Butternut Squash + Macaroni & Cheese?

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butternutsquash

Somehow, “my” macaroni & cheese has become a favourite among my friends. It’s certainly not my recipe – it’s a Betty Crocker classic. It was the first thing I ever cooked for Adam. In fact – I think what I first fed him was 2 or 3 day old leftovers! I had gotten into a habit when I lived in England, which was the first time I’d ever had to cook for myself on a regular basis, of making enormous batches of mac & cheese to serve as meals for the next week or so. It was a great comfort food and a welcome reminder of home while living abroad. I never considered it a fancy dish by any means, nor did I think it was all that special. Sure, it’s a tasty tasty dish – but it’s comfort food, right? Nothing to write home about. Well, Adam was immediately won over.

When I moved up to Toronto it became my easy out option when we first started to entertain. It was something I knew how to make, and it was good. It was also a great vegetarian option when we were entertaining for people with fairly simple meat-and-potato tastes. Somehow it became a huge hit. People started requesting this infamous mac & cheese, and it’s become a staple at our annual US Thanksgiving Dinner. Go figure.

It’s rare that we bother experimenting with other recipes – but this Butternut Squash Macaroni & Cheese caught my eye. Butternut squash? In mac & cheese? Could it possibly work? I had to give it a try.

Last night we had some good friends over for dinner and thought it a good opportunity to give it a go. The verdict? Yum! It’s got an oddly almost fake looking bright orange colour to it, which comes more from the squash than from the cheese – especially since I mostly used extra-old cheddar, which is white. The flavour is somewhat sweet, and while the butternut squash flavour certainly comes through – it’s somehow not easy to place. When we challenged our guests to place the “secret ingredient,” they guessed pumpkin and sweet potato before coming up with squash.

I’ll definitely make this again. I’ll still serve “my” famous recipe for US Thanksgiving, but I’m glad to have another really tasty mac & cheese recipe to add to my repertoire.

Full recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 1 butternut squash
  • 1 pound elbow macaroni
  • 5 Tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/8 teaspoon of cayenne pepper
  • 1 pound shredded medium sharp cheddar (about 4 cups) – I always use the oldest/sharpest cheddar I can find
  • 1 3/4 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 slice of bread

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Slice squash in half and discard seeds. Place cut side down on a baking sheet and roast for 1 hour until very tender. (Note: You can do this part the day ahead. Makes the day-of part much much easier!)

Make breadcrumbs by putting slice of bread in a food processor and pulsing until it creates fine breadcrumbs.  Set aside.

When squash has cooled, peel skin off and discard. (I scooped out the squash flesh with a big spoon – I found that easier than trying to peel off the skin.)  Puree squash in food processor until it has a smooth consistency.  Set aside.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Boil pasta about 6 minutes until al dente. Drain pasta and set aside.

Melt 4 tablespoons butter (set aside 1 tablespoon) and slowly stir in 1/2 c flour to form a paste.

Off heat, SLOWLY whisk in 2 cups of milk, a little at a time. Return to medium low heat until sauce fully blends and thickens.

Add pureed squash to the thickened sauce.

Add mustard, salt, nutmeg, and cayenne pepper. Set aside 1 cup cheese for the topping. Add the remaining 3 cups, a cupful at a time, alternating with the stock. Taste sauce, adjust seasonings if needed.

Add the pasta to the sauce and toss to coat evenly. Transfer mixture to an oven-safe dish.

Melt the remaining Tablespoon of butter and blend with remaining cup of cheese and the breadcrumbs to form topping. Sprinkle mixture over the macaroni.

Place macaroni under the broiler until topping is nicely browned – about 2-4 minutes. Let stand 10 minutes before serving. (Note: I pre-assembled mine a bit early, so I baked it at about 350° for 15 minutes to reheat it before broiling. You could also do the entire assembly a day ahead, refrigerate, and reheat at 350°, just make sure you don’t put a cold casserole dish in a hot oven. Either pre-heat the oven with the casserole in it, or let it come to room temperature before putting in the oven.)

Serves 8.  (And makes great leftovers!)

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