Tortellini with Butternut Squash Sauce and Kale

Oh, the life of the Ontarian.  We had our first snowfall last week.  In the middle of October.  I don’t even remember the last time that it snowed on October, and I also can’t figure out if this bodes well for the season (unlikely) or is a horrifying glimpse into the frigid winter which is whispering frosty warnings in our ears already.  Sigh.  I tried to compile a list of things that I like about winter.  I got this far:

1. Fireplaces.
2. Get to wear layers and loose fitting clothing to cover up tragic weight gain.
3. Stew.

Not exactly a motivating list, is it?  But then again, there is something to be said for eating stew in front of the fireplace whilst wearing your most forgiving and comfortable sweater… least for the first few months of winter.  By the time that March rolls around and the snowdrifts are still piled high on the sides of driveways, my list looks more like this:


Anyway, cold winter weather calls for comforting food, doesn’t it?  I rarely cook pasta in the summer, but as soon as the autumn rolls around……Tortellini with Butternut Squash Sauce and Kale totally hits that comfort spot.  It’s not glamorous.  It’s not beautiful.  But it’s cozy and comforting to warm you up from the inside out.  This is honest food – unassuming, but each element stands on it’s own in a simple, warming meal.

I really enjoy squash in all of it’s devilish forms, but I need variety – I can’t have roasted squash, squash soup or pureed squash all the time.  It drives me bonkers.  Bonkers being the mother of invention, as you know, reminded me that anything which can be pureed into a soup would obviously make a lovely sauce….and it does.  Rich, slightly sweet, velvety textured but still nice and chunky so you know what you’re eating, squash lends itself delightfully to dressing pastas.  

I should also warn you that Ms. Hazan would be appalled by the way that I make pasta, and this is no exception.  You know how your sauce is just supposed to just lightly dress the noodles?  A thin coating is all it takes?  I don’t follow that practice.  I don’t like pasta with sauce, I like sauce with pasta.  This is a very vegetable laden sauce where the veg:pasta ratio is about a 1:1.  On the plus side, just think about how much healthier this is!  Low carb?  No Less of a problem! You can feel entirely virtuous while eating this.

Tortellini with Butternut Squash Sauce and Kale

Serves:  6 – 8, even though there’s only two of us.  Such is life.


  • 1 butternut squash
  • 1/2 Spanish onion
  • 3 large cloves garlic
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp hot red pepper flakes
  • 2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 large bunch kale
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 2 pkg (600g) cheese or cheese & potato filled tortellini
  • 1 cup reserved pasta water (from cooking)
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts
  • Parmigiana Reggiano for garnish (appx 2 oz)
  • generous salt and pepper to taste


Begin by peeling the squash.  A lot of people will give you fuss about how to skin your squash with a knife, but I think that’s a bunch of hoodwinkery.  You lose too much of the fabulous squash that way, and when a simple vegetable peeler works well, why not use it?

Top and tail the squash before cutting it in two and scooping out the slimy seedy innards.  No need to dispose of the seeds however, they roast beautifully for a tasty little snack.  Simply make them however you would prepare pumpkin seeds!

Chop the squash up into 1/3 inch pieces.  This is not a precise measurement, don’t be fooled.  A good ol’ 1/2 inch chunk would be fine so don’t fret.  We just want them about the same size so they’ll cook easily and quickly, allowing us to seize the wee bastards and trick them into softening up enough that they become the perfect little squash sauce.

Chop the 1/2 Spanish onion and mince the garlic.

Toasting the pine nuts is not mandatory (and seriously, NOTHING that I say is mandatory.  This is just what I do, and what I like, and maybe you’ll like it too.  I hope.  I really, really hope), but it certainly helps to achieve a deep richness of flavor.  This is 5 minutes of watching that yields fabulous results, believe you me.  Simply put the pine nuts in a pan over medium heat and shake them intermittently until they’re slightly brown and you can smell their nutty deliciousness.

In a nice big pot, sautee the onions and garlic in the olive oil over medium heat until they’re translucent (about 5-7 minutes) and then add the squash cubes.  Continue to cook the mixture on medium low heat.

After 5-7 minutes the squash will have started to soften slightly.  Add the chicken stock and cover the pot. Let this cook together for another 10 minutes.

Alright, now the squash should be nice and tender.  Add the pepper flakes and thyme.  Give it a generous seasoning of salt and pepper.

Clean the kale and chop it up into manageable chunks, about the same size as if you were making salad from lettuce.  Except that we aren’t making salad, and it’s going to cook down and reduce to a mere vision of the size it once was.  Ignore that, and just keep on chopping.

Toss the kale into the pot and cover it again.  Let this cook, undisturbed, for another 5-10 minutes or until the kale is nicely wilted.  I love cooking greens because you start out with a full pot of vibrant greens  (literally.  The lid might not even fit on top) and within a short period of time you’ve tamed it into a submission of one serving size.  Miraculous, really.  

The squash should be really soft and pliant at this point, and you shouldn’t feel bad about smoushing it down (yep, you don’t learn words like ‘smoushing’ in culinary school, that’s for sure!  Not that I know, mind you, but I imagine….) until it morphs into a chunky paste.  

Boil the tortellini in salted water until it’s tender, about 10 minutes.  When it’s done, drain the pasta but reserve 1 cup of the pasta water.  Mix this with the sauce to thin it out and dump the tortellini in.

Aaaaaand…..that’s it.  Toss it around rather nicely.  Sprinkle with the toasted pine nuts and garnish with freshly shaved Parmigiana Reggiano.  Dinner is served!!


Seriously, this is comfort food at it’s best.  

Three bites in and you’ll be saying, “Winter?  Schminter!  I don’t give a rat’s ears.  Hey, is this sauce made from SQUASH?!?! But…but I LIKES it…..”  Really.  It’s true.  I don’t lie to you………..about cooking.

  • Alison

    Oh…..this looks so amazing! And I just happen to have a cellar (ok, a laundry room) full of a whole variety of squash! I admit that I was almost afraid to scroll through the ingredients – because I thought you were going to make ME make the tortellini. Thank god for small favours! Stuffed pasta I can buy! Yippee for dinner tomorrow!

  • robin @ caviar and codfish

    If it weren’t for soups and stews (and thankfully citrus), I’d never get through winters.

    You have a wonderful site here. I love the set-up of the main page.

  • Lo!

    This is a fantastic combination… and I just happen to have both kale and butternut squash in my kitchen this week. Guess what I might be trying?

  • Tina

    Alison & Lo! – glad that this comes as a fortuitous time! I will admit that few things make me as happy as having a ‘cellar’ (for me it’s a cupboard) full of squash and root vegetables.

    Robin – thank you for stopping by the site!! I’m so glad that you liked it! I’m a big fan of yours as well.

  • Kristie

    Fun fact: Kale is a member of the cabbage family!

    Less fun fact: if you cook it too long, it smells like butt.

    Your dish does look beautiful though, and like it would tickle the old c-spot when I’m in need of some comfort.

    Now if only I lived somewhere that hadn’t chased Winter away by sucking so much…

  • noble pig

    Sounds like the perfect dinner, sounds like there were leftovers too…yum!

  • Tina

    Kristie – I also love cabbage soup, but that is the issue isn’t it….first you smell like cabbage for 2 days after making it, then there are the…ahem…digestive issues following consumption. Cabbage soup will not make you popular, no matter how comforting it is on a cold winter day.

    Noble Pig – There are ALWAYS leftovers in my house. I’m incapable of cooking for two people no matter how hard I try, but that just makes brown-bagging easier because you have no choice!

  • Ivy

    I am always glad to find out about new ways to cook the squash. This sounds like a great recipe.

  • Tina

    Thank you Ivy!