A few years ago, I lived in Bologna -- home to Italy's best pasta. One of my favorite meals there: pumpkin, pancetta and penne. Pasta alla zucca is a slippery mix of roast squash, grated cheese and pan-fried pork. I first tasted it in Osteria del Montesino -- a neighborhood eatery filled with anarchist students. It tasted so good that I had to ask how to make it. The cook's reply: 1) bake the squash, 2) stir with cheese / pancetta, 3) toss and 4) serve. Roasting the squash brings out sugary notes balanced by the umami of the salted pork. —Chris Atwood
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut the pumpkin or squash in half, splitting it down the middle. Scoop out the seeds. Rub the halves with light olive oil. Wrap the pumpkin/squash tightly in aluminum foil. Lay the halves flat-side down on a cooking sheet and bake for 30-40 minutes -- until the flesh can be spooned out.
20 minutes into cooking the pumpkin/squash, fry the pancetta over medium heat in a large skillet. When the pancetta starts to render, add the diced onion. Stir until the onion turns translucent and the cubes just start to brown. Turn off the heat, keeping the onion and pancetta in the skillet.
Cook the rigatoni al dente. Once cooked, remove the boiled pasta with a slotted spoon. Reserve at least 1 cup of the hot, starchy pasta water. Transfer the cooked pasta to the pan with pancetta and onion.
Take the squash halves out of the oven. Let them cool, unwrapped, for 2-3 min. Scoop out the pumpkin pulp. Mix it in the pan with the pancetta, pasta, and onion. Turn on the burner (low heat). Stir the mixture to combine.
Stir pumpkin, pancetta and parmigiano together until a creamy mix forms. The cheese will melt and blend together with the pumpkin and pasta. Season to taste with fresh ground black pepper. If the pumpkin mix appears too thick, add 1/3 ladle of the starchy pasta water to pumpkin + pasta mixture. You want a creamy but not runny sauce. Serve immediately.