Butternut Squash Mac ‘n’ Cheese: mac and cheese minus the heart attack

Photo courtesy of dailyspark. But the dish really looks just like that.

Photo courtesy of dailyspark. But the dish really looks just like that.

As mere months old shareholders in our coop, we were delighted to see the notice posted in our lobby for a shareholder’s meeting, which included this postscript: Dinner Will Be Served. I mean…wow. It’s a smallish building, so I didn’t think the catering would cost that much, plus it seemed to be a good way to build building morale and a sense of neighborhood. And it was. It was a good way to get to know the building. And I think that is the right way of saying it: getting to know the building. Not so much the individual people in it, but character of the community. As one would expect from any building meeting, it was lively, sometimes frustrating, but very engaging. Most of the people there were there to listen, some came to talk, some to argue. But all of them came to eat. Since food at a meeting always brings a ‘watering hole effect’, I thought it was genius, to let people eat during the meeting. That way, all are fed and happy and too busy chewing to let any too heated arguments break out. Dessert was saved for the end to let everybody come together again and calm down after hearing about the ten ton of work the building needs money for.

Instead of the bog standard sandwich halves and wraps and the plate of cookies and maybe a ceasar salad bowl, there was soul food. Catered by a really good soul food buffet close by, where I have eaten many times. A dinner meeting with a point of view. Okay. Unfamiliar but very okay. so there was salad, but also mac and cheese, peach cobbler, barbeque chicken and fried chicken and other such goodies. I love the mac and cheese. I don’t know how they get it like that and I don’t want to know. All I know is, ever since then I get cravings for mac and cheese all the time. But I can’t eat it all the time or I’d die of a clogged artery.

Here’s a healthier version for the everyday, non-building-meeting meals.

Oh, also: if you don’t have a dishwasher and want to cut down on pots to wash, make the pasta ahead, cut 4 minutes from the cooking time (instead of the 3 min I recommend below) and when you drain them, run some cold water from the tap over the pasta for a second just enough to stop the cooking.

You’ll need:

  • 1 can of butternut squash puree (14 oz can, or make your own by roasting a peeled squash of sort and then pureeing it yourself. The amount is not critical, but have at least a cup)
  • 1 cup chicken stock (from a bouillon cube, or a can or a box is fine.)
  • 1 1/2 cups 2% milk
  • Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 pound elbow macaroni
  • 4 ounces finely grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese(about 1 cup)
  • 4 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese, finely grated
  • 4 tablespoons Panko crumbs (these are japanese breadcrumbs that are already super crispy. Regular breadcrumbs would work as well, though I’d mix it with a few drops of olive oil to crisp in the oven)

    1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large pot, combine squash, stock, and milk in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer on medium-high heat. Sprinkle in the nutmeg, cayenne, season with salt and pepper. Turn off the heat then stir in the cheeses, but hold back half the Parmesan. Mix till melted.
    2. Meanwhile, cook the macaroni according to package instruction but cook them about 3 minutes less than the box says (they’re going to get a lot more cooking in the oven) Drain but reserve some of the pasta water in case your mixture is too dry. Transfer pasta to the large pot with the squash mixture. Mix and meld.
    3. Lightly coat a 9-inch square baking dish (4 inches deep) with oil or butter. Transfer noodle mixture to dish. Combine breadcrumbs and remaining Parmesan; sprinkle evenly over noodle mixture.
    4. Bake until lightly browned and crisp on top, about 30 minutes.

    This recipe uses so much less fat than traditional mac and cheese and that’s due to using less cheese and cream or milk. But the squash adds to much flavor and color you really won’t miss it. Still, it been known to happen that a few pieces of cut up bacon finds their way into the panko topping. ;-)

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2 Responses to Butternut Squash Mac ‘n’ Cheese: mac and cheese minus the heart attack

  1. Jessie says:

    This appears to be taken from another recipe: http://www.marthastewart.com/337716/macaroni-and-cheese-with-butternut-squas
    I started making this one and found the numerous errors confusing. Regoogled and found the second one. Some steps in the link above, like the tinfoil, will make all the difference in your final meal. Also, this one said “add the cheeses except parmesan” but there is only one other listed. In number two, you’ll see the ricotta. Again, the ricotta is key to the creaminess.

    • Mavis Davis says:

      Hi there! I really appreciate the comment. I didn’t take this from Martha Stewart and I actually think my approach is quite different from theirs… but I certainly got the guidance from several recipes online. Like you probably were, I was trying to find a way to make this dish quickly and with less fat- hence the title “without the heart attack”. Not that a little ricotta cheese would give you a heart attack, but I simply prefer mine without it. You are totally right that it would add creaminess to the dish… but I sacrificed a teeny bit of creaminess to cut out the fat. I don’t like my mac n’ cheese too gooey anyway. There are so many great recipes out there, and this is simply my version. I make this dish as quick dinner, and that is how I mean it to be: quick and easy. I see that the recipe you linked to uses fresh butternut… hm. nice idea to try on a weekend when I have more time! :-) I don’t bother with the whole tin foil thing since I want my mac to brown quickly and have a bit of bite when it’s done (that’s why I recommend completely undercooking your pasta by three minutes first!). A whole hour of baking pasta is not my thing, but I can certainly see how that would make a comforting, mushy dish of noodles. Also, to clarify, I wrote “Add the cheeses except half of the parmesan”. So I meant cheeses to be the cheddar and half the parmesan. I’m sorry for all the confusion, but thank you so much for trying it out! Next time I make it, I’ll try to be aware of how to enumerate steps more clearly. Hope you stop by again!

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