A while ago I saw Giada make this penne dish with goat cheese and roasted squash. Now I love squash and so pairing it with my two food obsessions (cheese and pasta) was like a squash supernova. I also happen to be a serious goat cheese fan. This was not always the case. I remember literally spitting out the very first taste of goat cheese I had. What makes that story worse was that I was with my mother in a nice restaurant in Georgetown, embarrassing to say the least. Amazingly enough, it was an appetizer my mom later served that ended up turning my tastes for goat cheese around. Ok, so technically it was her best friend Stephanie whose goat cheese and tapenade bruschetta officially won me over. It was the warming of the goat cheese gently in the oven that mellowed out the flavor and made it much more accessible to my palate. Today I’ll eat goat cheese any way I can get it but this dish is a really good one for those who are timid about goat cheese. The hot pasta melts the cheese and while warming it kicks that goat cheesey tang down and lets the creamier and rounder flavor of it out. The roasted vegetables bring a nutty sweetness to the dish that pairs so well with the more savory cheese.
That brings me to another serious reason to try this recipe out….if you don’t like fennel, you sure will after you eat this. Truth be told, I adore fennel, but again, that has not always been the case. I hate black licorice (insert shudder of disgust) and so I used to avoid fennel like the plague; not very Italian of me. Then one day I tried a recipe for roasted fennel (one I will post shortly) and I have never looked back. Roasting fennel completely transforms its flavor. It takes on a mellow sweetness that when seasoned right with a bit of salt and pepper and some parmesan is absolutely undeniably my favorite vegetable side dish on earth. So break out those adventure pants and take a stab at this one, penne with roasted butternut squash, fennel and onions in a creamy goat cheese sauce.
Penne with Roasted Squash and Fennel
(Adapted from Giada)
Vegetable oil cooking spray
1 (2-pound) butternut, peeled, seeded and cut into 3/4-inch cubes (see Cook's Notes)
1 large yellow onion, diced into 1/2-inch pieces
1 large fennel bulb, trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch pieces (optional but highly recommended) (see Cook's Notes)
Olive oil, for drizzling
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/8 tsp red pepper flakes (or more to taste)
1 pound penne pasta, whole wheat preferred
1 to 1½ cup (8-12 ounces) goat cheese, room temperature
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted (can sub for any nut you prefer such as pine nuts etc) (see Cook's Notes)
1 packed cup chopped fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan
Put an oven rack in the upper third of the oven. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
Spray a baking sheet, liberally, with vegetable oil cooking spray. If you have a silpat, use that instead. Set aside.
Mix the squash, fennel and onion together and arrange in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil until well coated and season with red pepper flakes, salt, and pepper, to taste. Bake for to 40 to 45 minutes until the vegetables are golden and cooked through and slightly caramelized (that little ring of brown crust around the edges is a good thing…flavor!) Remove from the oven and set aside to cool slightly.
check this site out. And a good resource on how to peel and cut butternut squash, go here.)