- 1 small butternut squash (about 12 oz.)
- 2 cups chicken stock
- 1 tablespoon pure maple syrup
- 1/8 teaspoon each ground cinnamon and freshly grated or ground nutmeg
- 1 small pinch saffron threads
- Salt and pepper
- 6 thick slices smoky, meaty bacon
- 1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
- 1 sweet onion, quartered and sliced
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 20 fresh sage leaves
- 1 pound mezzi (small) rigatoni, tortiglioni or rigatoni
- Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta.
Cut the neck off the squash; trim and peel (reserve the bottom for another use). Cut into 1-inch-thick planks, then into 1-inch cubes (you'll have about 2 cups). In a large saucepan with a lid, bring the squash, stock, syrup, spices and saffron to a boil; season with salt and pepper. Cover and simmer until the squash is tender, about 20 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a food processor; puree.
Stack the bacon slices; cut crosswise into 1/4-inch strips.
In a large skillet, heat the oil, half a turn of the pan, over medium-high. Add the bacon and cook until browned and crispy; transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Pour off all but about 1 tbsp. of the bacon drippings. Add the onion to the drippings in the pan; season and toss to coat. Add the garlic, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring often, until the vegetables soften a bit, about 5 minutes.
In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. When it bubbles, add the sage leaves; cook until the sage is crispy and the butter browns, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the sage to a paper towel to drain. Reserve the brown butter.
Salt the boiling water, add the pasta and cook to al dente. Reserve 1/2 cup of the starchy cooking water; drain.
In the pasta pot, mix the squash puree, bacon, onion mixture, brown butter, pasta cooking water, a handful of cheese and the pasta; season and add more cheese, if desired. Serve in shallow bowls or on a serving platter. Garnish with the crispy sage.