1teaspoonred chili flakesor calabrian chili paste, use half if you like things less spicy!
1medium onionfinely diced
Salt and pepper
1cupcannedor fresh pumpkin puree
1/4cupvodkaoptional, omit if desired
1cupheavy creamwarmed to room temperature to prevent the sauce from breaking
8ouncesdriedshort pasta, preferably rigatoni
1/2cuploosely packed grated parmigiano-reggiano cheeseplus more for topping
A handful of basil leaves or chopped flat-leaf parsleyfor garnish
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
Meanwhile, in a medium saute pan, heat olive oil to medium-low heat. Add garlic and red chili flakes, and saute for 1 minute until aromatic.
Add onion, and saute for 7 to 8 minutes until soft and translucent. If the bottom of the pan begins to brown, you can gently scrape the bits with a wooden spoon. Season with salt and pepper.
Add pumpkin puree and cook down for about 3 to 4 minutes on medium heat, stirring frequently until any remaining moisture evaporates from the puree.You will know the moisture has evaporated when the puree begins to stick to the sides of the pan. It may also start caramelizing and turning light-brown at the bottom of the pan.
Add vodka (if using). Let simmer for 1 to 2 minutes, until most of the liquid evaporates and the smell dissipates.
Reduce the heat to medium-low, then stir in heavy cream. Let simmer on medium-low for 5 minutes (or until thick enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon).
Meanwhile, add your pasta to the boiling water and let cook until just before al dente. Make sure to reserve 1/2 cup pasta water.
Season pumpkin sauce with salt and pepper and reduce heat to low. Using a slotted spoon, transfer pasta to the sauce. Add cheese and stir pasta into sauce. Loosen the sauce with a few tablespoons of pasta water, then let cook for 1 to 2 minutes until sauce looks glossy and clings to the pasta (if needed, increase the heat to medium-low to allow the sauce to reduce and cling to the pasta). Season again with salt and pepper as needed.
Divide among serving bowls, and top with basil leaves and additional cheese if desired.
I've used red pepper flakes, calabrian chili paste, and even gochujang. They're all delicious!
Swap out the pumpkin for butternut squash puree. You can buy frozen butternut squash, reheat it, then puree it. Depending on the moisture content of the squash, it may be slightly less thick than the pumpkin puree, so make sure to cook it down until all of the moisture evaporates. You may also need to reduce the heavy cream for a few extra minutes.
Chop 3 shallots instead of using a medium onion.
Reheating: If you have any leftover pumpkin pasta, you can reheat it on the stove. Add the pasta to a saute pan and stir in a couple tablespoons of warm milk or cream. Gently heat and stir frequently the pasta until the sauce warms through and clings to the pasta.