Super Fast Pasta Dish: Rotini with Butternut-Sage Sauce

Rotini with Butternut Sage Sauce

Every so often all of my recipe hoarding proves worthwhile. A couple of nights ago, while fishing through my pasta file, pulling out every gnocchi recipe I have saved over the past decade, I found a recipe — penne with butternut-sage sauce — from a November 2006 Gourmet. Over the past six years, I have thought about this recipe often, as I do most of the recipes I tuck away, but especially this time of year when the butternut squashes and bundles of sage start arriving in my CSA.

I suspected this sauce would be good — the pairing of squash and sage rarely disappoints — but I didn’t imagine loving it as much as I did. It seemed too simple. But somehow the sauce, made with only butter, sage, squash, onion and water, tastes almost cheesy or as if it were made with cream or stock or something to provide richness. The butter, of course, adds considerable flavor, and the amount of butter, though I haven’t tested it, probably could be scaled back. But if you’re not afraid, just go for it. Adults and children (who likely will think it’s mac n’ cheese) alike will gobble it up. It’s a perfect dish for this time of year.

Obviously, this super easy delectable sauce, which could come together in as few as 10 minutes — it was featured on the “10-minute mains” page of that Gourmet issue — is a good one to know if you happen to find yourself extremely pressed for time. It also is a good one to know if you embark on a Homeland-viewing marathon and find yourself incapable of carrying on with life till you catch up with Season 2.

And finally, if you are planning on gathering a few friends for a game-day feast sometime this fall, I have a little menu for you: a cheater’s pulled pork served on homemade buns with a fennel and endive slaw on the side. Check out the recipes at Lifestyle Mirror.

pulled pork, fennel & endive slaw

butternut squash & sage

butternut squash sauce ingredients

sage and butter

sauce, unpuréed and puréed

sauce in jar

Afeltra pasta

Rotini with Butternut-Sage Sauce

Source: Gourmet 2006

Notes: This recipe appeared in the 10-minute main section and thus calls for processing the raw squash and onion in a food processor. If you are pressed for time and want to follow these instructions, do so here. Otherwise, the method described below takes just a wee longer, and if you have an emersion blender, you’re clean-up will be super fast, too. Also, though I haven’t tried it, this purée could certainly be turned into a soup if you have a little chicken stock or vegetable stock on hand to thin it to the soup consistency you like.

1 lb peeled butternut squash pieces (my peeled pieces weighed less than a pound)
1 small onion, diced
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage (or a small bunch, unchopped, see recipe for details)
1 1/2 cups water
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 oz finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (1 cup) plus additional for serving
1 lb penne rigate or rotini or whatever pasta shape you like

1. Heat butter in a 5- to 6-quart heavy pot over moderately high heat until foam subsides, then add sage and cook until fragrant, about 15 seconds. (Note: I just added my bundle of sage to the butter intact and removed it before puréeing the sauce.) Add cubed squash (see photo for size reference), diced onion, water, salt, and pepper and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until squash is very tender and water has reduced considerably, about 8 to 10 minutes.

2. If you wish, stir in Parmigiano-Reggiano. (Note: I did not do this — the mixture tasted wonderful without any cheese, so I just served the cheese on top of the pasta.) If you didn’t chop up the sage, extract what is left of the bundle you added to the pot — I didn’t pull out every sage leaf, just the bigger leaves still attached to the stem. If you have an emersion blender, purée mixture right in pot. If you don’t, transfer mixture to a food processor or blender. Remove squash mixture from heat.

3. While squash mixture simmers, cook pasta in a 6- to 8-quart pot of boiling salted water with a large pinch of kosher salt until al dente. Reserve 1 cup pasta cooking water, then drain pasta in a colander.

4. Place pasta in a serving bowl. Toss with enough butternut-sage sauce to coat nicely. If necessary, add a little bit of the reserved cooking water to thin it out. Serve pasta with additional cheese on the side. If you have extra sauce, store it in the fridge for a later date. The sauce thickens as it sits, so on subsequent uses, it will most likely be necessary to use the reserved cooking liquid to thin out.

pasta with butternut squash sauce


  1. says

    Oh my, I’d forgotten the combo of sage, butter and butternut, yum! Just saw that Trader Joe’s has butternut squash for $1.69 each, which seems pretty inexpensive vs. by the pound (no relationship, just saving money). Okay, so now I’m adding this to my recipe stash! 😉 Great photo btw!

  2. says

    You read my mind! I bought some pasta sauce at Williams-Sonoma this week (pumpkin with sage) and it is delicious and I wanted to replicate it at home. Yum!

    • says

      Darcy, funny that you mention that because I was reminded of this recipe after flipping through the WS catalog and seeing the butternut squash purée that you can turn into a soup. So happy to know that their pumpkin and sage sauce is good. Would love to try it out.

  3. says

    I always looks forward to an easy sauce recipe for pasta. Something definitely without tomato or too much cheese and this makes me happy! Got to try it out.

  4. says

    Another thought – how about tossing the squash, onion and sage in melted butter (or olive oil) and roasting them? That might intensify the flavors even more. Then you could puree with some chicken or veggie stock to desired thickness and heat. And if you crave that butter flavor (who doesn’t???), put it in when you puree and heat. For additional decadence, maybe some crispy proscuitto or pancetta sprinkled on top? Mouth officially watering. It’s Farmer’s Market Day – think I know what’s for dinner tonight!!

  5. says

    I love pasta and butternut– I will have to try this. I made butternut cut into cubes, sprinkled with rosemary, a few cloves of garlic, olive oil and bacon; roasted and tossed with pasta.

  6. pvl says

    huh – looking forward to trying this. It feels a little like “macaroni pizza” in that I think of squash as a starch. So this is starch on starch … but my guess is it’s better than it sounds to me at the moment!

    • says

      Peter, I totally hear you, and I almost made a note of that, but, have you ever had butternut squash ravioli? Or pumpkin ravioli? Same sort of idea — starch in starch — but somehow it just works. Try it! It’s so good. This is a good one for your vegetarian daughter. How is she like being a vegetarian?

  7. pvl says

    Lexi still enjoys being a vegetarian – this dish is for tomorrow, we are having friends over before going to a show – but my veggie girl does not like squash! So I’m hoping to just serve up the pasta and not say anything, to see if she goes for it! :-)

    If not – I’ll have something on stand-by for her, lol!

    Thank you for the recipe, it is delicious. Have not tried it on pasta yet, but you are so right about squash ravioli, I know this will be great!

    Love following you – we have enjoyed many of the items you’ve written about!


    • says

      Peter, you are so nice. So happy to hear this. Love the name Lexi! So cute. I hope the dish pasta was well received even by Lexi, who hopefully didn’t suspect it was squash? And I hope you enjoy the show!

  8. huebscher says

    beta carotene-y starch, at least. ::grin:: this looks like something we might keep stocked through the fall, for low-energy fast-food nights. would also be really delicious with a touch of rosemary subbed in place of sage. (from a martha recipe that was faaar too complicated to add to the hoard-file. flavor profile was worth keeping, though!)

  9. says

    Usually I don’t like much else on pasta than tomato sugo, olive oil fried sage or herb pesto. But this squash sage sauce sounds great. I love pumpkin / squash in any variation as well as I love fried sage. I got to try!

    • says

      Deneen — so happy to hear this! The addition of chicken and toasted hazelnuts not only sounds delicious, but also makes it more of a complete meal. Yum. Thanks for writing in!

  10. says

    This looks SOO good – butternut squash may be my all-time favorite squash but I’ve never tried pairing with sage. I’m featuring this post in today’s Food Fetish Friday (with a link-back and attribution as always). Thanks for continuing to inspire me with your creations…

  11. easy recipes says

    Had to make this twice. Was so tired the first time I overcooked the pasta. Worth doing it the second time. Really delish!

  12. Cindy says

    I made this on the weekend and it was very tasty….thinking I might sprinkle some roasted pine nuts on top next time!

  13. Lena says

    This looks awesome! I have a couple cans of butternut squash puree in my pantry that I intend to use with this recipe, would you still recommend using the water during the simmering step?

    • says

      Lena — hi! I don’t think water will be necessary, but if it starts getting too thick, maybe add a half cup to start? Actually it might be a good idea to start with a half cup of water or so and then to add more as necessary. Also, you can always thin out the sauce with the pasta cooking liquid. Good luck with it!

  14. Kathrin says

    I am on my third double-batch now, cannot get enough (and butternut squash is about to go out of season and off the shelves here!). To turn it into soup, I’ve just added more water during the simmering process, found chicken/veggie stock to be too powerful for the delicate flavors. Incredibly delicious with pasta, too, I never would have given that combination any thought!

    • says

      Kathrin — So happy to hear this. And I can see what you mean about chicken/veggie stock. I have been making tomato soup like it’s my job recently — so easy and delicious — and am finding water is the best liquid for creating the right consistency. Thanks so much for sharing!

  15. says

    Goodness! This is so tasty. I added some garlic cloves, fresh ginger and rosemary and fell in love. I just made a second batch with a delicata too and some vegetable stock, it’s delightful as well!

    I found that turning this into soup is really simple once it’s in the fridge, I just added some coconut milk and spicy jalapeno-ginger sauce as it heated and it thinned out to make excellent grilled cheese dip (that’s the purpose of soup, right?!).

    Thank you for this! :)


    • says

      Alex — so great to hear this! I have a recipe for a rosemary-butternut squash bisque, so I am not surprised that your combination was so good. I love the idea of ginger too. And your ideas for soup are fabulous. Coconut milk must pair so nicely with that ginger flavor. And yes, indeed! Is there really any other purpose for soup than to receive grilled cheese? :) THanks for writing in.

  16. Stephanie says

    This recipe is delicious! I kept the sage in the sauce and also omitted the parm cheese and just put it on my pasta. This was also incredibly easy. It certainly needs to be served with a side of something green – but definitely a keeper!!

    • says

      Ebp — It’s hard to say. I haven’t made this since last fall, but I suggest just adding stock until the soup is the right consistency. You can always purée it, and then return the mixture back to the pot and thin it out with more veggie stock if necessary. I hope that helps. Let me know if you have any other questions!

  17. Paul Mckinnon says

    Just made this and the sauce is fantastic. The left a lot of the sage in it because it wasn’t overpowering. Did not add the cheese as it was thick enough. Will sprinkle it on the top. Can easily be turned into a great soup. I am going to add a nice beet green salad and some crusty bread and butter.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *