The Ultimate Comfort Food: Winter Squash Carbonara with Pancetta and Sage & ABC Kitchen’s Citrus Salad

February 6, 2014. It’s been quite the week, with the culmination of the Super Bowl and the seemingly all too regular tundra that has blanketed the northeast region. I won’t harp on the weather for long, as it is completely out of my control; and, on the plus side, the winter months force one to take a more introspective approach to life outside of work, such as reading, cooking, setting goals, and generally laying the groundwork for the year to come.

Times like these call for comfort foods, the kind that satiate both the body and mind. Because of the ravenous nature of my own binge eating on Sunday night, I thought this week I’d seek out a comfort food with a healthier twist. As with any comfort food or dense meal, it’s important to pair greens or other vegetables with proteins or carbs alike, as the abundance of such foods aids in the overall processing and digestion of the meal. I always enjoy experimenting with new salads, as the likelihood of consuming them increases exponentially with the inception of new ideas.

While flipping through the pages of the latest and greatest Bon Appétit, I came across a ‘Winter Squash Carbonara with Pancetta and Sage, accompanied by the words “fast, easy, fresh.” Done and done. Also in this issue is an entire section profiling various salads from the NYC establishment Estela and an equally mouth-watering snow day spread, which features recipes from ABC Kitchen’s Executive Chef, Dan Kluger. ABC Kitchen is atop my dream restaurants list, so I knew his ‘Citrus Salad with Fennel Vinaigrette’ was a must try.

In actuality, prepping and crafting the salad actually took much longer than the pasta dish.  Between chopping the fennel bulb and fronds, shallot, and ginger, and the meticulous dissection of the citrus fruits, I was glad I had a bit of extra time this particular night. I have really upped my own consumption of citrus this winter, because oranges and grapefruits give one that uplifting feeling in body, mind, and spirit. Fennel is not something I cook with often, but it seems necessary in this salad, as it complements the rich, juicy citrus fruits. The dressing is unlike anything I’ve ever tasted before and I highly recommend concocting it, if time permits it. Parsley as an addictive that also greatly enhances the already unique flavors found within this gem of a recipe.

Upon first glance, one might come to the conclusion that the pasta dish on page 38 of the February edition of Bon Appétit has some sort of glorious cheese sauce accompanying it. While that was the reason I chose this recipe, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it was a butternut squash puree. Other than attaining the squash, sage, and pancetta, you won’t need a laundry list of ingredients to conjure up this pasta dish. Italian bacon, or pancetta, is sautéed with sage and set aside before the butternut (or kabocha) squash purée is made, with only two minor additions of onion and garlic. Once again, I opted to use pre-cut butternut squash, since my last experience trying to cut through a butternut squash was nothing short of pure, unadulterated comedy. Cook the pasta as instructed, al dente. Add a little pecorino into the purée and, once finished, season appropriately and you’re good to go. Meticulously dress the pasta with some more sage, pancetta pieces, and pecorino and behold: the perfect comfort food, with a healthy twist. I found that you only really need a dollop of the butternut squash puree to make this dish sensational. Bon Appétit recommends using leftover purée as a mix-in with risottos, a side for meat entrees, or adding broth to the puree to yield a delicious soup. That said, the pancetta + sage + butternut squash trio is simply unbeatable.

Winter Squash Carbonara with Pancetta & Sage
Recipes taken from the February 2014 issue of Bon Appétit
Serves 4

carb squash

Butternut squash makes this a “nuttier” dish; use kabocha for a creamier purée

2 tbsp. olive oil
4 oz. pancetta
1 tbsp. finely chopped fresh sage
1 2-lb. kabocha or butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut into 1/2″ pieces (about 3 cups)
1 small onion, chopped
garlic cloves, chopped
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
12 oz. fettucine or linguine 
1/4 cup finely grated Pecorino, plus more for serving

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add pancetta, reduce heat to medium, and cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp, 8-10 minutes. Add sage and toss to coast. Using a slotted spoon, transfer pancetta and sage to a small bowl; set aside.

Add squash, onion, and garlic to skillet; season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent, 8-10 minutes. Add broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer until the squash is soft and liquid is reduced by half, 15-20 minutes. Let cool slightly, then purée in a blender until smooth; season with salt and pepper. Reserve skillet.

Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until al dente. Drain, reserving  1 cup pasta cooking liquid.

Combine pasta, squash purée, and 1/4 cup pasta cooking liquid in reserved skillet and cook over medium heat, tossing and adding more pasta cooking liquid as needed, until sauce coasts pasta, about 2 minutes. Mix in 1/4 cup Pecorino; season with salt and pepper.

Serve pasta topped with reserved pancetta and sage, shaved Pecorino, and more pepper.

Citrus Salad with Fennel Vinaigrette

I omitted the sesame clusters, as the salad was ripe enough with flavor

1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 small fennel bulb, finely chopped, plus 1/2 cup chopped fronds
1 small shallot, finely chopped
2 tbsp. finely chopped peeled ginger
1 tsp. fennel seeds, crushed
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
2 tbsp. honey
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
4 navel oranges, blood oranges, tangerines, and/or grapefruit
10 cups mixed hardy salad greens (such as radicchio, frisée, and/or endive; about 1 lb.)
1 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add chopped fennel, shallot, ginger, and fennel seeds and cook, stirring often, until tender (do not let brown), 8-10 minutes. Mix in vinegar and honey. Let cool; season with salt and pepper.

Finely grate 1 tsp. zest from 1 orange; set aside. Using a sharp knife, cut all peel and white pith from all oranges; discard. Cut between membranes to release segments into a medium bowl; discard membranes.

Toss greens, parsley, fennel fronds, oranges, and dressing in a large bowl. Serve topped (sesame clusters) and reserved orange zest.

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