Pasta Al Forno with Pumpkin and Pancetta

November 9, 2010

Test Kitchen-Approved

Author Notes: A few weeks ago, my husband and I enjoyed a meal at Al Forno in Providence, Rhode Island. I couldn't resist ordering a baked pasta, especially since they were featuring a seasonal version of their original 5-cheese wonder that also incorporated pumpkin and pancetta. Rich, lightly sweet but also tangy from the blend of different cheeses, the pasta was tinted a rich orange throughout—although there were little chunks of pumpkin among the baked shells, I guessed that there had been some pumpkin pureed into the cream sauce as well. When I got home, I consulted the original recipe for the 5-cheese version, from Cucina Simpatica, and did my best to recreate what I'd had at the restaurant, adding roast pumpkin, pancetta and a little thyme. The most important part of the technique? You boil the pasta for barely 5 minutes, allowing the final blast in a flaming hot oven to cook it through to al dente and tinge the edges of the shells a lovely rich brown.Merrill Stubbs

Serves: 6 to 8

Ingredients

  • 1 3-4 pound cheese pumpkin or butternut squash
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Olive oil
  • 1/4 pound pancetta, diced
  • 1 pound conchiglie rigate (shells)
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/4 pound shredded fresh mozzarella
  • 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano
  • 1/2 cup fontina, coarsely grated
  • 1/4 cup crumbled gorgonzola
  • 2 tablespoons ricotta
  • 2 teaspoons chopped thyme leaves
In This Recipe

Directions

  1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Halve the pumpkin and scoop out the seeds. Cut the pumpkin into 8 equal wedges and arrange on two baking sheets lined with foil. Sprinkle the wedges with salt and pepper and drizzle lightly with olive oil. Bake for about an hour, until the pumpkin is caramelized and tender when pierced with a sharp knife. Remove from the oven and let cool until you can handle the pumpkin without burning yourself.
  2. In the meantime, crisp the pancetta in a medium saucepan over medium heat, about 10 minutes. Remove and drain on paper towels, discarding the fat.
  3. Turn the oven up to 500 degrees. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the pasta for exactly 5 minutes, drain and run cool water over it for about 10 seconds. Set aside in the colander.
  4. Scoop enough of the cooked pumpkin from the rind to make 2 cups. Combine this with the cream in a blender and puree just until smooth (be careful not to overblend, or you’ll whip the cream). Scoop out some more of the pumpkin (you probably won’t need the whole thing) and chop roughly to make about a cup and a half.
  5. Combine the pumpkin and cream puree with the cheeses, salt, thyme and pancetta in a large bowl and stir gently to combine. Add the pasta and the chopped pumpkin and fold together just until combined.
  6. Spread the pasta evenly in a casserole or baking dish. Bake uncovered for 7 to 10 minutes, until the top is browned and the bottom layer of pasta is just tender.

More Great Recipes:
Pasta|Italian|Pumpkin|Thyme|Milk/Cream|Serves a Crowd|Fall|Entree

Reviews (45) Questions (6)

45 Reviews

Marghet October 4, 2016
Its so easy - you can't mess it up! I substitute Gorgonzola with a feta goat cheese because i hate blue cheese. I sometimes try and cut down on the heavy cream with half and half which makes it a little less rich and add more ricotta which works as long as you don't have more than the recommended pumpkin (otherwise it becomes pumpkin mush with a side of cheesy shells). When it needs to be vegetarians, I will substitute sauteed mushrooms for pancetta or just leave that out all together and its still good.
 
Marghet October 4, 2016
*when it needs to be vegetarian
 
Roshani K. September 3, 2016
I’m super excited about making this dish tonight for my friends.
 
Joanna February 1, 2016
Can baked sweet potato be subbed for the pumpkin/squash?
 
Leah H. November 23, 2016
I've done that a few times and you can hardly taste the difference!
 
YCandy November 22, 2014
How far in advance can you roast the squash? 3-4 days ok?
 
mizerychik November 12, 2014
This is truly outstanding. I used pumpkin for the pureed part and butternut squash for the chunks and it was delicious.
 
Mary C. October 31, 2014
I cooked this tonight, and it was AMAZING! I subbed cottage cheese for ricotta, diced, thick-cut prosciutto for pancetta, and sage for thyme. It was the perfect autumn dinner paired with an arugula salad. Thanks for sharing!
 
Sierra October 18, 2014
I have an acorn squash--can I use it in this?
 
Author Comment
Merrill S. October 18, 2014
You could, but the flavor may be a little less rich and intense because an acorn squash contains more water than butternut.
 
vwest January 23, 2014
Well, waddyaknow! A cheese pumpkin. Now I'm really intrigued. This will be on my autumn to-do list. Thanks so much for the info.
 
vwest January 23, 2014
I'm only beginning to cook, so I'm already confused by the first ingredient. Perhaps it's a typo? <br />"1 3-4 pound cheese pumpkin or butternut squash" Does it mean one 3-to-4 pound pumpkin and "cheese" isn't supposed to be there? Is it supposed to be "canned" pumpkin? Thanks!
 
Janet January 23, 2014
Yes, it means "one 3-to-4 pound pumpkin or squash", but "cheese" is not a typo, it's like "butternut": you can use either a "Cheese Pumpkin" or a "Butternut Squash", and whichever one you use should be 3-to-4 pounds. I used Butternut Squash because I could not find a Cheese Pumpkin - you are not alone if you have never heard of a Cheese Pumpkin. :)
 
Orionmar December 23, 2013
The second time I made this, it was downright amazing. Cheesy, moist and pumpkiny (if that's a word), in every wonderful way. The first time I made it was only so-so. The difference was in the amount of pumpkin flesh I used. If in doubt, add a bit more pumpkin. And yes, it can be refrigerated in advance...but I had to learn from my mistakes. If doing so, bring fully to room temp, then bake at 300 degrees for 20 minutes, then bake at 500 degrees according to directions.
 
Janet November 23, 2013
Can this be assembled the day before, refrigerated overnight and baked for the first time the next day?
 
Summer O. November 24, 2013
I have done so with success.
 
Janet November 24, 2013
Thanks!
 
OilandButter October 30, 2013
Could you substitute canned pumpkin for the puréed portion of the sauce and use butternut squash chunks for the rest? I have a hard time finding cooking pumpkins.
 
SunBunny October 6, 2013
Oh man! I wish there was a vegan version of this but it's just not possible. There's some things you can't fake.
 
Jan March 5, 2018
liquid smoke! 2 drops or so!!!!
 
Jenn2323 October 5, 2013
I plan to make this dish next week for dinner. I was planning on serving the shaved brussels sprout salad and I'm kind of stuck on a protein. Seared scallops, pork tenderloin, roasted chicken?
 
Author Comment
Merrill S. October 5, 2013
I think it would go nicely with pork - to be honest, I usually serve this pasta as the main course because it's so hearty.
 
racheljames November 24, 2012
I'm a vegetarian and used about a 1/2 cup of crumbled vegan Chorizo instead of Pancetta, and substituted Feta for Gorgonzola, which I don't really like. Turned out great! And was even better day two and three for lunch.
 
vinylhaven February 26, 2012
used to live in providence, i know how good al forno's is. this recipe did not disappoint. yum. after it was ready my party wasn't ready to eat, put foil on and kept in warm oven. i kept coming and sneeking a few bites before dinner was served, worth it get a little more. thanks
 
Christine H. January 27, 2012
I have your holiday ap. For Boxing Day Dinner I had this with Porchetta, made with a boned leg of pork,and my own blood orange and redonion salad. Huge hit. <br />A small group of us are doing a dinner at a homeless shelter next Tuesday. This will be on the menu, the Mozzarella not fresh, Pecorino Romano replaced by cheddar, gorgonzola by the Pecorino Romano. !/2 & 1/2for the cream. I'm sure these guys will think it is the best Mac n Cheese ever. <br />Hi Cal. Hi protein and veg. hidden. <br />
 
KayM January 24, 2012
I made this last night with half and half -- turned out great.
 
weshook November 30, 2011
I don't usually make baked pasta (can't wait that long to eat it), I think that I might try this one!
 
lpalumbo November 19, 2011
I just made this and it was a great fall dish! I had some collard greens that needed to get used up so I sliced them and added to the pasta at the end of the cooking time to quickly blanch them before baking with everything else.