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Slow cookers, soup pots, and casserole dishes have been dusted off in households across the United States. For me, cold weather conjures thoughts of cozy meals that hit big on flavor, with minimal effort. Enter the one-pot pasta. The idea comes from Martha Stewart, and I gravitated toward it immediately. The basic idea is that all of the ingredients get cooked down together in a wide pan or pot, followed by the addition of pasta and liquid ingredients. Put the lid on and let the pasta cook to al dente. Pull that lid off, add final seasonings, and voila! Revel in your dinner-making genius.
You know how so many pasta recipes have you save some of that cooking liquid to use for the sauce in a separate pan? It’s because the starch in that water is a natural thickener that not only binds the ingredients together into a sauce, but also helps the sauce stick to the noodles, ensuring that each nook and cranny is covered. Here, all the starch from the pasta soaks right into the rest of the dish, doing all the work for you in the sauce department. The trick is to use the right amount of cooking liquid—roughly three cups per eight ounces of dry pasta.
After first seeing the one-pot concept, I wanted to update the traditional flavors to something a bit more seasonal. I swapped the tomatoes out for pumpkin because there’s always an extra can hanging around in my pantry this time of year. Fennel and sage were added for their aromatic qualities, and sausage was a must because it’s hearty and comforting. The type of pasta was an easy choice: something with ridges to grab onto the sauce it cooks in, like penne. A quick trip to my corner grocery store and I was off to work.
As I was cooking the dish for the first time, I had a revelation that white wine and lemon should be added to prevent the pasta from becoming too rich. Some of that wine also went into a glass for myself. I was on a roll. At the end, after scooping a bowl of the pasta for myself, I grated parmesan cheese over the top for a zap of tanginess.
Once I had devoured two bowls, I knew I wanted to make this dish for someone I loved: my mother. Except...we live many states apart. I sent the recipe to her, and over video chat, we toasted the occasion with a glass of wine as we both dug in, gabbing about our weeks in between bites. Good food should certainly bring people together, and I can honestly say that this penne accomplishes that.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 fennel bulb, thinly sliced and roughly chopped
- 1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 2 links (about 3.2 oz) Italian hot sausage, casing removed
- 1 leaf of sage
- 1/2 cup dry white wine (or 1/4 cup lemon juice + 1/4 cup water)
- 2 1/2 cups chicken stock
- 3 cups (8 oz) dried penne
- 3/4 cup canned pumpkin puree, unsweetened
- 1/2 a lemon, juiced (about 2 tablespoons)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly-grated black pepper
- 1/4 cup parsley, roughly chopped
- 1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano or Pecorino, plus more for serving
- fronds from the fennel bulb, for serving