Butternut Squash Skillet Dinner

Yep, that’s right. This creamy, divine butternut squash and penne pasta is made start to finish in one skillet. Which makes me want to weep because I love skillet meals just so, so much. Avoiding having to clean that extra pasta boiling pot is reason for some serious heel clicks (a dangerous feat for one as unathletic and uncoordinated as I). And just so you know how I really feel about this recipe, I had to make a concerted effort not to type that entire second sentence in all CAPS just to emphasize how seriously serious (in a good way) this is.

I’ve had a love affair with the butternut squash and pasta combo for forever. Add in lean chicken sausage, spinach and a smattering of other ingredients and this is quite possibly the only thing I want to eat all weekend.

Butternut Squash Skillet Dinner

The inspiration came from several other one-skillet pasta meals that I love, and the fact that the butternut squash lends a beautiful creaminess to the made-by-itself-sauce without pouring in quarts of heavy cream (sidenote: I have nothing against heavy cream, trust me, I’m just trying to avoid it for a day or two) is another reason to leap for joy.

This is all sorts of comfort wrapped up in one skillet. And did I mention? You’ll only have one little skillet to wash up. That’s pretty sweet considering you are getting one of the most fab meals of January out of the deal.

Long live butternut squash. In pasta. With sausage. And spinach. And cheese.

P.S. Today is my youngest son’s birthday. He turns five and spent weeks agonizing over whether to have an eyeball cake or creme brulee for his birthday “cake.” Very serious decision when you are his age. I posted about it on FB. You responded. Oh yes, you did. I’ll be posting on FB a bit later today with his birthday creation. Happy birthday to my most sweetest and gentlest of little boys!

Butternut Squash Skillet Dinner

What To ServeSteamed vegetable or this Perfect Roasted Asparagus
Simple green salad or this Marinated Caprese Salad 
Sliced Cheese

One Year Ago: Baked Tilapia with Ginger and Cilantro  
Two Years Ago: Brownie Mosaic Cheesecake
Three Years Ago: Chicken Cordon Bleu Bread Bowls

Skillet Butternut Squash and Penne Pasta

Yield: Serves 6-ish

Skillet Butternut Squash and Penne Pasta

This isn't an overly saucy dish. It really isn't meant to be although it is definitely not dry, in my opinion. It's like a lightly creamy pasta dish with squash and other delicious flavors. If you'd like a little more sauce, add in a bit more liquid as the butternut squash cooks in step #2. As the squash cooks down, it will become kind of creamy and thicken the broth that was added in (I'm not talking adding in cups, but another 1/2 cup or so would be good for a little extra). That's where letting the pasta rest for 5-10 minutes before serving will help.


  • 1 large shallot (or 1/4 cup minced yellow or white onion)
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced or pressed
  • 1 pound chicken sausage (if links, remove the casing)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 5 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
  • 12 ounces penne pasta
  • 3 cups peeled and diced butternut squash
  • 3 cups coarsely chopped fresh baby spinach
  • 2 large sage leaves, torn into small pieces, or 1/4 teaspoon dried, more or less to taste
  • 1 cup (about 4 ounces) shredded or cubed fontina or mozzarella cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Freshly grated Parmesan for serving, if desired


  1. In a large 12-inch nonstick skillet, combine the shallot, garlic, sausage, salt and pepper. Cook over medium heat, breaking up the meat into small pieces, and cooking until the sausage is cooked through, 5-7 minutes. Scrape the mixture to a plate and return the skillet back to the heat.
  2. Add the chicken broth and pasta and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a simmer, and cook for about 8 minutes, stirring often to prevent sticking and the pasta clumping together. Stir in the squash and simmer 5-7 minutes longer until the squash and pasta are both tender. As the squash breaks down, it will help bring a creaminess to the sauce and pasta so add more liquid, if necessary, while cooking if the mixture seems dry.
  3. Stir in the spinach and sage and cook for 1-2 minutes until the spinach is wilted. Add the sausage/shallot mixture back to the skillet and stir in the fontina or mozzarella cheese and add salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Off the heat, cover the skillet with a lid or foil and let the pasta sit for 5-10 minutes. Give it a good stir and serve with freshly grated Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Recipe Source: Mel’s Kitchen Cafe

65 Responses to Skillet Butternut Squash, Sausage and Penne Pasta

  1. Diana says:

    Made this tonight. Really tasty! I added some lemon juice at the end and it really shined.
    Thank you.

  2. […] 7. Skillet Butternut Squash, Sausage and Penne Pasta from Mel’s Kitchen Cafe […]

  3. Carolee says:

    Hey Mel! I’m a little confused on the chicken sausage. What kind do you use?

  4. Leslie says:

    This was great! I used ground turkey and an italian sausage seasoning recipe to prep the turkey. I used mozzarella… Probably 1.5 cups. I used whole grain elbow noodles and added some chicken stock while cooking. Next time I may double the spinach! Thanks for the recipe. It was delish!

  5. Meg says:

    So delicious! I didn’t have spinach so I used kale and put it in to cook a little bit after the squash (instead of just for 1-2 minutes like the spinach). I also didn’t have chicken sausage so I used ground turkey and added some crushed fennel seeds to give it a similar flavor to sausage. Finally I only had white cheddar so I used that instead of mozzarella. It WAS AMAZING!

  6. Dee Ann says:

    First time to use a recipe from you and certainly won’t be the last! Totally pleased with this keeper of a dish. Keep it up!! Sort of glad I’m late to join the party because there are so many of your recipes waiting to be tried!

  7. Julia says:

    This was tasty! I was in a hurry and I accidentally added too much macaroni (what I had on hand) so I decided I better add a little more cheese. Well, I think I added too much cheese, too, because it got all stringy so then I added some milk to make it creamy instead of stringy and told my kids it was fancy macaroni and cheese. Even with my mistakes it was delicious! Thanks!

  8. Meagan says:

    Made this for dinner tonight; I was quite skeptical at first but this was absolutely FANTASTIC! Thank you!!

  9. Amy says:

    So this was so delish! My only comment is a repeat about the butternut squash. I am going to dice the pieces much smaller next time and begin cooking it in the broth before the penne. It needed more time, for sure! My whole family loved it, though. 🙂

  10. Shania says:

    I made this tonight!! It was soo good! Thanks so much for something so quick and tasty. I will definitely be making it again 😀

  11. Heather says:

    My family and I absolutely love this dish. Thank you. I would agree, if you really want the butternut squash broken down into more of a sauce, cook the butternut squash before adding the pasta to avoid mushy pasta. I want to make this into freezer meals for friends who have just had babies. Do you have any suggestions for reheating instructions? Thanks again for a great recipe!

    • Mel says:

      I haven’t tried it as a freezer meal – I’d probably way undercook the pasta, let everything cool, freeze and then reheat by baking in a 350 degree oven for an hour or so? That’s just a guess but a good place to start.

  12. Masha says:

    I also really wanted to love this – winter squash and Italian sausage are one of my favorite flavor combinations! But as many others said, this cooking method will not result in well-cooked pasta and “melded” squash. I cut my squash to a half-inch dice and put it in the pot with the pasta instead of 8 minutes later – but it still was nowhere near cooked when the pasta was done. I ended up fishing out the pasta (no easy feat when mixed in with half inch cubes of squash) so that it would not turn into oatmeal before the squash was cooked. It took about 30 minutes for the squash to start breaking down into the sauce. So to make this a true skillet meal, if I were to make this again, I’d start cooking the squash in the chicken broth and add the pasta 20 minutes later. Butternut squash is so much better roasted, though, that I think I’d forego the skillet dinner idea altogether and roast the squash separately before adding it as the recipe instructs.

  13. Sheri C-W says:

    Ohhhhh! This was delicious. It was part of our New Year’s Eve meal and was a great big hit! I couldn’t find “chicken sausage” so instead used “cudighi” an Italian type sausage. It was easy and not too time consuming since the ingredients were prepared ahead of time. I made it in my mother’s electric skillet and it worked out perfect. Thank you so very much for sharing!

  14. Bethany says:

    I so wanted to love this. I even cut my pre cut butternut squash from the store in half to make even smaller pieces after reading the comments about it taking longer to cook. It still took way longer to cook than the pasta and the pasta was so gummy it ruined the entire dish. It looks beautiful and sounds amazing but perhaps worth making this not a one pot meal by roasting the squash or sautéing it first or even cooking the pasta separately so its al dente. Flavor of everything else was good though.

    • Stephen says:

      Reverse cooking times on squash and pasta. Squash cooks longer and gets creamy and pasta cooks shorter and stays firm.

  15. Karlene says:

    Just made this meal, overall I like it. I used whole wheat spaghetti instead of penne. Mine is a little fresh because I only had low sodium broth and I didn’t have any fresh parmesan on hand, so I sprinkled the store bought dry kind over each persons plate instead. And my squash didn’t really mash out to help make a sauce. Overall I may have to try this recipe a second time to get it right.

  16. CHARLENE says:

    Made it this evening. Very nice. Did the squash al dente in the oven first,20 min @350F

  17. Nancy says:

    Can’t tell you how much we’ve enjoyed this recipe. I’ve made it twice in the past two weeks-it’s so good. I cooked the squash first and then added the pasta and it’s perfect. Leftovers reheat well- another plus. Thanks for sharing this.

  18. makenzie says:

    just made this… so delicious!!!!

  19. Zach says:

    I stumbled upon this recipe last night because I had to cook for the pregnant wife and toddler with only a few ingredients on hand. I had the butternut squash, zesty italian chicken sausages from Costco, garlic, chicken broth, and even had the sage in my garden! I subbed brussel sprouts (sliced thin and sautéed with the sausages) for the spinach because that’s all I had. I thought it would be too salty with all that broth and the sausages, so I didn’t add any extra salt, but it was fine. It only took about 20 minutes and was a big hit. Thanks!

  20. KMDuff says:

    I had the same problem with the squash not cooking quickly and the pasta being over cooked. I thought I had chopped it small enough but perhaps not? I’m thinking I should start the squash first and then add the pasta after 8 minutes. Would that work?

    • Mel says:

      Sure, that could work – I’ve noticed that a butternut squash is kind of like a peach – each one can be a little more/less ripe than another and that can influence cooking time. It’s hard to tell just by looking or feeling them, though – so just keep an eye on the cooking time so it doesn’t get overcooked next time.

  21. Kristina says:

    Made this on the spur of the moment tonight. Had 1 lb of Italian sausage in the freezer, so I defrosted that quickly and added in the squash I had frozen in chunks from the garden last fall. No spinach on hand so I used Swiss chard from the garden. This was DELICOUS!!! The squash broke down and made the most perfect sauce. We loved this and also loved the threads of mozzarella cheese throughout by chunking it rather than grating it.

  22. Ashlee says:

    I made this last night and it was soooooo yummy! We had a whole bunch of leftover butternut squash…just enough for our favorite soup! It’s quick, easy, yummy and (if that isn’t enough) has cream cheese. I don’t have a super official blog, just a collection of recipes, but here’s the link: http://websterwaterhole.blogspot.com/2011/12/butternut-squash-soup.html?m=1
    I wanted to share a family favorite recipe since so many of yours have become our favorites!

  23. Cheryl A says:

    Feta works just fine, but am going to try goat cheese as well. I roasted the cubes of squash, and the flavor is really nice.

  24. Cheryl A says:

    Could you sub feta for the mozzarella? I’m thinking about what I have on hand; I will be subbing red kale for spinach! Thanks, looking forward to trying it.

  25. Michelle says:

    I made this tonight and loved it! My boys didn’t like the “green stuff” but they loved the rest. I only did half of the amount of sausage and slightly less pasta but kept the veggies the same. So yummy!

  26. Katie says:

    This has become a “go to” in our household since discovering it! Some minor modifications that we’ve enjoyed are:

    -Squash in the skillet MUCH earlier (and still popping the top on the skillet for a few minutes at the end to get it cooked!)

    -Pretty much alway subbing some of the chicken stock for white wine (and using white wine when more liquid is needed)

    -I’ve subbed various cheeses (parmesan, gruyere, etc.), pretty much all cheese is good cheese in my book…

    -Whenever I have it, I’ll add just a drizzle of heavy cream (or even half and half or similar works) to the skillet in the last minute or so of cooking to give it more of a cream sauce (which is also an easy substitute if you don’t have cheese or just want to add parmesan to taste!) – definitely not as “healthy” this way, but it’s pasta and a TINY bit of heavy cream goes a long way and it gives the dish a deliciously luxurious feel!

  27. Ryland H says:

    This was insanely good — I thought it was restaurant quality. My 5 year old ate two bowls full. I used whole wheat penne, sundried tomato chicken sausage and swiss chard in place of the spinach. I also used cheddar cheese because my son is lactose intolerant. It was excellent!

  28. Kathy says:

    This was so delicious and very light on calories. I subbed elbow macaroni for the penne since it was all I had on hand. And for the folks who found the squash tough, just pop a lid on the skillet for 2 or 3 minutes of the cook time and it’ll soften up.

    Turned out great – thanks for posting!

  29. Mickey says:

    Thank you so much for the recipe! I purchased pre-cubed butternut squash which was on sale because I was interested in trying it, but had never cooked or eaten it before. After getting it home, I searched for recipes involving the squash and came across your one-skillet one. It was perfect. I couldn’t find sage leaves so I had to settle for ground sage spice in a jar, but it still tastes so yummy. And as a bonus, my dish came out looking exactly as yours in the pictures, which never happens when I prepare a dish from a cookbook with pictures for some reason; it’s such a pretty dish which makes it even more appetizing! Thanks again, this is a keeper.

  30. Anne says:

    Mel, I made this tonight because I had sweet italian sausage on hand and I had butternut squash. And of course I had baby spinach and chicken broth because they are staples in my house. But from that point on I had to wing it – no penne, but I did have 3/4 bag of egg noodles; no fontina, but I did have swiss. I messed up from the start and cooked the pasta and squash in water and then realized what I was doing, but I just kept the sausage in the pan with the onions and garlic and threw in the broth, added the mostly cooked pasta and squash, added the swiss and parm and stirred it around and then threw in the spinach. Seriously, it was (is) fantastic. Night after night, I am serving up something special. Thanks Mel!

  31. Laura says:

    We loved it! We couldn’t find any “normal” chicken sausage (only weird flavors like spinach and feta), so used mild italian, and it was great that way. I agree with Lauren; the squash didn’t cook quite fast enough, but I don’t think it was as bad for me as for her. We just cooked it a little longer and the pasta was slightly overcooked while the squash slightly under. We are quickly falling in love with this site 🙂

  32. Lori says:

    I tried this recipe yesterday with some minor modifications , used thyme instead of sage and rotini instead of penne and italian instead of chicken sausage. Turned out fabulous!!!!

  33. Kelly says:

    This was really, really good. Love the one pot pasta recipes! Keep them comin’!!!!

  34. Aubri says:

    This was good Mel! All but one of my 5 kiddos gobbled it up (including my 2 9 month olds who inhaled it!) I definitely will cut the squash smaller next time because my pasta got a little too done before the squash was cooked…but it was really good! Also, I couldn’t find chicken sausage, but I found some Jennie-O- Italian Seasoned Ground Turkey, and it worked great!

  35. Lucy says:

    I made this last week and it was one of the best pasta dishes I’ve made in a long time. I love the squash and spinach–it made for a unique and delicious meal. And I love that it’s made in one skillet. My two-year old even wanted leftovers of it for breakfast! Thanks for a great recipe.

  36. I made this last night and the butternut squash definitely did not cook in the time you suggested–it was rock hard while the pasta was mushy. I think it would be best if the squash was roasted, steamed, or cooked separately and then added with the pasta just to heat through and to continue to meld into the dish. Otherwise, it was very tasty with lots of good flavor, and I will most likely make it again with this modification.

    • I was worried about this too, so I added the squash in with the pasta to the boiling stock. The squash and pasta both cooked perfectly in that time. Cutting the squash into pretty small pieces also helped.

  37. Emily says:

    Delicious! I couldn’t find chicken sausage anywhere so I used pork sausage and bought precut squash. My kids were a little uneasy with the squash but they ate it anyway with very little complaint…they have issues with cooked veggies, they think I’m trying to poison them. I will certainly make this again.

  38. Carissa says:

    I was skeptical about this one and sure that my picky-eater husband (at least picky when it comes to veggies) wouldn’t like it. He gave it a 9! Will be making this one again. Thank you.

  39. Eleanor Bryan says:

    This was delicious! I could not find chicken sausage, so I used small chunks of chicken tenders and cooked them with the shallots and garlic. The butternut squash was perfectly cooked and added so much to the flavor of this dish. Thanks for a keeper!

  40. bluebaker says:

    This dish looks really good. comfort food, but on the healthier-ish side.
    My suggestion for a video how to would be what is the best way to deal with these hard as a rock squash? do you peel them, cut them first, or what. I’ve seen Alton Brown take an axe and a mallet to one, but I think he was just kidding around.

  41. Liz says:

    Excited to try this! I live in Asia and we don’t have butternut squash or chicken sausage but I am going to try pumkin and pork sausage – hopefully those substitutions will work ok 🙂

  42. Melanie says:

    I made this tonight, and it was really good. A nice change up from some of the other pasta dishes I’ve been making lately. I used a parmesan chicken sausage, mozzarella and dried sage. My kids (8, 6 and 4) all really liked it and ate it without complaint. They have more experience with spinach and other veggies in their food so it wasn’t a big leap for them. They don’t always enjoy their experiences, mind you 🙂 They did appreciate this dish, though!

  43. A says:

    I had my parents over for an impromptu lunch. I hadn’t been to the grocery store in over a week, but miracle of miracles, I had all of the ingredients for this dish and I have to say I am so glad I did, it was an instant success. Everyone around the table was ooing and awing. I used turkey sausage instead of the chicken and uses a combo of penne and angel hair pasta since I didn’t have enough penne. I also added some water since I only had two cans of chicken broth. Despite the minor modifications due to my limited food supply, it came out beautifully. I’ll be making this again soon. Thanks for saving my bacon!

  44. Kristin says:

    I made this today, and it was SO GOOD! I could not stop eating it. I left out the sausage since I’m not a big fan of it to make a meatless lunch. I also chose mozzarella instead of fontina. This seriously is my new favorite pasta recipe. Thank you so much!

    • Rae says:

      I was looking for squash recipes and came upon this one….thought it looked great until I saw that it had meat in it (sad face. My children and I are vegetarian/borderline vegan. It’s hard to find good recipes that don’t have crazy ingredients in them! ). I was going to ask about the taste if I use vegetarian broth instead of chicken and omit the sausage, but then I saw someone else already commented saying she omitted the sausage so now I’m full steam ahead on it!

  45. Beth W. says:

    We enjoyed this today for Sunday lunch. The chicken sausage links I purchased were a sweet flavored sausage and brought a nice flavor to the dish. I haven’t cooked with squash since I made babyfood! Even my picky kid thought it was ok. Was surprised how the squash sort of melted into the meal. Was glad I didn’t have to sell the chunks of it 🙂 We are trialing your quinoa butternut squash stew tonight for dinner… a bit overboard for squash in one day, but am cooking it for freezer meals and have to try it first. I have heard it is also magnificent.

  46. I can’t believe this whole meal is made in one skillet! This is a dream come true! And it looks delicious – I love butternut squash!

  47. This looks so good, thanks for sharing – I’m pinning it to try very soon!

  48. Hey Mel…I’m probably going to want a whole grain pasta( or maybe even wheatberries) in this for myself. Do you advise more liquid or would I be better off cooking these longer-cooking-time options a little on their own before adding them?

    • Mel says:

      kelly – I don’t cook often with whole grain pastas because they tend to get sort of gummy but if you have experience doing so, I would use a modification that’s worked in the past – like the extra liquid or longer cooking time or both. Good luck!

  49. Jenn A says:

    Happy birthday to the littlest one! I am definitely going to be making this sometime soon! YUM!

  50. I bought squash on a market today and had no idea what to make out of it. Now I have an idea 🙂

  51. Kim in MD says:

    Like Sheila, I was rushing when I commented. Happy Birthday to your sweet little guy! I can’t believe he is five already. Enjoy his special day!

  52. Kim in MD says:

    I love your one skillet dishes, Mel! They are one dish wonders that pack so much more flavor than if the pasta is cooked separately. This recipe looks so colorful and delicious! I am going to make this for dinner tonight, which by the way will be the third MKC dinner this week!

  53. Sheila says:

    Oops, I was rushing to get chicken marinated before work and forgot to wish your little one Happy Birthday. What beautiful character traits your home environment is developing within your children! Your mother’s heart must overflow with joy.

  54. Sheila says:

    This working mom greatly appreciates one skillet meals. This (as always with your pictures) looks so yummy. I’m making your ham and pasta skillet (1st time) for company on Sunday afternoon with your cornmeal bread. I have unsuccessfuly looked “high and low” for chicken sausage around these parts. This failure justifies a great excuse to use regular Italian sausage which I love. 🙂

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