We wanted to create a pasta dish that brought out the delicate, earthy flavor hiding in supermarket mushrooms. We selected cremini mushrooms, which have a meatier texture and a more intense, woodsy flavor than button mushrooms but are still readily available.
Butternut squash heightened the dish's wintertime appeal and gave it heft and a subtle sweetness that perfectly complemented the mushrooms. To start, we sauteed the mushrooms with shallots, garlic, thyme, and a small amount of salt to help the cremini release their liquid, then added the squash. The liquid released by the mushrooms was just enough to steam the squash, and cooking both together gave the smaller mushroom pieces time to brown and create fond.
We removed the vegetables, and then poured in chicken broth and water to cook our pasta. Adding heavy cream toward the end of cooking, and then stirring vigorously while mixing in Parmesan cheese, drew out the pasta's starches and created a thick, creamy sauce, into which we folded our meaty cooked vegetables.
A splash of lemon juice, a sprinkling of fresh chives, and some toasted pine nuts were the perfect finishes to the dish. You can substitute 1 pound of ziti or penne for the rigatoni, if desired.
CREAMY RIGATONI WITH MUSHROOMS, BUTTERNUT SQUASH AND PINE NUTS
Start to finish: 1 hour, 15 minutes
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 large shallots, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 teaspoons minced fresh thyme or 11/2 teaspoons dried
12 ounces cremini mushrooms, trimmed and sliced thin
Salt and pepper
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1 1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2 inch pieces (4 cups)
2 1/2 cups water, plus extra as needed
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
1 pound rigatoni
1/2 cup heavy cream
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (1 cup)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add shallots and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Stir in garlic and thyme and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in mushrooms and 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook until mushrooms begin to release their liquid, about 4 minutes. Stir in squash, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until squash is tender and lightly browned, about 12 minutes. Transfer vegetables to bowl and cover to keep warm.
Add water, broth, and 1/4 teaspoon salt to now-empty pot, scraping up any browned bits, and bring to boil. Stir in pasta, return to vigorous simmer, and cook, stirring often, until pasta is nearly tender, about 10 minutes.
Stir in cream and continue to cook until pasta is tender and has absorbed most of liquid, about 4 minutes.
Add Parmesan and stir vigorously until sauce is creamy and pasta is well coated, about 30 seconds. Stir in reserved vegetables and lemon juice and cook until heated through, about 1 minute. Off heat, adjust sauce consistency with extra hot water as needed. Stir in chives and season with salt and -pepper to taste. Serve, sprinkling individual portions with pine nuts.