Surprise ingredient in this tasty pasta

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I try not to keep secrets from my husband, but I kept him in the dark on purpose last week.

Why? I wanted him to judge Thursday night’s supper without knowing the ingredients of the main course. 

It started earlier in the day when I asked him if he wanted a new pasta dish or a new chili recipe for supper. I thought he would say chili and was surprised when he picked the pasta. I switched up my plans and bought the ingredients for the new dish, not revealing the surprise in either dish was a can of pureed pumpkin.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve seen several recipes for both chili and a variety of pasta dishes that include a can of pumpkin. I admit, I had  my doubts at first, but I was more curious than skeptical, so I gave it a try.

I chose a recipe for baked ziti with pumpkin and sausage from Nestle Toll House using Libby’s pure pumpkin.

The recipe is very easy to put together, and I only made a few changes. For instance, I used turkey Italian sausage instead of cooked chicken sausage. I removed the casings from the sausages and browned the sausage as I would have browned ground beef.

I also used an Italian cheese blend instead of separate packages of Parmesan and mozzarella. Both cheeses are in the blend.

So, fast-forward to dinner. 

When Reggie got home from work, I had just taken the casserole dish out of the oven and was ready to serve it. Reggie isn’t a picky eater and didn’t even ask me what he was eating. He just ate it and enjoyed it. We both talked about how much we liked the Italian sausage and how creamy the sauce was.

After we had finished eating, I quizzed him. “Do you have any idea was you just ate?” He correctly guessed several of the ingredients. We talked about the sauce, and I told him it didn’t have tomatoes in it. He had no clue what the sauce ingredients were and was very surprised when I told him pumpkin. He admitted he might not have been as receptive to the dish if he had known in advance.

I was working late that night and took half of the pasta to my co-workers. I didn’t tell them what they were eating until they had almost finished. They were surprised as well. But they told me they enjoyed the dish.

So what have I learned here? Try new things. Even if it sounds iffy, why not give it a try? 

Reggie and I have found a new pasta dish that I will make again. It’s a good alternative, we both agree, to the tomato-based sauces that don’t always agree with us. 

Baked Ziti with Pumpkin and Sausage

Don’t let the pumpkin scare you. This pasta dish is delicious!


4 cups ziti, dry

16 ounces Italian turkey sausage

1 can (15 ounces) pure pumpkin (not pumpkin pie filling)

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon salt 

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, ground

Pepper to taste

1 can (12 fluid ounces) evaporated fat-free or 2 percent milk

2 to 3 cups loosely packed baby spinach, washed

1 1/2 cups grated Italian cheese blend 

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spray a 4-quart baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. I divided mine between two smaller dishes.

Prepare pasta according to package directions. Reserve 1/2 cup pasta cooking water and set aside for later use. Drain pasta; return to cooking pot.

While pasta cooks, remove casings from sausage, break up sausage and cook on stovetop until brown.

Meanwhile, combine pumpkin, flour, garlic, salt, nutmeg and pepper in medium skillet over medium heat. Slowly add evaporated milk, stirring until smooth. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 to 3 minutes or until mixture begins to thicken slightly. Pour over pasta in pot. Add sausage, reserved pasta cooking water and spinach; stir well.

Spread pasta mixture into prepared baking dish. Lightly spray piece of foil with nonstick cooking spray. (I omitted this step.) Cover ziti with foil, greased side down.

Bake for 20 minutes or until heated through. Remove foil; sprinkle with cheese. Bake, uncovered, for an additional 5 minutes or until cheese is melted.