Pumpkin What?

Since starting the 50 Vegetable Challenge, I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled for recipes, especially those featuring the more exotic vegetables or finding a creative use for a familiar favorite. I was flipping through a Rachael Ray cookbook one day, minding my own business, and then Pumpkin Pasta with Sausage and Wild Mushrooms knocked me for a loop.

Can we all just take a minute to appreciate the mind-melting juxtaposition of pumpkin with pasta? That is a combination which threatens the stability of the space-time continuum. I can’t even comprehend how Rachael Ray would have conceived of it. The only thing I can imagine is a desperate Rachael, hours from her publishing deadline and still 3 recipes shy of a full cookbook, frantically rooting around in her pantry. With sweaty determination, she closes her eyes to pick two random ingredients and silently vows to make them work. An hour later, boom! Pumpkin pasta.

The pumpkin is in the form of canned puree, which in my opinion is the only practical way to work with it. I don’t even know if the raw pumpkins at the store are entirely edible. I figure they’ve been bred for looks instead of flavor in the same way that the fruit of ornamental orange trees is pretty, but not great for juicing. Since the pumpkin is the base of a sauce, pre-cooked and processed just makes sense.

The recipe in my book was extremely heavy on the mushrooms–two portobellos and about 4 shiitaki. I normally avoid ‘shrooms whenever possible because of the rubbery texture, but I can handle them if there aren’t too many and they’re diced fine. However, this recipe was so zany, I didn’t think I could go off-book and cut down the mushroom measure without fatally altering the flavor. Imagine my chagrin when I realized the online version omits them entirely!

When the pasta was finally done, I made Leslie and Christina try it first. It looked perfectly fine, but I was still having a hard time wrapping my mind around how it might taste. Once I worked up the nerve to take a bite, I was pleasantly surprised. I could definitely taste the pumpkin, but it wasn’t that weird. The sausage, sage, and other ingredients came together, and even the excessive mushrooms weren’t an obstacle to enjoyment. In fact, we all liked it well enough to have big portions. In the spirit of fair reporting, my kid took a few bites to give it the old college try, but he wasn’t impressed.

The Sous Chefs and I agreed that it yields far too large a batch (one pound of pasta!) to make for one or two people, but it would be perfect for a potluck. Just think of the cool points for sporting such an intriguing dish at your next get-together!

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