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Creamy Baked Rigatoni With Butternut Squash & Goat Cheese

Pretty much everything I love in life is represented in this dish. There is roasted butternut squash with sweet, browned edges; tangy goat cheese; crispy bacon; sage and sweet caramelized onions, all tied together with a lick-the-pot delicious browned butter bechamel sauce.

It might seem like quite a few steps – roasting the squash, caramelizing the onions, cooking the bacon and making the sauce – but it’s all mostly hands-off and I found it very easy to orchestrate the multitasking. Not to mention totally worth it.

I recommend you put on some nice music, pour a glass of wine, ruffled apron optional but encouraged. Enjoy the process.

The sauce starts with flour whisked into butter, called a roux. Milk is slowly whisked in, and the sauce bubbles until thick, making a bechamel sauce; one of the mother sauces of French cooking, and the foundation of many other sauces.

Allowing the butter to brown before adding the flour imparts a gorgeous toasty flavour that complements the sweet squash and sage beautifully.

I am sharing with you my secret trick for caramelizing onions. I sprinkle them with sugar and cook over relatively high heat, which coaxes them into caramelized submission much faster than the usual low-and-slow method, without any sacrifice in flavour or texture. Double the batch, and have leftovers for sandwiches, burgers, or topping pizza.

Creamy baked rigatoni with butternut squash & goat cheese

Serves 6.

  • 1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed, and cut in 1/2 inch cubes

  • 3 tbsp olive oil

  • 1 lb rigatoni

  • 3 slices bacon, cut into 1/2 inch pieces (I find it easiest to use scissors)

  • 2 medium onions, cut in half then sliced thinly crosswise

  • 1/2 tsp sugar

  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar

  • 4 tbsp butter

  • 4 tbsp flour

  • 3 cups milk

  • pepper

  • pinch nutmeg

  • 2 ounces goat cheese, crumbled (1/2 cup)

  • 1/4 cup loosely packed fresh sage leaves, finely chopped

  • 1/3 cup fresh breadcrumbs or panko

  • salt

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss squash cubes with oil, and spread in a single layer on a baking sheet; season with salt. Bake until tender and caramelized, about 25 minutes, stirring once halfway through. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and cook pasta as directed; drain and set aside.

2. Meanwhile, in a medium pan over medium-high heat, cook bacon until crispy. Remove using a slotted spoon and set aside to drain on paper towel. Pour out all but 1-2 tablespoons of fat – enough to coat the bottom of the pan. Add onions, sprinkle with sugar, and cook over medium-high heat until meltingly tender and deeply caramelized, stirring occasionally (about 20 minutes). Stir in balsamic vinegar; set aside.

3. While onions are caramelizing, make the sauce. Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat, cooking until butter smells fragrantly nutty and is a warm brown colour. Whisk in flour and cook 2 minutes. Very slowly pour in milk, whisking constantly. Cook over medium-low heat until sauce thickens, about 8 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.

4. In a very large bowl, toss the pasta with the sauce, roasted squash, bacon, caramelized onions, goat cheese and sage leaves. Transfer to a large baking dish, and sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees and bake until edges are crispy and breadcrumbs are golden brown, about 20 minutes.

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