So many of my weeknight meals revolve around pasta. Usually quick and not complicated to make, easy to adapt, and great for eating all week. As much as I like to experiment with new recipes, there are a few pastas I come back to again and again, especially when I want something simple, comforting, and (relatively) fool-proof. This linguine, with butternut squash, goat cheese, and bacon, is high on the list.
This is one of the very first recipes my sister made in her first post college grownup kitchen…which means it’s one of the first recipes she independently picked out and cooked. Unlike me, she didn’t have suites with kitchens in college, and neither of us cooked very much growing up (our mom is such a cooking rockstar that I think we were both content to just enjoy). Joie moved into her first solo apartment the weekend of Halloween in 2004, and this recipe is from that year’s December Real Simple. I love the idea of her doing some of her very first just for her grocery shopping (not counting college mini fridge friendly snacks…), treating herself to a Real Simple, and deciding to give this recipe a whirl. And I love that she shared her early kitchen success with me.
When I asked Joie about this recipe on the phone yesterday (and we horrified each other by realizing we’ve been cooking it for eight years!), one of the things that most struck her was her naïveté about how annoying butternut squash is to peel and cut. The places she’s lived, apparently, are worlds where grocery stores don’t have nice little packages of pre-cut butternut squash just waiting to be tossed into a dish, so if she wants to make this she has to work for it. For my part, this recipe doesn’t get made unless I can find pre-cut squash. My knives (not to mention my patience) just aren’t up to the task. Joie wonders whether, as a more experienced cook, she would opt to make this recipe if she came across it for the first time today or if she’d skip it in favor of something with less squash chopping. I think her innate awesome taste would nudge her toward it again, especially since, in her words, the reason she was drawn to it in the first place can be summed up by, “you had me at goat cheese and bacon.” Damn right.
We both agree that this dish can seem concerningly like a bland nothing for a while, and then suddenly the taste of the butternut squash deepens, and you know you’re working with something awesome. One of my favorite things about it is the way you layer and build the flavors–first by cooking the bacon, then quickly sauteing butternut squash and garlic in the remaining bacon fat (you’re meant to drain most of it, but…let’s get real), simmering the veggie in chicken stock until everything is nice and mushy, adding in goat cheese and letting it melt and combine, then adding the bacon back in. So good.
I’ve only once not been totally pleased with this recipe, and that was because of over-salting. The recipe calls for a teaspoon of kosher salt to be added with the broth–I’d save the addition for after the squash has sauteed and you’ve added the goat cheese, so you can see if you really want more salt. Other than that, I stick totally to the original recipe, which, eight years later, can still be found on the Real Simple website. And my “weeknight dinners” Pinterest board (pretty sure it’s the only one I’ve actually made). And printed out in both Joie and my three-ring recipe binders. Yep, this one is a major fave.