I’ve been holding out on you, dear readers. I have a recipe that is delicious, indulgent, healthy, cheap, easy and can feed one person or 20. And I’ve been making it for over a year. I’ve brought it to Christmas parties, work pot-lucks and summer barbecues. I’ve made it so many times and each time I think, “I’m going to blog about it this time, I swear!” But each time I forget to take a photo. Or the lighting isn’t right for a photo. Or it’s in the Crock Pot and the photo won’t look very nice. Oh yeah, that’s the other thing that stopped me from writing this post sooner. I’ve prepared this dish at least five different ways. You can make it on the stove top and serve it. You can bake it in the oven and brown the top and add some breadcrumbs. You can broil individual servings for the best cheesy, crunchy experience ever. You can make it on the stove and then transfer to the Crock Pot for parties and transport.
The recipe is for Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese. It’s a hybrid of the dairy-free concoction that’s been around the blogosphere for a few years and a traditional mac and cheese recipe. In the dairy-free version, cashews are soaked in water and then blended with the squash for a ‘cheez’ flavor. I have no problem with dairy and cashews are expensive, so I just used real cheese. And milk. And breadcrumbs. So while this is not the same as the dairy-gluten-free recipe, it has one thing in common. Squash!!!!! This is a far, far healthier version of mac and cheese than the classic variety where you dump a box of Velveeta (which I love, despite everything I know about it) in some noodles with milk and butter and call it a day. Sure, it’s delicious but it’s got enough sodium and fat to last three weeks.
There are so many reasons that this recipe rocks. First of all, butternut squash is a superior food. It just is. It’s delicious in everything. It’s easy to prepare, it’s easy to store, it’s high in flavor and low in calories. There’s a reason you see it in so many dishes. Another reason this recipe rocks is how few ingredients you’ll actually need. This stuff tastes gourmet. I have never brought this recipe to a party or function and left without at least one request for the recipe. I hope that people are pleasantly surprised when they find out it’s really just squash, milk, noodles, a bit of cheese, fresh rosemary, and the staples of all meals: garlic, sea salt and black pepper. Breadcrumbs are optional but I never use them for a party dish because they’ll get soggy in the Crock Pot. Unlike regular mac and cheese, the sauce starts out as a solid. You will need to add liquid and find a way to blend the liquid and squash together to make it a creamy sauce. I use my immersion blender. You could use a food processor, a hand-mixer or even a whisk if you’d like.
Finally, this mac and cheese is crazy delicious. I can say without hesitation, I have never had better mac and cheese in my life. Senor has volunteered to bring it to a number of parties and every time, he waits anxiously until everyone has tried some before announcing that it’s made with squash and not cheddar cheese. Last night he reminded me, “It’s one of your best, you know.” So you can take that as a resounding endorsement.
A few notes – you can honestly use as much squash in this recipe as you’d like. I usually around 3 cups of roasted squash but the more you add, the more sauce you’ll have. You may need to add more liquid to keep it smooth. With this recipe, you want a higher sauce-to-noodle ratio than you would with normal mac and cheese. Also, the sauce gets thick FAST. If you like a creamy sauce you may need more liquid. It’s very easy to smooth out the sauce at any time so if you’re worried that it’s a bit too dry, wait until just before serving to add a small amount of water/milk at a time and stirring.
Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese
1 box whole wheat elbow macaroni
1 medium-large butternut squash, peeled and roasted until tender (or 3 boxes of frozen squash puree) (you can’t have too much squash in this recipe!)
2 cups milk
1/2 cup water
2-3 cups shredded mozzarella
3-4 ounces hard, sharp cheese like smoked gouda, parmesan, asiago, etc.
Garlic, salt, black pepper, several sprigs fresh rosemary
*4 Tablespoons nutritional yeast (optional – this adds b vitamins and fiber and also bumps up the cheesy flavor)
*Half a cup Panko bread crumbs (optional – for oven baked option)
For the crock pot or stove top:
Boil the noodles in a small stock pot until just tender. Rinse and drain. (If you plan on using a crockpot, under cook the noodles slightly or they’ll turn to mush.)
In a large sauce pan, combine squash, milk, water, sharp cheese, nutritional yeast over medium heat. Stir in salt, pepper, and a ton of rosemary. To get the sauce smooth I use a stick blender (immersion) to smooth out the squash and finely chop the herbs. You could also use a food processor or a blender. Or, you could chop the rosemary and then use a hand mixer to smooth out the squash. A stick blender is the easiest option.
Let the sauce simmer. Give it a taste now and then and adjust the spices to taste. This sauce thickens very well and rather quickly. If it seems a bit too thick, add more water/milk. Follow directions below for three prep options.
For stove top – combine the noodles and sauce in a stock pot over low heat. Stir to combine. If the sauce is too thick to coat properly, add more liquids. Once the sauce is the right thickness and everything is covered properly, remove from heat and add 2 cups of shredded mozzarella and stir to incorporate. Top each bowl with a light sprinkle of cheese and serve.
For crock pot – Layer the noodles/sauce/shredded cheese into the crock. You will want the sauce to be slightly thinner than the stove top variety. It will thicken quickly. You can also add a bit more water or milk and stir just before serving if it gets too thick. Turn the crock pot onto low and stir occasionally. You may want to add shredded cheese to the top five minutes before serving.
For the broiler – follow the stove top directions. Use oven and broiler-safe bowls to serve the pasta. Top each with shredded mozzarella and a sprinkle of bread crumbs. Place under the broiler for 2-3 minutes until the cheese starts to bubble and brown. This will go quickly from just right to burned, so keep your eye on it.
I stepped away from my tart pan today to bring you one of my other loves. A few years ago I had a mild obsession with butternut squash. I made risotto, fries, soup, ravioli, pastas, salads, you name it I probably made it. My trademark dish is butternut squash lasagna. I make it every year for Christmas…and never any other time. I meant to blog about it last year but in the rush of Christmas cookies, gift wrapping, and other shenanigans, it fell through. I promise to share it this year. It’s really good. And not difficult.
Butternut squash is by far my favorite squash, although it is my very least favorite one to clean. The others like acorn and spaghetti are so much easier because you just cut them in half and scoop out the seeds. Butternut squash have a really horrid shape and when you aren’t just mashing them up, it’s a pain to clean them. To make it easier you can do what I do. Delegate the peeling and cleaning job to your dishwasher. If you’re stuck with the task, don’t worry. It can be made easier. First, buy a tall, straight squash. If you’re just going to roast it and mash it up, go ahead and get a squat, round squash. But if you’re going to use cubes or fries of squash, go for a long one.
Peel the straight portion of the squash and cut it off. Trim the skin off the round section by slicing the skin off with a sharp knife. Set the squash on a cutting board to do this. Spoon out the seeds and you’re all set.
This recipe was completely and totally influenced by the awesome purple sweet potato I bought at the market, on a whim. I am an impluse-market buyer for certain. I bought the squash this weekend, not really knowing what I wanted to make with it but knowing that it was ‘time’ for squash. I figured something would come to me.
This recipe was inspired by the Sweet Potato and Leek Hash that I posted about last spring. Senor loved that breakfast and I’ve made it several time since. Probably not as often as he would have liked though. Instead of pairing the squash and sweet potato with bacon and leeks though, I kept things even simpler. Just a chopped onion and a sprinkle of salt. Sweet and savory meet in your mouth.
The purple sweet potato is actually white on the inside and when cooked, looks almost green. It’s incredibly delicious. I love sweet potatoes and this one did not disappoint. Add in a green veg and you have a perfect meal. I brought leftover to have for lunch today and added some chopped zucchini. Perfect as a main course. Or, you can use it in place of your classic meat and ‘potato’ side dish. This works as a side with eggs, or with a big green salad. You can add a sauteed veggie in there too, just before serving. SO good. I can’t wait to eat my lunch.
Roasted Butternut Squash and Sweet Potatoes
1 large butternut squash
1 large sweet potato
1 red onion
salt, garlic and dried thyme
Peel the squash and sweet potato. Chop both into cubes, slightly bigger than one inch. The smaller the pieces are, the faster they will cook.
Chop the onion. Add the chopped veggies to a 9×13 baking dish. Toss with salt, garlic and thyme. You can always season additionally later, so a light sprinkling covering the tops of the veggies should be enough.
Drizzle olive oil over the top of the chopped pieces. Mix with a spatula until the oil is evenly distributed. Use just enough oil to cover all of the pieces.
Place in the oven at 400º. After 20 minutes, remove the pan and toss/flip the roasting squash and potatoes. Use a thin metal spatula to scrape up any caramelizing bits stuck to the bottom of the pan.
Return to the oven for another 20 minutes. Remove after 40 minutes. Test the squash and potatoes with a fork. They should be soft and easily stabbed. If more seasoning is needed, adjust and taste before serving. Serve with roasted broccoli, sauteed zucchini, grilled chicken, fried eggs or eat it plain.