When bone-chilling cold weather insists on showing up, I want pasta with fall vegetables to comfort me. What really satisfies is fettuccine capped with a garlicky winy brew of roasted butternut squash, blanched Swiss chard, and sautéed chanterelle mushrooms.
I made this dish for the first time many years ago, and much earlier in the season, when we had an abundance of butternut squashes ripening in our garden. Our Swiss chard was also at its peak, so I thought why not combine the two? Fall mushrooms are terrific with chard and butternut squash, so in they went. Chanterelles, fresh shiitake or oyster mushrooms are all wonderful as are brown-capped cremini mushrooms (baby portabellos). We’re talking umami here.
To get the most flavor from butternut squash, I give it a quick stint in a hot oven to caramelize it. This brief step transforms the vegetable’s surface proteins and sugars into countless tasty molecules thanks to the Maillard reaction. When you roast just about any food, you can thank the Maillard reaction for the delicious oomph in flavor.
Chicken stock is a great unifier of flavors, so it’s my first choice as the base for all sorts of sauces. Think chicken soup and how all its elements please your palate. A rich stock is great in a pasta sauce, and homemade is best. But store-bought, boiled down to concentrate it, will do just fine.
Fettuccine with Butternut Squash, Swiss Chard, Chanterelles and Garlic
Makes 4 servings
1 bunch red Swiss chard, stems and ribs removed
2 1/2 cups peeled and diced (3/4-inch) butternut squash (10 ounces)
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound fresh chanterelle, shiitake, or oyster mushrooms, cleaned and patted dry
2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
1/4 cup dry white wine or dry white French vermouth
3/4 cup rich chicken stock (see note)
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar or sherry vinegar
1 pound dried fettuccine
1/2 cup freshly grated pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese
1. Rinse the trimmed chard well in cold water to remove any dirt, and drain briefly. Cut the chard into large pieces and put them into a medium-large saucepan (3 to 4 quarts) with about 1⁄2 cup water. Cover the pot and set over high heat. Boil, covered, for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the chard is wilted. Drain and plunge the chard into a large bowl of cold water. Let stand several minutes until cool. Gently squeeze the leaves to remove most, but not all, of the remaining moisture. You want the chard to feel a bit damp. Chop the chard coarsely and set aside. (The chard may be prepared several hours ahead and refrigerated.)
2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Put the squash into a medium bowl and add 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Toss to combine and spread the squash slightly apart on a baking sheet. Bake about 20 minutes, or until a sharp knife easily pierces the squash. Set aside. (May be made an hour or two ahead).
3. Slice the mushrooms into 1⁄4-inch strips. Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and garlic and cook and stir constantly with a wooden spoon about 2 minutes, or until the mushrooms are almost tender. Stir in the chard and thyme. Add the dry white wine and chicken stock and cook over high heat, stirring, until the liquid has reduced by half and has thickened slightly. Stir in the roasted squash and vinegar and take the pan off the heat. Taste carefully and season with salt and pepper to taste.
5. Cook the fettuccine al dente in a large pot of salted water following package directions. Drain well and add to the skillet. Toss and fold gently to combine with the vegetables. Taste again, readjust seasoning, and divide the dish among four heated pasta bowls. Sprinkle with the cheese and serve immediately.
Note: If you have a rich, concentrated homemade chicken stock, by all means use that. If not, buy a good unsalted or low-salt brand and boil 1 1/2 cups until it has reduced to 3/4 cup.