A few weeks ago I had a brilliant idea. I would make a butternut squash sauce with lots of fresh, grated cheese, a healthy version of Mac and Cheese. I even mentioned this award winning idea to a few people, who encouraged me unabashedly. Then I went home and flipped on the computer to check out my idea with Mr. Google. Turns out there are around 8,000 other brilliant chefs who share the same novel idea of butternut squash mac and cheese! Ultimately, I tucked my tail between my legs and moved forward to set my own mark upon the butternut squash mac and cheese phenomenon. As always my motivation was to keep things as simple as possible (fewer ingredients, fewer pots) without compromising taste. This sauce is simply made with steamed butternut squash, onions, a bit of evaporated milk and mustard powder. Then I added lots of grated cheese, Gruyere, Monterey Jack, and cheddar. The sauce is great alone, but it turned out that I had some ground chicken left in my fridge than needed to be cooked asap. So, I sautéed the chicken, added some chopped tomatoes and some of the butternut squash sauce. Mixed it with brown rice pasta and topped the whole thing with more cheese and cooked it until bubbly. I left the casserole dish on the counter. I never served it for a meal. It was done before dinnertime even came around. A scoop here, a fork full there, and it disappeared. It came out great and everyone loved it. It might not have been a new, brilliant idea, but it certain became a family favorite. —heather
butternut squash, peeled and in ½” cubes
medium onion, diced
Gruyere cheese, shredded and divided into 2 half cups
Monterey Jack cheese, shredded and divided into 2 half cups
sharp cheddar cheese, shredded and divided into 2 half cups
box brown rice pasta (I like the one from Trader Joe's
ground chicken or turkey (you can omit this to make it vegetarian)
1 1/2 cups
chopped tomatoes (I use Pomi chopped tomatoes)
In a microwave safe bowl with a vented cover, steam the squash and the onions in a tablespoon of water for about 6 minutes. The squash is cooked when it easily pierces with a knife.
Transfer cooked squash and onions to a blender. Add the evaporated milk and mustard powder and puree until smooth and creamy. Be sure to remove the top from the blender just a bit to let the steam escape.
Add the pureed squash mixture to a heavy bottomed saucepan. Bring to a gentle simmer. With the heat on low, add half a cup of Gruyere cheese and whisk until well incorporated. Then add the Monterey Jack cheese and whisk again. Do the same thing with the cheddar cheese as well.
To Make the Casserole:
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Cook the pasta according to the directions on the box. Drain and set aside.
Heat the oil in a large skillet. When hot, add the ground meat, salt and pepper, and sauté until cooked through (there should not be any pink meat). Add the chopped tomatoes, and the cheese sauce, and cook another 2-3 minutes. Add the cooked pasta, mix well and transfer to a casserole dish. Top with the remaining cheese (you should have ½ cup Gruyere, ½ cup Jack, and ½ cup Cheddar). Put the casserole into the oven for about 20 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Serve hot.