Butternut Squash Pasta with Toasted Breadcrumbs
A quick and easy weeknight pasta that features a garlic-infused olive oil sauce and roasted butternut squash. Chickpeas add protein, and the toasted breadcrumbs make for a great (cheese-free) topping. Vegan & Gluten Free (option). <jump to recipe>
Nothing says cozy like curling up with a big ol’ bowl of noodles. These days, after getting home from work, I have all of ten seconds before I end up in my (very) well-worn sweatpants. And after that, there’s a zero percent chance that I’ll leave the house to pick up groceries for dinner. Thankfully, this Butternut Squash Pasta is something you can make from even the saddest looking fridge. What started as a way for me to avoid the grocery store, has now entered our regular rotation as an easy weeknight pasta - grocery shopping optional.
The concept behind this recipe is pretty simple. The base is pasta, and to that we add a source of protein (chickpeas), a colorful veg (butternut squash), some greens (spinach), and then tie everything together with seasonings that you likely already have laying around. The sauce is made from garlic-infused olive oil, which feels both luscious and light at the same time. Olive oil adds subtle flavor, and is something almost everyone already has at home. As a nice addition to the pasta, it’s best to serve this dish with toasted breadcrumbs for garnish. Since this dish is vegan, the toasted breadcrumbs are a delicious and slightly-salty garnish that functions much like a cheese would.
When it comes to pasta, a typical “serving size” is usually a lot less than what we can (and do) eat. And while it’s mighty delicious, overloading on noodles can often make you want to lay down and take a nap. Not bad for a lazy weekend, but not the most productive for a weekday. I was determined to find a way to cut back on the noodles, without feeling like half of them were missing. Turns out, that by adding other filling items to the pasta, such as roasted butternut squash and chickpeas, you can actually feel full on a lot less noodles. The butternut squash is a great source of fiber; and, the protein from the chickpeas will also help you feel fuller for longer. This combo makes for a great way to indulge in pasta, without going through the whole box - AND getting your veggies in at the same time. Sounds like a win-win to me, don’t you think?
Butternut squash is a great vegetable to keep around at home. It can be stored for weeks (even months), so you don’t need to stress about cooking it right away. Roasting the squash brings out its natural sweetness, and the golden bread edges make it super flavorful. Most of the squash sold at the store are bigger/heavier than the one pound you’ll need for this recipe, so you can also roast off a second tray of the extras to use throughout the week. Roasted squash is a great addition to salads and grain bowls, or you can even blend it into soup. Just make sure you scale up the oil, if you’re roasting extra, as it facilitates browning in the oven and makes roasted veggies taste better! If you’re filling your oven with squash or other veggies, it helps to turn your oven into “convection” mode if it has one. It helps with circulation as veggies release a fair bit of moisture in the oven. You may also wish to rotate the trays for even baking.
BUTTERNUT SQUASH PASTA WITH TOASTED BREADCRUMBS
SERVES 4-6 (VEGAN, GLUTEN FREE OPTION)
1 lb/450 g butternut squash, cubed (3 cups)
1/3 cup + 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided use
1/2 - 3/4 teaspoon chili flakes
6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 red onion, diced
8 oz/225 g spaghetti pasta (gluten-free, if desired)
1/2 - 3/4 cup pasta water (reserved after cooking noodle)
3 cups spinach (baby spinach preferred)
1 (19 oz/540 g) can chickpeas, rinsed*
3/4 teaspoon salt
Black pepper, to taste
For garnish: Flat-leaf (Italian) parsley, Toasted breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon olive oil
3 tablespoons breadcrumbs (gluten-free, if desired)
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
Black pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 400°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Peel and chop the butternut squash into small 1/2-3/4” cubes (1.5-2 cm). Pour 1 teaspoon olive oil on top of the squash cubes and toss to coat. Roast in the oven until golden brown (30-35 minutes) flipping half-way.
While the butternut squash roasts, get started on your pasta. For the toasted breadcrumbs, heat a large skillet pan over medium-low heat. Add 1 teaspoon olive oil, breadcrumbs and onion powder. Stir continuously for approximately 3 minutes, or until the breadcrumbs develop a nice golden brown color. Transfer breadcrumbs to a small bowl. Stir in salt, then season with black pepper to taste. Set aside.
Give the skillet pan a quick wipe to remove excess breadcrumbs. Then return the pan to the stove, over medium-low heat. Add 1/3 cup olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon chili flakes. Once the oil is heated, add red onion and garlic. Cook them until the onion is soft and translucent (5-7 minutes). Stir regularly, and turn reduce heat if needed, to ensure the oil and garlic don’t burn. Keep the sauce on low heat while you prepare the rest of your dish.
Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Cook spaghetti noodles, to el dente, according to manufacturer’s instructions (usually 7-9 minutes). Remember to reserve 3/4 cups of pasta water before straining your noodles. Then rinse noodles in cold water to prevent overcooking them.
Add cooked spaghetti noodles and 1/2 cup reserved pasta water to the pan. Toss to coat noodles. Add spinach, chickpeas and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Stir well, and keep on low heat for 1-3 minutes until the spinach is wilted and the chickpeas are gently warmed. If needed, add up to an additional 1/4 cup of reserved pasta water to bring everything together. Add roasted butternut squash on top and season with black pepper to taste. Give the noodles one final toss, then serve warm with plenty of parsley and toasted breadcrumbs.
-*If you cook your own beans from scratch, substitute 1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas.