Baked pumpkin ziti

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"Another pumpkin recipe," you might be thinking. But this is markedly different than last week's airy and subtly sweet pumpkin soufflé. This is a Fall take on classic baked ziti. Instead of the sweet acidity of tomato, you're greeted with the earthy and savory flavor of pumpkin. A touch of nutmeg and cinnamon enhance the flavor of the pumpkin so that it doesn't mellow out against three types of cheese (ricotta, mozzarella and parmesan). To make this dish, you'll cook a pumpkin pasta sauce from scratch in about half an hour, then combine that sauce with cheese and noodles ahead of baking it.

This can be made gluten-free - you’ll just have to use your favorite gluten-free penne. In terms of making a dairy-free variety, I’d simply serve any noodle with the pumpkin pasta sauce – no, it’s definitely not baked ziti anymore, but cheese is too crucial a component to make a comparable version.

This recipe take about 1.5 hours, including making the pasta sauce from scratch and the 40-minute bake time; it’s faster, of course, if you make the sauce ahead of time or swap it out for a store-bought one. This serves 6-8 as a main course and about 8-10 side portions. It lasts for up to a week in the fridge, and it makes excellent leftovers.  

What you need

Pumpkin pasta sauce

This makes about 3 cups of pumpkin pasta sauce.

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large shallot, finely chopped
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg, freshly grated if possible
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 15 oz can pumpkin purée
  • 2 cups chicken stock 

Baked pumpkin ziti

This recipe serves 6-8 for a main course and 10-12 for a side dish.

  • 1 lb penne
  • 1 recipe of pumpkin pasta sauce (above) 
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 16oz container whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 2 cups mozzarella cheese, grated and divided into two 1-cup portion
  • 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated and divided into two 1/4-cup portions
  • 1 tbsp sage, finely chopped (optional) 

How to do it

For pumpkin pasta sauce

Add olive oil and shallots to a large sauce pan and cook on stove top over medium-low heat. Saute shallots for about 5 minutes so that they begin to soften and become translucent.

Next, add the minced garlic and cook for 2 minutes until fragrant and soft.

Add nutmeg, cinnamon and salt to the sauce pan and stir with a wooden spoon to coat the shallots and garlic with the spices. Allow to cook for 1 minute until fragrant, stirring constantly. 

Next add pumpkin purée to the pan and begin to stir constantly with wooden spoon to ensure that the purée doesn’t burn to the bottom of the pan. Then, in a constant stream, pour chicken stock into sauce pan, while stirring continuously.

Allow the sauce to reach a slow simmer and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from heat. Serve immediately with pasta, or use to make baked pumpkin ziti recipe below.  

For baked pumpkin ziti

Preheat oven to 375-degrees F, and prepare a 9x13-inch casserole dish by coating thoroughly with cooking spray.

Make pumpkin pasta sauce (above). While pumpkin pasta sauce simmers, bring a pot of water to a boil and cook penne according to instructions on packaging, except subtract two minutes from the cook time to ensure an al dente batch of penne. Drain penne in colander and set aside to dry.

Using the large pot you cooked the penne in, beat egg until smooth with a whisk. Next, add ricotta to the pot and whisk until combined with egg. Whisk in pumpkin pasta sauce, salt and sage. Switching to a spatula or wooden spoon, add penne to the pot and stir to coat in sauce. Then, add 1/4 cup parmesan and 1 cup mozzarella to the penne and stir to incorporate. 

Pour the penne into the casserole dish and evenly distribute. Finally, sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup parmesan and 1 cup mozzarella over the top of the pasta. Bake the pumpkin pasta for 40 minutes. Remove from the oven once cooked and allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving. 

For leftovers, cover casserole dish with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator for up to a week. 

Note: This is pretty awesome with a sauvignon blanc.