Creamy Pumpkin Pasta Sauce

The Hokkaido, or Kuri, Japanese pumpkin is my favourite type of pumpkin because of its nutty and mild sweet flavour. When cooked, the skin is edible and the flesh becomes rich and caramelized. It doesn’t taste as strong as the traditional Jack-O’-Lantern pumpkins with which I grew up.

Hokkaido pumpkins have a bright orange, or almost reddish outer skin and are generally smaller than North American pumpkins. They look like a big teardrop. In France, they are also known as Potimarron (potiron which means pumpkin; marron which means roasted chestnuts).

This fall, I have been making all kinds of pumpkin soups with the squash. However, I wanted to feature something beyond soup. And here it is: a rich and delicious, yet light and creamy pumpkin pasta sauce.

Made with baked pumpkin flesh, onion, garlic, celeriac, fresh herbs, nutritional yeast, raw cashews, homemade veggie broth and caramelized mushrooms, this pasta sauce is packed with savoury flavours and completely plant-based. It can also be enjoyed without the mushrooms. But, if you like mushrooms, I highly recommend adding them.

The health benefits of pumpkin are numerous. Rich in carotenoid anti-oxidants, vitamins A, B, C, D and E as well as calcium, magnesium, potassium, sodium and iron, pumpkin is known for promoting eye, heart, bone and cardiovascular health.

The nutrition properties in pumpkin can also give your immune system a boost. In addition, the powerful beta-carotene anti-oxidants it contains can help protect against joint inflammation, arthritis and certain types of cancer. You can read more about the health benefits here.

Creamy Pumpkin Pasta Sauce

Equipment: A blender, 1 pan, parchment paper & aluminum foil.

Makes 5-6 cups of sauce.

INGREDIENTS

FOR BAKING

  • 800-900 grams pumpkin (to get 1½ cups of pumpkin flesh)
  • 2-3 big garlic buds
  • 80 grams celeriac root, chopped in 2 chunks (can sub. with parsnip or celery heart)
  • 2 small/medium-size yellow onions
  • 4 -7 sage leaves
  • 1-2 sprigs of thyme
  • Olive oil
  • Salt

FOR CREAM SAUCE

  • ½ cup raw cashews, softened * (see the 2-minute method below)
  • 1½ – 2 cups veggie broth or stock, homemade or a good quality store-bought kind
  • 2 tablespoon nutritional yeast (can sub. with finely grated parmesan cheese)
  • Fresh brown mushrooms of choice, sliced (option). About 1 or 2 cups or more
  • Balsamic vinegar for glazing mushrooms (option). About 2 teaspoons, or a bit more
  • Salt & pepper, to taste
  • Dry red pepper flakes for garnish & extra flavour (option)
  • Grated parmesan cheese (dairy or vegan) to sprinkle on servings (option)

PASTA

  • A pasta that you like, cooked according to package instructions.
  • ½ cup starchy pasta water. Before draining the cooked pasta, set aside the starchy water in which the pasta cooked. This will make the sauce smooth & glossy.

* Note: To soften raw cashews the 2-minute way, transfer ½ cup of cashews into a small bowl and cover them with tap water. Put a lid on the bowl or a plate. Microwave on high heat for 2 minutes. Take out, transfer the hot cashews into a sieve to drain all of the water. Rinse the cashews in the sieve under cold running tap water. Transfer the soft cashews to the blender. Proceed with recipe.

PROCEDURE

Fan oven:  200°C / 400°F         Conventional oven:  220°C / 425°F

Heat up the oven.

Slice the pumpkin with a butchers’ knife in two parts and scoop out the seeds. If you have a big pumpkin (like I did), slice it in 2 or 3 parts, weigh and use only 800-900 grams for this recipe.

Brush pumpkin slices all over with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Set aside.

Use a sheet of aluminium foil and cover it with a same-size sheet of parchment paper. Ensure that the length of the foil and paper will cover the ingredients (I do this to avoid wrapping foods directly with foil when cooking on high heat).

Place garlic, celeriac, onions, sage and thyme on the center of the parchment. With point of knife, make a few slits in the garlic, onion, celeriac and pumpkin skin. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt. 

Place pumpkin slices around or on top of the ingredients. I had one big pumpkin slice and placed it on top.

Grab the foil from underneath and wrap and cover all the ingredients, creating a weird-looking pouch. 

Bake in pre-heated oven until onions are soft and pumpkin flesh is fork-tender. Depending on the size of your pumpkin slices and type of oven, this can take anywhere between 30 minutes to 1hour. 

Meanwhile measure and set aside the ingredients for the cream sauce. If you haven’t softened the cashews overnight, you can do that now using the 2-minute microwave method mentioned above. 

When veggies are ready, remove pan from oven. Let the pumpkin cool down before handling it.  

Scoop out 1½ cups of pumpkin flesh. Don’t worry about small bits of pumpkin skin stuck to the flesh. The skin in this type of pumpkin is edible and delicious. However, don’t add too much skin to avoid a sauce that is overly fibrous or thick.

Add the cooked pumpkin flesh, onion, garlic, and celeriac to the blender bowl. I like to add a few cooked sage leaves and a bit of cooked thyme (not all) for extra flavour. Discard remaining pumpkin skin, thyme and sage.

Add the veggie broth and blend. Add the soft cashews and blend. Add the nutritional yeast (or grated parmesan) and blend. Adjust smoothness by adding a bit more broth or water or olive oil. You should obtain a thick, creamy sauce. Add salt and pepper. 

Transfer the sauce into one or two glass jars or bottles and seal. Store in the fridge until you are ready to make your pasta dish. It will keep in fridge for 5 days. You can also freeze it directly in the glass container, as long as you leave some free-space at the top of the container. Also, make sure to thaw the sauce at room temperature. 

In a pot on stove top, cook the amount of pasta you need in salted boiling water.

While the pasta cooks, if you want to add mushrooms (which I do recommend), you can fry them now. I like to make caramelized mushrooms. This is what I do: In a separate large skillet, heat up a small amount of oil, just enough to thinly line the bottom of the skillet. Reduce heat to medium and sauté the mushrooms for 5-6 minutes until brown. Add the balsamic vinegar and sauté in the vinegar for another 2-3 minutes to caramelize. Transfer mushrooms to a dish and set aside.

When the pasta is done, preserve ½ cup of boiled starchy pasta water. Drain the pasta and return it back to the hot pot. Add the caramelized mushrooms to the pasta. Toss well.

If the pumpkin sauce was refrigerated, heat up about 1 cup on stove top. If making pasta for more than two people, then heat up more. You can always pour any unused sauce back into the glass container or into a gravy boat for those who want to add more to their bowl.

On low heat on stove-top, add a portion of the sauce to the pasta, starting with about ¼ cup and gently mix to evenly coat all of the cooked pasta and mushrooms. Then, add the reserved pasta water, starting with a small amount (about a few tablespoons) and fold into the pasta. Then add more pumpkin sauce. Then add a few more tablespoons of starchy water until soft and creamy. Then, add more pumpkin sauce until you get a desired consistency and toss gently. 

Taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve immediately in big bowls while hot. Sprinkle servings with dry red pepper flakes and parmesan cheese. Enjoy!

Julie Zimmer

Julie has extensive experience in nursing practice and education in a wide range of fields from intensive/coronary care, to medical-surgical to community and public health. Julie has Bachelor Degrees in Psychology and Nursing, and a Master’s Degree in Community Health Nursing Education. She has taught in faculties of nursing and in various communities in Toronto, Canada and in Geneva, Switzerland, and is a consultant to the International Council of Nurses (ICN). Julie also has years of experience teaching English as a foreign language (EFL) in addition to coordinating an English department in a Swiss private school.

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