It’s October, and in case you haven’t noticed, the days are a little shorter and even a bit cooler. More obvious are the sudden sightings of ghosts, goblins and gourds around town that let us know that autumn has arrived. Celebrate the start of the new season with a scrumptious meal –– pasta with pumpkin and sausage. This sweet, savory and totally unexpected combination creates a mouthwatering medley of flavors. Serve hearty helpings alongside warm slices of pumpernickel bread for a wholesome one-dish meal, or start with a plate of crisp spinach topped with apple and red onion, a colorful accompaniment to this perfect fall dinner.

Pasta with Pumpkin and Sausage
2 tablespoons olive oil, separated
1 pound bulk sweet Italian sausage
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
4 to 6 sage leaves, cut into chiffonade, about 2
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup canned pumpkin
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Coarse salt and black pepper
1 pound penne rigate, cooked to al dente
Romano or Parmigiano-Reggiano, for grating
Pumpernickel or whole-grain bread, as an accompaniment
 Heat a large, deep nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the pan, and brown the sausage in it. Transfer the sausage to a paper-towel-lined plate. Drain the fat from the skillet, and return the pan to the stove. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil and then the garlic and onion. Sauté 3 to 5 minutes until the onions are tender.
Add the bay leaf, the sage and the wine to the pan. Reduce by half, about 2 minutes. Add the stock and the pumpkin, and stir to combine, stirring the sauce until it comes to a bubble. Return the sausage to the pan, reduce the heat, and stir in
the cream. Season the sauce with the cinnamon, nutmeg,
salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 5 to 10 minutes to thicken the sauce.
Return the drained pasta to the pot you cooked it in. Remove the bay leaf from the sauce, and pour the sausage-pumpkin sauce over the pasta. Cook over low heat for 1 minute. Garnish the pasta with grated cheese and sage leaves, and pass the bread at the table.

Spinach Salad with Apple and Red Onion
1 pound triple-washed spinach, de-stemmed
1 small Golden Delicious apple, quartered, cored
  and sliced
1/4 of a small red onion, thinly sliced
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons (a couple of splashes) apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon coarse-grain mustard
1 tablespoon (a good drizzle) honey
Coarse salt and black pepper
Place spinach, apple and onion in a salad bowl. Place oil, vinegar, mustard and honey in a small plastic container and fit lid on container. Shake dressing to combine, 1 minute. Pour dressing over salad, toss, and season with salt and pepper
to taste.

Recipes by Rachael Ray. Yield for each: 4 servings