Autumn In Italy
Autumn anywhere in the culinary world is always a wondrous time. The harvest brings us the joys of fresh mushrooms, cranberries, various types of squash, and of course pumpkins. In America we usually signify pumpkins with Jack-O-Lanterns and the traditional Thanksgiving pumpkin pie, but it was in Italian cuisine that I became enamored with the pumpkin.
Back about ten years ago, I was taken to a business lunch at a cozy Italian bistro in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood. Their menu offered the typical fare of pastas and meats in the usual flavors and fashions you would expect in Italian cuisine, but one of their specials was pumpkin ravioli. Fascinated, I had to try. My taste buds were treated to an incredible flavor of sweet and savory as each ravioli was stuffed with a seasoned pumpkin filling and all was topped with a variation of a tomato sauce.
Since that day, I’ve always made it a point to get out to at least one bistro or restaurant every autumn to try their pumpkin dishes. I recently put together a wonderful pasta dish myself using pumpkin as the main ingredient. Using Italian sausage, broccoli with penne and topping it with a pumpkin-tomato sauce, it’s been an enjoyment with each and every bite.
Penne with Italian Sausage and Broccoli in a Pumpkin-Tomato Sauce
- 1 pound of Italian sausage
- 2 tbsp of olive oil
- 4 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 tbsp of Italian seasoning blend
- 1 cup of dry white wine
- 1 cup of chicken stock
- 1 can (15 ounces) of pumpkin
- 1 can (14.5 ounces) of diced Italian tomatoes
- 1 can (15 ounces) of tomato sauce
- 1/4 tsp of cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp of nutmeg
- 1/4 cup of milk
- 1 tsp of cornstarch
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Sugar to taste
- 1 head of broccoli, broken down into small florets
- 1 pound of penne pasta, cooked
- Heat up oven to 400º.
- Place sausages in a baking dish or pan and cook in the oven until done. Set aside to cool.
- In a large stock pot, heat up the olive oil on medium heat.
- Add the garlic and onion and cook until onion is soft.
- Mix in the Italian seasoning blend, bay leaf, and white wine to the pot and cook for 2-3 minutes. Stir frequently.
- Stir in the chicken stock and pumpkin, and cook until bubbling.
- Add the diced tomatoes and tomato sauce.
- Stir in the cinnamon and nutmeg. Season the sauce with salt and pepper to your personal taste. Add sugar if the tomato in the sauce has too much acidity to its taste.
- In a cup, combine the milk with cornstarch and stir until dissolved. Slowly add the mixture to the sauce and stir thoroughly.
- Slice the sausage into small pieces and add them into the pot.
- Mix in the broccoli florets.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low and stir occasionally until the broccoli is cooked to a semi-firm composure.
Be sure to keep your eyes on that sauce when it starts to bubble or else you’ll have a mess.
Take the time to simmer the sauce before serviing to let the flavors meld together and become as one.
When I made this recipe, I used chicken Italian sausage from Trader Joe’s. It’s a great alternative if you’re being health-conscious.
If you would rather not use cornstarch, then substitute the milk and cornstarch with heavy cream.
If you’re not a fan of canned goods, then by all means feel free to use fresh ingredients. Make tomato sauce and use chunks of fresh tomatoes. For the pumpkin, I suggest gutting it and then baking it until soft and mashing the flesh into a puree. For me, the canned items were more convenient.
You can either put the pasta in a serving bowl and lightly stir up the sauce with it, or keep the pasta and sauce separate and serve individually. I personally just like to mix the pasta into the pot and get everything all melded together. Feel free to add some grated salty cheese (Parmesan or Romano) for added flavor.