Penne with Creamy Pumpkin Sauce

I really enjoy the flavor of pumpkin, but I’m used to having it almost exclusively in sweet dishes – pumpkin pie, pumpkin bars, pumpkin cookies, etc.  In the interest of adventure, I decided to try one of the savory pumpkin recipes I have in my recipe logs – Penne with Creamy Pumpkin Sauce from the November 2007 issue of Everyday Food.  My initial reaction to the dish can only be described as “palate confusion” – what is this familiar texture (creaminess) with this unfamiliar flavor (savory pumpkin)? – but I liked it more with every bite.  Dr. O usually lays full claim to the leftovers, but he didn’t get any this time. 😉

First, I cooked 12 ounces of penne in boiling salted water until it was al dente.  (Package directions said this would take 12 minutes, but it needed just under 15 minutes at this altitude.)  While the pasta cooked, I put most of the ingredients for my pumpkin sauce together in a large bowl: 1 can (15 ounces) of pure pumpkin puree, 1 minced garlic clove, 1/2 cup of half and half, 1/3 cup of grated Parmesan cheese, 1 tablespoon of white-wine vinegar, and 1/4 teaspoon of red-pepper flakes.

When the pasta had finished cooking, I drained it (reserving 2 cups of pasta water) and set it aside.  I added 1 cup of pasta water to my sauce ingredients.

Next, I heated 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat in my empty pasta pot.  I added 1 tablespoon of fresh rosemary and fried it, stirring often, until it had started to brown (2 minutes).  Using a slotted spoon, I transferred the fried rosemary to a paper towel-lined plate, leaving the oil in the pot.

I added the sauce ingredients I had combined earlier to the oil in the pot and stirred until the sauce was heated through (2 minutes).  I added the cooked penne to the sauce, seasoned *generously* with salt, and tossed it to combine.  I served the pasta sprinkled with the fried rosemary.

Penne with Creamy Pumpkin Sauce

As I said earlier, I wasn’t really sure what to think about this dish during the first couple of bites.  The more I ate it, though, the more I began to appreciate the creaminess of the pumpkin and the way the rosemary-infused oil flavored the sauce.  It’s like my palate wanted the sauce to be cheesy because that’s what I would normally encounter.  (It really *looks* like mac and cheese too, doesn’t it?)  The Parmesan really did enhance the flavor of the sauce, but it was subtle.  My favorite bites included the crispy rosemary bits…  They really were to die for.

You might have noticed that I set aside 2 cups of pasta water but only used 1 cup.  I liked the thick, creamy texture of the dish, but you can add more pasta water to the sauce, if desired.  When I make this again (and I will!), I’m going to stick with 1 cup.

TIPS:  Make sure you buy pure pumpkin puree – *not* pumpkin pie filling – to make this dish.  If you’re not sure, check the ingredient list on the can.  The only ingredient in pure pumpkin puree should be pumpkin.

Also, do not (!) underestimate the importance of seasoning the sauce.  I ended up going three rounds with my kosher salt until I had the flavor I wanted.  Remember to do it gradually, though…  You can always add more, but it’s hard to take away salt once it’s in your dish.

Recipe link: Penne with Creamy Pumpkin Sauce

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