Most families I know (ours included) keep a few boxes of mac and cheese in the pantry for those nights when you don’t have a ton of time to cook, or just need something fast and easy. You could use one of those to make this super creamy and healthy dish, but it really is just as fast and easy to do from scratch with a few very basic ingredients that you probably already have on hand. Once you try this method, you’ll realize just how much of a rip-off the boxes are!
Yield: 3-4 large servings Time: 1 hour baking time (can be done ahead), 15 mins hands on
baking sheet, parchment paper, large pot, collander or strainer, whisk
1 butternut squash
2-3 T solid fat (butter, lard, bacon fat, tallow, duck fat, refined coconut oil)
2-3 T flour (almost any kind will work from whole wheat to tapioca for those who need GF)
1 – 1 1/2 c whole milk and/or heavy cream (vegans: nut/seed/rice, etc milks will work too)
3-4 oz cheese (this provides most of the flavor, so use a good one: parmesan, asiago, gruyere, smoked gouda, all work well. Vegans: use a few T of nutritional yeast)
salt & pepper, to taste
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg (optional)
1 tsp fresh grated lemon zest (optional)
dried or fresh pasta of your choice
Preheat your oven to 375 F. Using a large, sharp knife, slice the stem end off and cut the butternut squash in half from the stem end down to the fat blossom end, or base. Use a metal spoon to scoop out the seeds and place both halves, cut side down, on a parchment lined baking sheet and put them in the preheated oven. Bake 40-60 minutes, depending on size of squash, until flesh is tender and can be pierced with a fork easily. Remove from oven, turn squash pieces cut side up and scoop out the soft cooked flesh. You can do this ahead of time and refrigerate the cooked squash until ready to use.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil on your stove and add the pasta, cooking according to directions. Pour water and cooked pasta into your collander or strainer over the sink and do a quick cold water rinse to stop the pasta from continuing to cook and prevent sticking. Place your now empty pot back on the stove, add your fat and turn heat down to medium low. Almost any fat will do, so long as it’s solid at room temp–vegetable oil will not work; animal fats are ideal. Once the fat has melted and is starting to bubble, dust your flour over the surface of the melted fat and quickly whisk together, allowing it to cook for several minutes. While still whisking, slowly pour your milk or cream into the pot. If your sauce is bubbling while you are still whisking, turn the heat down lower and continue to cook and whisk until you get the consistency you want. If it’s too thin, keep cooking and whisking; if it’s too thick, add a little more milk. Add about 1 cup of the cooked squash flesh to your sauce and whisk it all together until creamy again. Turn heat off but keep pot on the warm burner and add your salt, pepper, nutmeg, lemon zest and grate your cheese into the pot. Stir it all together gently with a wooden spoon and pour your cooked pasta back into the pot, mixing gently again to combine and coat the pasta. Feel free to add some frozen peas, or serve your pasta with a salad or some sauteed veggies.
What to do with your leftover squash? Start soaking some dried beans right now, rinse them in the morning and cook on low in your crockpot all day, then make your favorite chili substituting the squash for tomatoes. Or, make a pie, substituting your butternut squash for the canned pumpkin (if you don’t have evaporated milk, use cream instead).