La Cucina Povera – An Autumn Pasta with Acorn Squash and Anchovy Sauce

piemonte pastaIn Italy, la cucina povera is a term that embraces the idea of cooking with basic farm-fresh ingredients, but the original concept more or less assumed that you had your own farm, or at least a vegetable garden, a few fruit trees, and maybe some chickens or goats. These days, la cucina povera is often associated with cooking on the cheap or working with whatever ingredients you happen to have lying around your kitchen – at least this is what the idea conjures up for American foodies.

I was thinking about the Americanized notion of la cucina povera one night a few weeks ago when the only fresh produce I had left in the house was an acorn squash and an onion (I live in a neighborhood with a dearth of decent supermarkets).

I would soon be setting off on a trip to the Piemonte region of Italy, and Piemontese cuisine was on my mind. In this mountainous region, which lies on the French and Swiss borders not too far from the Ligurian Sea, anchovies are a signature flavoring. I happened to also have a jar of anchovies.

After looking through a few of the books I’d been using to research my trip, this is the Piemontese-inspired pasta I concocted for dinner:

Rigatoni with Acorn Squash and Anchovy Sauce
Rigatoni colla Zucca e Salsa d’Acciughe

Makes 4 modest servings.

1 large onion
1 medium to large acorn squash
4 to 6 salted anchovies, sott’olio (preserved in oil)
1 cup of frozen spinach (or fresh, or broccoli or cauliflower, depending on your taste and what you have available)
2 to 3 Tbsps extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp chili pepper flakes
Rigatoni pasta
Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Preheat oven to 350˚F

Put the pasta water on boil.

Cut the squash in half, and clean out the stringy, seedy middle part.* Stick the squash halves in a baking or roasting dish with the green rind side facing down (and the orange fleshy part facing up), and bake until the fleshy part is tender when poked with a fork. Remove from oven to cool.

When squash is no longer piping hot, peel the flesh away from the rind and cut the squash into bite-size chunks. Set aside.

Salt the boiling pasta water, and add rigatoni. Cook for the recommended amount of time (usually 8 to 10 minutes).

Next, chop the onion, and begin sautéing it in a medium-sized frying pan with the extra virgin olive oil. Avoid the urge to add salt.

Rinse the anchovies under cold water to remove some of their overwhelming saltiness (don’t worry, they’ll still be salty). Finely chop the anchovies, and then mash them with a fork until you create a paste. When the onions begin to appear translucent, add the anchovy paste to the sauté. Stir and cook the mixture for about 5 minutes on low heat (be careful not to burn it).

Add the squash chunks to the sauté, stirring and tossing.

Sprinkle the chili flakes over the squash, and continue to toss.

Add the spinach to the sauté; stir to mix it in. Turn the heat up to medium and cover for a few minutes so the spinach can cook.

Remove sauté from heat.

When pasta is ready, drain rigatoni and toss in a bowl with the squash and anchovy sauce. When the pasta and sauce are thoroughly combined, sprinkle with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.


Regional wine pairings to consider: Arneis (white) or Barbera (red)
Non-Piemontese pairings: Sauvignon Blanc (white) or Sangiovese (red)

* Seeds can be salted and toasted for a snack, or sprinkled on top of the pasta.

One Comment

  1. leora says:

    I can’t wait to make this dish; I love anchovies!

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