Last week, I had an epiphany.
It was 7:00 o’clock on a Tuesday night, I was pulling a casserole dish out of the oven, and my friend Lydia had come over for dinner.
7:00 o’clock Tuesday, exactly, was right when I had my epiphany:
Creamy Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese.
I’m not gonna lie, I was incredibly skeptical when I first started making it. Butternut squash (in my experience) can have an overbearing flavor when prepared incorrectly. Sure, it’s creamy, golden, and beautiful, but I can only eat so much of it without the help of a little butter.
But, as per my resolutions to figure out little ways to eat healthier, I had to try my favorite comfort food whether it meant vegetables or not.
What I love about this recipe is how incredibly simple it is to switch from the fat-laden world of two pounds of cheese (as with my past recipes here and here) to the more healthful world of half cheese, half squash. Simply bring the squash to a boil in milk and broth and let the steam do the tenderizing and work. Once tender, the squash can be pureed in a food processor (or blender) and whipped together with the cheese you will be using (no flour, butter, or oily roux here; just squash, cheese, and steam).
When we finally sat down to eat, I couldn’t get over the enhanced flavors in this dish. Normally, Macaroni and Cheese is a bit two dimensional—pasta + cheese. After a few bites, the palate fails to pick up on new flavors, and I know from plenty of experience that I tend to go on autopilot scarfing down the flour-y carbs.
But, in this version, the butternut squash brings life to other ingredients in the dish that may fail to be actualized when you’re tasting it. The macaroni only has a subtle “squash-like” flavor, and it’s noticeably lighter and heavenly, leaving less room for guilt when you clean your plate.
At one point, Lydia looked over at me, startled, and said, “I think I like this better than regular Macaroni and Cheese.”
I agreed emphatically.
Creamy Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese is not some health food fad version of a classic American dish. It’s something entirely different—it’s better…creamier…more flavorful. It’s something I can’t wait to make again. —Helana Brigman
- Serves 8
butternut squash, peeled and cubed into 1 to 1 1/2 inch pieces
1 1/2 cups
milk (I used skim), plus more as necessary
1 1/4 cups
chicken or vegetable broth, plus more as necessary
garlic, minced or pressed
macaroni, cooked according to package instructions
freshly grated Parmesan cheese
crumbled Bleu Cheese
Panko bread crumbs, to garnish
- 1.) Peel and cube butternut squash and set aside. In a non-stick, medium-sized saucepan, bring the milk, broth, and garlic to a simmer. Add squash and season with salt and pepper. Cover with a lid and simmer until squash is tender (about 20 to 25 minutes).
- 2.) Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350F and prepare elbow macaroni according to package instructions. Remember to keep the two rules of pasta in mind: 1.) the water should taste like “sea water” (so the pasta has flavor) and 2.) the pasta should be cooked al dente (firm, but still tender). Strain and reserve for cheese sauce (do not rinse in cold water).
- 3.) When squash is tender, remove from heat and transfer to a food processor (or blender). Pulse until pureed (about 30 seconds, or until mixture is smooth and well-blended—be careful! Your mixture will be hot!), and pour puree into a bowl. Mix in Parmesan and Bleu cheese and fold in macaroni. Pour macaroni and cheese into a greased baking dish (about 9 x 13 inches will do), garnish with Panko bread crumbs, and bake until golden and bubbly on top (about 20 minutes). Remove from oven and rest for several minutes before serving.