When I told my boss I was making pumpkin baked ziti for dinner he looked at me as if I'd just told him I was making beer flavored cookies. I assured him, "No no no...this will be good!" but he was not hearin' it.
Well, maybe I can't convince my boss, but I certainly convinced my friends that pumpkin + cheese + pasta = greatness. And maybe you guys will be believers, too!
This weekend, I hosted a little dinner party for a couple of my friends. The whole week I debated what to make. Initially, I wanted to make crock pot chili with a chipotle cornbread, but there were time restraints, and waiting 6 hours for chili to cook, while on a cold, leisurely day, sounds amazing (and you bet your bacon I'll be doing that soon!) for Friday night after work, that just wasn't going to cut it. So I had to regroup and brainstorm.
Obviously, I've been on an Autumn kick, so I thought why not make an all-in-one, roasty, toasty, savory dish to celebrate the month of October? So that's exactly what I did!
First, you'll want to roast your pumpkin, and make the whole house (or apartment) smell like sweet roasted Autumn. Mmmm.
After the pumpkin has cooled, remove the skin and puree it with an immersion blender or good old-fashioned potato masher.
Mix the pumpkin puree with ricotta, one clove minced fresh garlic, paprika, cinnamon, chili powder, salt, and pepper. Stir it up!
While your pumpkin mixture hangs out on the counter, get the pasta going. I actually used penne because the store was out of ziti...so technically this dish is pumpkin baked penne. That doesn't sound too bad, right?
Next, heat up a large skillet with some olive oil. ...And I don't care what anybody says about Rachel Ray, she's totally right; olive oil on the stove totally smells good.
Throw in your onions and let them sweat until they become translucent.
Add your ground meat. Call me crazy...but I sprinkled some cinnamon over my chicken as it browned. Can you imagine how delicious my kitchen smelled? If you can't, I'll tell you. It. Smelled. Great.
Now throw it all together in a big ol' pot. Stir it around. Let the pasta, pumpkin, and chicken mix and mingle.
Put it all in your greased lasagna pan, and empty a bag of shredded mozzarella all over that thing. Then take a few handfuls of shaved parmesan and sprinkle liberally over the mozzarela. Garnish with a few sage leaves, and pop that baby into 375 degree oven and let it bake for 20 minutes.
Set up the table while you wait for your guests to arrive and for the ziti to bake.
Try not to drool too much while the kitchen fills with the smell of melting cheese and sweet pumpkin.
And pour yourself another glass of wine, because you deserve it.
When your guests finally stroll in and your baked ziti is cooked to a perfectly browned, melty goodness...
hand them each a huge helping of food and watch their faces as they devour it.
Do you have to guess? They LOVED it. Okay, I'm bragging a little but I can't help but feel a little pride at creating a wonderful, one-pan, October-licious meal (and proving my boss wrong!)
2 c. pumpkin puree (pumpkin roasting instructions below)
1 15 oz. container ricotta cheese
1 garlic clove, minced
1 Tbs. cinnamon (plus more for sprinkling)
1 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. chili powder
pinch of salt and pepper, to taste
1 lb. ground chicken (or ground meat of choice)
1/2 whole onion, chopped
olive oil (for sauteing)
1 package shredded mozzarella
a handful shredded parmesan
sage leaves, for garnish and extra flavor
1 box ziti pasta
Pumpkin Roasting Instructions:
If using a pie pumpkin, you'll need to roast it first. Preheat your oven to 350degrees F. Wash the dirt off of the skin. Cut your pumpkin in half from stem to bottom, then scoop out all the seeds (you can keep them for toasting later). Place each half onto a greased baking sheet, cut side down. Bake for 35-40 minutes. When done, the skin will peel easily away from the meat, and the insides will be mushy. Let cool before you begin the pureeing process. Puree with a immersion blender or potato masher.
(Note: the order in which you prepare the elements does not matter. You can even prepare some the night before if it makes the process easier!)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
In a medium-sized bowl, combine ricotta, pumpkin puree, garlic, and your spices until well incorporated. Set aside.
Boil the pasta (I'm assuming I don't need to give instructions for this.)
Heat up a large skillet with about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add your chopped onions and cook until slightly translucent. Next, add your ground meat (and sprinkle in some cinnamon) and let brown.
Once all the elements are prepared, mix them together in a large pot or bowl, making sure they are all well incorporated. Pour into a greased 14" lasagna pan and top with generous amounts of mozzarella and parmesan cheese. Garnish with sage leaves. Place pan in the center of the oven and allow 20 minutes to bake. Let cool slightly before enjoying.