Your favorite autumn flavors of butternut squash, greens, apples, and cinnamon, tossed in a gluten & dairy free pasta salad, perfect warm or cold!
A slow shift to cooler weather…
Other than the *most* amazing summer on the planet, with perfect 75-80 degree days, powdery beach sand under our feet, and glorious sunshine, early to mid autumn in Michigan is truly paradise. It’s a slow, subtle shift, really. The sky gets a little more golden. The mornings a bit more crisp. But it still warms up enough to enjoy our beautiful Lake Michigan shoreline most days. We swap bathing suits for light hoodies and shorts, and still get a chance to get our feet in the sand.
Holding onto our favorite summer pasta salad!
My girls don’t mind the weather change, in fact these born and bread Michiganders can hardly wait for snow! When they asked for their favorite summer pasta salad this week, I told them I’d give it an autumn twist since squash was a heck of an in-season deal this week. I flipped the oven on for the first time in a while, and set to work on a fun fall take on a pasta salad concept they love. (You can find my classic summertime pasta salad in my cookbook, The Little Lunchbox Cookbook!)
Squash Prep Tips
One of our favorite household vegetables, squashes of all kinds hit our table multiple times per week. Squashes like butternut, pumpkin, and acorn squashes are loaded with minerals and vitamins that are vital to organ function and growing kids. Squash is also so kid friendly in taste, with a mild sweetness that amplifies with roasting – it is such a great starter veggie for any older kids that are veggie hesitant. I know that he actual cutting and prep of a squash can seem daunting, but just a quick peel (I find that a sturdy Y-Peeler works best for peeling hard squashes), and a few minutes to scoop the seeds out and cube it up is so worth getting the caramelizing sweetness on all sides of those little squash cubes! The kids will love it! You can also peel and cut the squash on a prep day, or hours in advance. Cut up squash keeps in the fridge for days, and then all you have to do on your weekday dinner night is toss it on the sheet pan to roast.
The Method :: The Roasted Veggies
There is something magical that happens when you roast just about any vegetable. The natural sweetness in the veggie shines, making them really hard to resist! Even the sweet purple onions get even sweeter with roasting, and give the most amazing flavor to the salad. I find these sweet purple onions to work well for kids – especially after they roast. The pungency is covered up with caramelized sweetness. Just toss the squash, onions, and garlic on the roasting pan with olive oil, salt, and pepper. While the veggies roast, you can prepare the pasta and get the dressing ready. In under a half hour your pasta salad can be ready!
The Method :: The Butternut Squash Salad Dressing
One taste of this creamy, comforting salad dressing, and the kids will be asking for this on every salad this fall and winter! You’ll take some of the roasted squash and onions from the sheet pan, along with the roasted clove of garlic and blend it up with honey, cider vinegar, cinnamon, and some seasoning. The result is a smooth, spoon-lickable dressing perfect for this pasta salad, or any salads you make this fall!
The Method :: Assembling the Butternut Squash Pasta Salad
The first thing you will add to your mixing bowl is the chopped spinach. Once the pasta is cooked and drained, you’ll toss that hot pasta with the spinach to wilt it down. Baby spinach has a beautiful way of adding nutrients to veggie dishes without a veggie taste – it just takes on whatever flavors the dressing have. It is such an easy thing to add in! Then, toss the pasta/spinach mixture with the rest of the pan roasted veggies and the freshly blended butternut squash dressing. You can eat the pasta salad warm, or chill it for a few hours to eat cold.
Work and/or School Pasta Salad Prep and Packing
This huge bowl of pasta salad would be fantastic to serve at an autumn party, gathering, or holiday! But it is even more versatile than just an occasional holiday. The pasta salad will keep in the fridge for around 5 days. That makes it a really great make-ahead meal prep for work or school. If you prefer the pasta salad warm, you can use a thermos like my kids use for school. Or, for adults, you can try this super handing mini hot plate slow cooker that I used to use when I worked full time outside of the home to warm the pasta salad up. Add some meal prep chicken, beef, or egg, for protein too if you like! Your kids might also like this pasta salad cold. That makes for even easier packing and this salad doesn’t drip, so it can go right into a container, or into a bento box slot easily.
Roasted Butternut Squash Pasta Salad
- 1 small butternut squash peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes
- 1 medium purple onion quartered, then cut into 1-inch pieces
- 1-2 cloves of garlic peeled (leave whole to roast)
- ½ cup plus 2 tbsp olive oil divided
- 1 tsp sea salt divided
- ¼ tsp pepper
- 1 – 12-ounce box GF pasta of choice I use Jovial GF Farfalle
- 2-3 cups baby spinach finely chopped
- 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 2 tbsp raw honey
- ¼ tsp cinnamon
- Pinch of red pepper flakes this leaves a “barely there” heat to the dressing, suitable for children. If you like more heat add more!
- 1 small apple cut into 1-inch cubes (I do not peel mine, but you can)
- Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees, and line a large baking sheet with Silpat or parchment paper.
- Toss the cubed butternut squash, purple onions, and garlic clove on the sheet pan with 2 tbsp olive oil, ½ tsp sea salt, and the pepper. Roast the squash, onions, and garlic at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. While the veggies roast, you can cook the pasta and get the dressing started.
- Get the pasta boiling, and put the chopped spinach in a large mixing bowl (you’ll be putting the hot, cooked pasta over the spinach to wilt it later)
- To make the dressing, put ½ cup of olive oil, ¼ – ½ tsp sea salt, apple cider vinegar, raw honey, cinnamon, and red pepper flakes into a blender or Magic Bullet. When the veggies are done roasting, add the roasted clove of garlic, and 1 cup of the roasted squash/onions to the blender. Blend the dressing until smooth and taste for salt. (Set the rest of the roasted veggies aside to toss with the pasta salad later)
- When the pasta is done boiling to al dente, drain the pasta, and give the pasta a quick rinse. Add the hot pasta to the chopped spinach in the mixing bowl, and toss to combine and wilt the spinach.
- Add the remaining roasted squash and onion to the mixing bowl with the pasta, along with the chopped apples and the butternut squash dressing, and toss to combine. Taste for seasoning and serve warm, or chill at least 3 hours to serve cold.
- The pasta salad can be used as a make ahead meal prep lunch or dinner, keeping in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. Warm it up with a splash of water if you prefer it warm, or eat it cold!
- Change up the roasted veggies! You can swap some of the squash for carrots or parsnips, sweet potatoes, or another squash like acorn or pumpkin!
- The dressing is…amazing! Make extra for your salads for the week. The dressing will keep for about 5-7 days.