This dish gives an interesting twist to pumpkin that may be of interest as the holidays approach. Yes, I’m thinking Thanksgiving. The combination of pasta and pumpkin is popular in both France and Italy, and the walnuts add depth. This version also has a touch of Meg thanks to the spicing — not nutmeg, as my childhood friends delighted in calling me, but cumin which, combined with a spritz of lemon juice, adds a welcome zest.
Penne au potiron et aux noix / Penne with pumpkin and walnuts
Other squashes, like butternut, may be substituted for the pumpkin. In fact, in Italy, the word for pumpkin — zucca — covers a wide range of squashes. So you never know exactly what you’re getting when you order gnocchi with zucca, ravioli filled with zucca, etc. I chose pumpkin over butternut because I find it easier to handle — removing the peel from a butternut squash can be a bit of a bore. But butternut is sweeter, so you may prefer it.
This recipe came my way via a favorite French cookbook, which I’ll refrain from naming here because when I first made it the results were disappointing. That’s when I decided to to add a personal touch. I find that cumin and lemon juice can enliven many recipes. You will find that combination on this site in recipes from zucchini soup to Moroccan carrot salad to parsnip purée. In the case of the pasta, it added a definite zing.
So will I be serving this dish on Thanksgiving? I felt like innovating this year, but was overruled. It seems that Americans in Paris prefer to hew to a more traditional line-up of roast turkey and sweet potatoes. One year I did manage to sneak in a French dish — a melt-in-your mouth pumpkin gratin created by the three-star chef Georges Blanc. As for dessert, a French apple tart can sit proudly beside pumpkin pie.
Getting back to the pasta with pumpkin and walnuts, it’s a vegetarian dish that can easily become vegan by substituting chopped fresh herbs for the parmesan. Served with a hearty red as a main course or a starter, it’s a fine dish for any occasion.