Creamy Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese

Butternut squash mac and cheese is not a new concept by any means, but it's one I've definitely been wanting to try for a long time.

The premise is that it's a somewhat healthier version of the classic macaroni and cheese recipe because it swaps out a good portion of cheese for pureed butternut squash.

The base of the sauce is the pureed squash so there is no need to create a flour-and-butter-and-milk-laden bechamel, which again helps with the health factor.

To be honest, I was less seduced by the alleged health factor, than by the fact that it provided the answer to the limited ingredients in my end-of-the-week refrigerator; I only had a 1/2 lb of cheese and no milk on hand but was seriously craving a bowl of cheesy pasta.

I also happened to have a butternut squash perched at the end of my counter, just waiting to be used.

And so I did.

There are a few methods for making the butternut squash base; some prefer to roast the squash and then puree it with milk and stock, but I went with a simmered version based on an old Martha Stewart recipe that I found pretty simple. For the cheese, I used some stinky raclette in my dish (it was on sale when I bought it), but a good extra-sharp cheddar would be much more appropriate. And less stinky. I also used whole wheat pasta because it's really the only kind of pasta I ever use; I'm not under any illusions that it's really all that much better, but I figure even a smidge of less-refined-ness is better than nothing.

A word of warning.  I'm a stovetop mac and cheese girl all the way. 

At the end of my recipe, you could conceivably top it off with bread crumbs, grated cheese, and butter, and pop it all in the oven for 20 or so minutes until bubble and crunchy on top, but I didn't. Because I can't stand breadcrumbs in my macaroni and cheese. I've literally never understood the appeal.

Perhaps it's because I grew up eating Velveeta Shells & Cheese and Stouffer's (my mom made most things homemade, but mac and cheese was not one of her dishes) so I associate the comfort factor with a bowl of creamy pasta, not that crumbly topping so many people prefer.

Either way, if you prefer that crunch top, feel free, but I honestly love the simplicity (and instant satisfaction) of being able to eat it as soon as I mix the sauce in.

Unlike regular mac and cheese recipes, which tend to congeal into a solid mass once refrigerated, this version stays creamy and moist for days.

I've been scooping out big spoonfuls of it to enjoy for lunch this week, and the texture has never once failed; a fantastic discovery as it means I can add it to my list of recipes that are great for making on the weekend in advance of a long and busy week. (I've even learned, while impatiently waiting for the microwave to do its thing, that it also tastes good cold!)

You're probably wondering about the flavor. It definitely tastes like normal macaroni and cheese! There is a tiny hint of underlying sweetness, but the creamy, cheesy flavor is there, and with the addition of spices, it's difficult to tell there is anything else hidden in the mix.

I honestly love it, but I will confess that my husband, who professes to hate butternut squash, wouldn't eat more than a bite of it. I think it was the fault of the stinky raclette, though; I intend to make this again with just cheddar and will see what he thinks.

*****
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Creamy Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese Recipe
Adapted from a recipe by Martha Stewart Living
Print this Recipe
Ingredients
1 medium sized butternut squash (about 2 1/2 pounds)
3-4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
3-4 fresh sage leaves
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground mustard powder
1 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (more if you'd like additional heat)
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 pound extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated (can also use gruyere, fontina, or other semi-soft cheese)
1 pound whole wheat elbow macaroni


Directions
Peel butternut squash with a vegetable peeler, then cut in half. Scoop out seeds and chop the remaining squash into 1" pieces. Combine in a medium saucepan with the chicken broth, making sure the broth covers the squash completely. Add the sage leaves and bring all to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer uncovered for about 20 minutes or until squash is fork tender.

While the squash cooks, bring a large pot of water to a rapid boil. Add the pound of whole wheat macaroni and cook according to packaged directions until al dente (about 8 minutes). Drain and set aside.

Drain squash, while reserving the chicken broth. Add the cooked squash and sage to the blender or food processor and process in batches until smooth, adding about a cup of the reserved chicken broth. Return the pureed squash to a medium pot over low heat and add the heavy cream, spices, and grated cheddar, stirring until the cheese is melted and the sauce is completely smooth (you will see tiny bits of the pureed squash if you look closely, but that's OK). Tip: If this sauce looks too thin and watery, just simmer it a bit to evaporate some of the liquid.

Pour the sauce over the cooked pasta and stir until well combined. Taste and adjust seasoning, then serve. This can be made up to two days in advance, and will keep well in the refrigerator in an air-tight container for about one week.

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