That was us today. My husband is going out of town for about a week (leaving tomorrow morning!) and it was important to me that he have a nice healthy send-off dinner. I knew we didn't have any meat or fish that wasn't frozen, so options were limited. I thought about a sweet potato and chickpea curry, but I think Little Habibi ("loved one, male" in Egyptian Arabic) and I will have that while Big Habibi is away. Mommy has vegetarian leanings. :-)
So I thought through the contents of the pantry and fridge and dug out the following:
1 box spaghetti (we buy Smart Taste for extra protein and fiber...on sale 4/$5 last week so we have many boxes)
1 can of pumpkin purée
3 cloves garlic
1 small yellow onion
1 four oz package of diced pancetta I keep on hand for just such an emergency. (If you're without an emergency stash of pancetta, 4-6 slices of smoked bacon would work fine...the only difference is that pancetta is not smoked.)
1-2 cups Chicken stock (Mine was homemade because I had it in the fridge. That is totally not necessary, a box broth is just fine.)
Dried ground sage (fresh would be arguably better)
(These ingredients are listed in the order I took them out, not the order they were used. Sue me. It's my first shot at this...)
So, big pot of water on the stove. I salt at the beginning because I don't like how the big grains of kosher salt make the water boil over. Yes, I know this takes longer to make the water boil. Once it's boiling, drop your pasta. Time it so it is al dente/firm, so it can finish cooking in the sauce.
On another burner, place a large skillet. DO NOT turn the skillet on yet. Put the pancetta in a cold pan. The pan needs To be cold in order to render the fat from the pancetta/bacon. Once the pancetta is in, put the heat on medium low. While pancetta is rendering, dice onion and garlic (and if using, fresh sage leaves). You're not after crispy bacon, but you want most of the fat out, and cooked through. This didn't take long, though I didn't time it (5 min, maybe). I had no idea this recipe would be a keeper, let alone a "sharer."
Once the pancetta is cooked through, pour off most of the fat that has rendered out. Reserve for another purpose if you like. Leave the pancetta in, and add the onions. Allow them to sweat until translucent. When the onions look to be almost done, add the garlic. If using fresh sage, throw it in now. Do not allow the garlic to brown, just soften. When the garlic is done, deglaze with about one cup of stock. Scrape up the brown bits from the pancetta. Add dried sage after the stock.
Allow to cook for a few minutes until stock is hot. Add 1-1.5 cups of pumpkin purée (1.5 cups is about a 15 oz can) and mix thoroughly. At this point assess the consistency. You can add more stock if you want more liquid or more pumpkin if you want your sauce thicker. Also assess for seasoning at this point and add salt/pepper if needed. Mine was ok, pancetta is pretty salty/peppery, and the stock was also seasoned.
About this time the pasta should be ready. Reserve a cup of pasta water and drain. The pasta should go directly from the strainer to the skillet and be tossed in the sauce. Adding a little of the starchy pasta water will help the sauce stick. We finished it with grated Parmesan cheese.
This was good with spaghetti, but I think a short pasta, or even a cheese ravioli might work better. Ratchet up the amount of sauce and it might even work well in a lasagna.
I served this with quickly sautéed kale and garlic.
Big Habibi loved it. Little Habibi threw some plain spaghetti on the floor with a flourish (we both sang, "I Whip my pasta back and forth" as he did it. Not what Willow Smith had in mind.). I will happily eat the leftovers, all of them, while home this week.
I wish I could take complete credit for taking a risk on this flavor combo, but I'll be honest. Once I saw this stuff and thought, "Pumpkin and pancetta. That sounds like it will be good," I googled it to see if it has been done before. I found two risottos, one by Jamie Oliver (you had me at hello, Jamie!) and one by Nigella Lawson. I didn't read the recipes, but it was nice to confirm that I probably wasn't crazy for putting these items together. I figure anytime those two agree on a flavor combo it must be good. At least this time I am right. And it was done faster than we could be home with takeout.