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Much as I love pasta with the classic tomato based sauces – puttanesca, arrabbiata, even sort of bolognese – I have a particular fondness for pastas with ‘tossed through’ sauces. I love the range of seasonal vegetables you put in them, I love the flexibility to substitute, and I love the speed!

We make quite a few pastas like this, but this is definitely one of our favourites, with the sweetness of the pumpkin a perfect contrast to the salty pancetta and the freshness of the spinach. I admit that the time to peel, chop and bake the pumpkin pushes this out of quick territory, but this is the sort of job I will often do ahead on the weekend, popping the pumpkin in the oven while baking something else. Often I will cube and bake a whole or half pumpkin, and use the tasty morsels on pizza or in a salad or frittata through the week as well as the pasta.

Once you have the baked pumpkin, the whole thing can come together in the time it takes the pasta to cook, making it a perfect just-home-from-work meal. If you toss it together in a bowl rather than the pan, you can also adjust for multiple preferences – leaving out the pancetta for the vegetarian child, or the spinach for the one who doesn’t eat greens.

Lots of substitutions are possible here for variety or preference – feta for the ricotta, walnuts or hazelnuts for the almonds, sweet potato or mushrooms for the pumpkin, broccoli or kale for the spinach. Let me know if you try something different!

Pumpkin, spinach, pancetta and ricotta penne

Adapted from a magazine recipe in the former Australian Good Taste 

  • 600g butternut pumpkin
  • 2 Tbs olive oil plus extra to drizzle
  • 50g slivered almonds
  • 200g sliced pancetta or bacon
  • 500g penne
  • 100g baby spinach
  • 200g fresh ricotta
  • 40g parmesan
  • salt and pepper to taste

Peel and cut pumpkin into 3 cm pieces. Toss with 1 Tbs oil, season with salt and pepper and spread in a single layer on a large baking tray. Bake at 200C for about 30-40 minutes until soft and browning at the edges. While the pumpkin is baking, put the slivered almonds in a small pan and bake on another rack for about 5 minutes until golden brown.

Slice the pancetta roughly and fry until crisp in a large frying pan in the remaining 1 Tbs oil. While the pancetta is cooking, boil the pasta in a big pot of salted water as recommended on the packet, adding the baby spinach for the last 30 seconds before draining, but retain about half a cup of the pasta water.

Once the pancetta is crisp, add the pumpkin, pasta, spinach, almonds and ricotta.  Toss until well combined, being careful not to break up the pumpkin and ricotta too much. Grate over the parmesan and season to taste. Add extra pasta water and/or a drizzle of olive oil if it is too dry.

Serves 4 generously