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Cooking Light: Baked Pasta with Roasted Pumpkin & Bacon

baked pasta with pumpkin and baconWhen I was a younger and just discovering my love of cooking, I stayed away from anything overtly healthy. Magazines like Cooking Light held zero interest. Assuming the recipes lacked my favorite ingredients like butter, oil, cream and cheese, I figured they were pointless and for people afraid to really enjoy food. (I told you: I was young.) Then, a dear friend, a friend who loves food, encouraged me to reconsider. She assured me that the recipes did, in fact, have butter, cheese and all of the good stuff that I refused to strike from my repertoire. I was intrigued. And then rapt. Bacon. Pasta. Cheese. It was all there, just thoughtfully considered and healthily done. Just like in this recipe for Baked Pasta with Pumpkin (or Squash!) and Bacon.

I became an instant fan of the magazine and remained devoted for as long as I relied on magazines and cookbooks for recipes. In the last few years, though, as my cookbooks have turned into quick references, I’d all but forgotten about Cooking Light. Until the weather turned. Then I remembered one of my all time favorite baked pasta dishes, a recipe I cut out of Cooking Light many years ago.

I slightly adapted this recipe to use pumpkin instead of butternut squash. I’ve had it both ways and, trust me, you’re good no matter which gourd you choose. To make things easier, I roast the pumpkin or squash a day or two before I’m going to make this. You can also boil the pasta ahead.

Though the recipe is a little involved for a weeknight meal, everything about it makes it a perfect fall or winter weekend dinner. The process. The taste. The smell that fills your house. It’s delicious, healthy and a perfect way to use bacon and cheese in moderation. In fact, you can learn from this recipe even if you don’t make it. It’s a great example of how a delicate hand using high-fat/high-flavor ingredients goes a long way.

Yea. So, cooking light (and Cooking Light) are not so bad after all. Not when this is the end result.

Baked Pasta with Roasted Pumpkin & Bacon, adapted from Cooking Light
serves 4-5

1 tsp salt, divided
1 Tbsp chopped fresh rosemary
1 tsp black pepper
4 c (1-inch) cubed peeled pumpkin or butternut squash
Cooking spray
6 slices favorite bacon
2 shallots, (about 1 cup) thinly sliced
1 lb favorite cut pasta (I like using mini penne, GF works great in this)
1/4 c flour
2 c reduced-fat milk
3/4 c (3 oz) shredded provolone cheese
1/3 c (1 1/2 oz) grated fresh Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat oven to 425°. Place squash on a foil-lined baking sheet coated with cooking spray; sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt, rosemary and pepper. Toss to coat and bake at 425° for 45 minutes or until tender and lightly browned. When done, turn oven to 450°.

2. Cook pasta according to the package directions (omitting salt and fat, if you wish). Drain well and set aside.

3. Cook bacon by your preferred method until crisp. Reserve 1 1/2 teaspoons drippings, and crumble bacon before setting aside. Add reserved bacon fat to pan (or, if you’ve cooked the bacon in a pan, leave 1 1/2 tsp of fat and drain the rest) and place over medium-high heat. Add shallots and sauté 8 minutes or until tender. Combine squash, crumbled bacon and sauteed shallots; set aside.

4. Combine flour and 1/2 teaspoon salt in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Gradually add milk, stirring constantly with a whisk; bring to a boil. Cook 1 minute or until slightly thick, stirring constantly. Remove from heat. Add provolone, stirring until cheese melts. Add pasta to cheese mixture, tossing well to combine. Spoon pasta mixture into an 11 x 7-inch baking dish lightly coated with cooking spray; top with squash mixture. Sprinkle evenly with Parmesan cheese. Bake at 450° for 10 minutes or until cheese melts and begins to brown.

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