Turn on your oven, pull on your favorite sweater, and choose a new show on Netflix to chain watch because fall is here.
To make it feel even more like fall, we’re making Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese! We’re going to take a butternut squash and turn it into a cheesy sauce for pasta. I promise you’re going to want to make this at least once this fall!
Is this a “reduced guilt” Macaroni and Cheese? Is it a decadently rich permutation of a perfectly healthy butternut squash? Whatever it is, it’s good. So good that Owen won’t share with our friends; that’s a sign of a successful recipe. If I had the metabolism, I would eat this Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese all day and not even bother running to burn the calories and guilt off. I actually forced myself to go to Crossfit every day that I ate this, just so I could sleep at night. No matter, if you’re only good at marathoning Netflix shows like me, this dish is still for you. Make it is as veggie heavy or as cheesy as you like. There are so many variations of this Macaroni and Cheese that we’ve tried and we loved them all!
Before I devolve into a basic teenage girl with my North Face, Uggs, and PSL, I want to show you that I can control myself and the next 15 posts will not all be pumpkin spice themed. I’m not promising to keep this a pumpkin free zone since it’s been one of my favorites since childhood. I’ve loved it before it was cool! Before the term “basic” even existed. (Ugh. It’s just like how I knew who Adele was before she blew up on Top 40!)
Start by picking out the biggest and heaviest butternut squash at your store or farmers market. Make sure it doesn’t have too many nicks or cuts that go through to the flesh, matte skin, and a dry stem. Be smart about how you buy them. Trader Joe’s likes to sell items one by one so definitely rummage through the bins to find the huge ones. On the other hand, my local farmer’s market sells them by the pound, so I pick ones that would be easy to prep. I prefer the ones that don’t vary in size too much from top to bottom. Peel your squash and cut into 1 inch cubes. If you are unsure how to best tackle your gourd, take a peek below at how I broke mine down. There are many ways to do this, and this is simply one of them. You can also watch how Good Housekeeping breaks down butternut squash.
- Cut the top and bottom of the squash off to create a flat base. Slice the squash in half lengthwise. Remove seeds with a spoon.
- Lay the squash cut side down. Section the squash into half cylinders. You want to be able to stand the section on its base and slice straight down or with minimal turning to remove the skin. I divided mine where the neck met the base.
- Slice into 1 inch half moons. Cube them into uniform 1 inch pieces. Cut the base ones that held the seeds radially. The ones from the neck will probably need to be sliced in more of a grid pattern.
Toss with oil, salt and fresh lemon thyme. You can use oregano, rosemary, or whatever herb you like. I have a huge bucket of lemon thyme growing like crazy on my patio so I clipped a handful of sprigs to roast with the squash. Roast on a sheet pan for 30 minutes on 350 F, or until they caramelize and cook through. Halfway through their time in the oven, I like to give them a toss with my spatula so as much surface area touches the pan as possible, giving us more of those delicious brown bits of fond!
Disclaimer! This photo below is all the squash crammed onto one pan. I used two half sheet pans for this amount of squash. Don’t crowd your pan, they need some room to breathe and roast. A crowded pan will steam your veggies and cook slower. Definitely not what you want.
While your squash is happily baking away and your house gets nice and toasty, boil a large pot of salted water. Cook your pasta until it’s 3 minutes from al dente. We want to undercook the pasta since it’s going to spend some time in the pot with the sauce incorporating and we don’t want to overcook the noodles. I used a whole wheat pasta and let them cook for about 9 minutes before pulling them out, draining them, and letting them sit in a cold water bath. If you drain the pasta in a colander, you can just place the the whole thing in bowl of cold water without having to fish out each piece individually.
Choose a pasta that will hold onto a good amount of sauce. I like to use fusili pasta because the spirals can trap a lot of that yummy sauce. Any short cut pasta like farfalle, elbow macaroni, shells or radiatore would work well but I would stay away from long pastas. Spaghetti and similar pastas would get tangled in the thick sauce and become difficult to work with and eat. If you need to brush up on your pasta shapes and uses, take a peek at the National Pasta Association’s list or watch Alton Brown explain what pasta to pair with which sauce! (start at 3:27)
Once you see all those wonderfully dark and crispy edges on your butternut squash, it’s time to pull them out. I snacked on at least a cup of the roasted squash while cooking, for quality testing purposes, of course! Set them aside while you dice up some onions and garlic. I’m of the camp of “never enough onions and garlic” so take this recipe with a grain of salt. I used sweet onions and a head of garlic. I’m not trying to impress anyone. Give me all the aromatics! Let those cook down in a large pot until they start to caramelize and darken. Turn off the heat and transfer the roasted butternut squash in the pot. Without some liquid, the squash and onions will be hard to blend. I used a couple cups of whole milk, but you can use veggie stock, chicken stock, or even cream! I like to leave any milk that I’m cooking with out so it can come to room temperature. You don’t want it to curdle as soon as it hits anything extremely hot.
While the pot and its contents are still warm, buzz up all the wonderful squash and aromatics with an immersion blender. This eliminates using and cleaning a cumbersome kitchen tool and saves all that precious fond, so I always opt to blend directly in the pot. Just be careful not to scratch up your nonstick or enamel coating. I’m not one to buy novel kitchen gadgets to only have them gather dust, but mine has been so useful! I don’t have anything fancy and the newer version of my immersion blender has 2 speeds, so take a look if you are considering getting one.
If you don’t have an immersion blender, just simply do everything in your blender or food processor. Pour the onions, milk and squash directly into the blender. You might have to do a couple batches, depending on the volume it can hold.
Onto the best part of this Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese, the cheese! You can buy blocks or shredded cheese, just use whatever you like the most. I chose a sharp Wisconsin cheddar as well as a sharp white cheddar. I’m sure many cheeses pair would work well, such as parmesan or goat cheese, so give them a try! Once all your cheese is shredded, start slowly folding it into the squash mixture. The residual heat should be enough to melt the cheese into the squash. If it doesn’t seem to be melting, you can turn the heat back on to low. Be careful when the heat is on because this mixture will pop and spatter hot cheesy squash everywhere when you’re not stirring. I’ve been burned by this before.
After your cheese is completely melted into your squash mixture, fold in the cooked and cooled pasta. You’ll have to gently stir the pot to get the squash to stick to the pasta. If you notice below, I messed up and didn’t have enough fusili for my recipe and had to use some penne. It doesn’t taste any different, it just took an extra 15 minutes to cook the penne. Don’t cook different shaped pasta together because they will most likely need different cooking times!
Serve your Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese piping hot to eager friends, family, or lurking boyfriends that have been watching you from the couch while they study. We ate our first batch with meatballs, parsley and arugula. Some other fabulous variations of this dish’s leftovers are:
- Panko topped and baked in a pyrex – The cheese gets so bubbly and crispy. Amazing.
- Mac & Cheese stuffed peppers – Yeah. I shoved leftover cheesy mac into a seasoned bell pepper and baked the whole thing. The sweet peppers complement the slight sweet squash.
- Tossed with arugula, sliced cherry tomatoes, and red onion – A lighter option with spicy greens and juicy tomatoes to cut through the rich pasta.
Chances are you want to make a huge batch of this Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese and keep it around for the week, so here are some storage tips and tricks to ensure your pasta is optimally cheesy and delicious.
- Keep the sauce and pasta separate for leftover storage. Once the Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese cools, it’s pretty much a solid brick. You’ll have to cut into it, breaking the pasta, to get it out of the tupperware. I suggest heating up the sauce first, then mixing in your pasta and only heating up as much as you’re serving. This way your pasta will stay whole and pretty.
- Add some liquid to the sauce when reheating. Chances are your sauce will be too thick and you’ll need to loosen it up with some milk or stock. Just remember to add in a little more salt to season the extra liquid.