the heat until the sauce is thickened and smooth. If it misbehaves, just whisk it vigorously with a wire whisk until smooth – it should finish thick and silky. Add the cheese at the end of heating and stir well to combine.
Cook the pasta for one minute less than the packet instructions advise, in plenty of salted, boiling water until only just al dente. Drain well. Add the drained pasta and 1/2 of the bechamel sauce to the vegetables and stir to combine. Spoon the pasta mixture into a 25cm x 30cm baking dish. Spoon the rest of the sauce on top in blobs, break the mozzarella into chunks and also dot on top. Bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes until bubbling and golden. While it is cooking heat the olive oil to medium hot and fry the sage leaves for 20 seconds at a time, and drain well. Serve the pasta sprinkled with sage leaves, freshly ground black pepper, chilli flakes and sprinkled with toasted walnuts. Serves 6

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