Fettuccine with Butternut Squash and Red Poblano Crema
Pasta con Calabaza, Chile Poblano y Crema
Serves 4 as part of a main course
This recipe is on the rich side and requires a little dedication, which is why I consider it a weekend recipe. First you have to thin-slice the neck of a butternut squash so that it resembles fettuccine, then you make a sauce of roasted red poblanos and thick cream. When the butternut “pasta” and real pasta are al dente, you warm them together with the sauce, sprinkle on a little punchy cheese and prepare for a blissful moment. This dish is that good.
NOTE: We only get red poblanos in the fall when our local farmers leave them on the plants long enough for them to turn that saturated shade of lipstick red. They can be roasted, peeled and frozen to use through the winter in this and other delicious dishes. Occasionally, I follow this recipe using piquillo peppers—the flame-roasted ones—I find in jars in well-stocked and specialty groceries. Of course, you can simply use red bell peppers for the red poblanos, but the flavor will be pale by comparison.
3 fresh red poblano chiles (see note above)
4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
1 small (2-pound) butternut squash, peeled
1 cup heavy cream, Mexican crema or crème fraîche
8 ounces fettuccine
1 cup freshly grated Mexican queso añejo or other garnishing cheese such as Romano or Parmesan, divided use
About ¼ cup coarsely chopped cilantro
Turn on the broiler and adjust the rack so that it’s about 4 inches below heat. Lay the poblanos and garlic on a baking sheet and roast, turning occasionally, until they have softened and blackened in spots, about 10 minutes for the chiles and 15 for the garlic. Set aside to cool.
Meanwhile, prepare the squash: Slice through the squash widthwise, separating the rounded bottom from the skinnier “neck”; reserve the bottom for another use. Cut the neck in half lengthwise and, using a mandolin, slice each half into thin, 1/8-inch-thick sheets. Slice the sheets lengthwise into ¼-inch-wide strips. You should have about 2 cups of butternut “pasta.”
Peel the poblanos, pull out the stems and seed pods, then quickly rinse to remove stray seeds and bits of skin. Cut 1 poblano into ¼-inch strips to match the butternut; roughly chop the other 2 poblanos and scoop into a blender.
Warm the cream (or one of its stand-ins) in a glass measuring cup in a microwave for 1 minute at half-power. Pour into the blender jar with the poblanos. Peel the garlic, roughly chop, add to the blender and blend until completely smooth. Taste and season with salt (usually about a teaspoon). Pour into a large (10-inch) skillet set over low heat.
In a large (8-quart) saucepan, bring 6 quarts water and 2 tablespoons salt to a boil. Drop in the squash strips and cook until al dente, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon, shaking off the excess water, and add to the skillet with the poblano cream. Add the fettuccine to the boiling water and cook until al dente, 10 to 12 minutes. Drain, reserving ¼ cup pasta water. Add the pasta, reserved water and poblano strips to the sauce. Turn the heat to medium-high and bring the sauce to a simmer, all the while tossing the pasta, squash and poblanos together. Stir in ½ cup of the queso and divide the pasta among four bowls. Divide the remaining ½ cup of the queso among the bowls, and sprinkle each one with cilantro.