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.