I love this dish. But I seriously fretted about what to call it.
Because it’s a lighter mac & cheese, but calling it “light mac & cheese” is such a culinary turnoff. Might as well tell folks to chew on some saw dust, eh? “A slimmer mac & cheese” sounds even worse. “Healthy mac & cheese” means zero people will want to make it, much less eat it. “Mac & cheese that is just as delicious as regular mac & cheese and you can’t even tell it has squash in it!” was just getting pathetic. I felt desperate. So I settled on owning up to exactly what it is. And exactly the right (read: wrong) person called me as soon as I’d typed the title of my post.
Meagan. My beloved friend who abandoned me for Washington, D.C. several years ago and who I’ve been attempting to coax back home ever since. She called to catch me up on her weekly goings on, as we do most weekends.
“What are you doing?” she asks.
“I’m working on a new post,” I respond.
“Oooh!” (She’s a Chena Girl cheerleader. LOVE her.) “What’s the recipe?” she asks.
(SUPER. Here we go…) “Um…squash mac & cheese???” I cautiously utter.
“EWWW! Gross. Who would make that?”
SEE?! SEE WHY I FRETTED ABOUT THE NAME OF THIS RECIPE??!! Because of the Meagans in the world.
You see, the Meagans of the world don’t understand that just because you sneak a little squash in a recipe does NOT meant the recipe is ruined! I wish I could explain to everyone JUST HOW INCREDIBLY DELICIOUS THIS MACARONI AND CHEESE IS! Seriously, you can’t even taste the squash, and yet it adds a velvety richness to the dish and allows you to cut out nearly half the butter and cheese. I served it to friends at a dinner party once without telling them it’s healthy little secret until they’d devoured the entire casserole. The proof is in the eating.
I take my blog recipes very seriously. (Ok, I don’t take myself very seriously, but I’m totally serious about my food. Ask anyone who has ever met me, like, ever.) I only post my favorite recipes here, and this mac & cheese fits the bill. What I love about it is that you can serve it two ways. It’s perfect right from the stove top (my nieces demolished it when I served it to them, more than any alien orange-y box mac & cheese concoction– a seriously proud Auntie moment). Or bake it in a casserole dish topped with buttery breadcrumbs and bake until bubbly and golden.
So to the Meagans of the world, I say this: broaden your horizons, and embrace the squash.
(And to one Meagan in particular: remember when you totally hated Brussels sprouts? And I told you that you hadn’t had them cooked the right way and you need to try them roasted? And when you did you loved them and it like totally changed your life forever? Yup. It’s like that.)
See more recipes at chenagirlcooks.blogspot.com
Squash Mac & Cheese
1 pound cavatappi or elbow macaroni
4 cups 2% milk
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter
1/4 cup flour
2 cups shredded gruyere cheese
1 cup shredded extra-sharp cheddar cheese
one 12 ounce package cooked frozen squash, thawed
1 pinch nutmeg (scant 1/4 teaspoon)
1 tablespoon of kosher salt
fresh ground pepper
1 1/2 cups panko breadcrumbs, plus 2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add salt to the water (a heavy 5-finger pinch) and a drizzle of vegetable oil. Add the pasta and cook until al dente (or until there’s a little bite to it- just don’t cook it to mush). Drain the pasta.
Heat the milk in a saucepan, but don’t boil it. Melt the butter in a large pot, add the flour, and stir for 2 minutes with a whisk over medium heat. Add the milk, turn the heat down to medium-low, and whisk until thick and smooth, about 10 minutes (it takes a little longer because you’re using less flour and butter). Be careful to whisk often or the milk can burn on the bottom of the pot. Once thickened, remove from the heat.
Add the cheese, 1 tablespoon of salt, pepper, nutmeg, squash, and macaroni. Stir until combined. At this point, it’s ready to serve as is! Or…
Butter a 9 x 13 inch casserole dish. Pour the mixture into the casserole dish. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter (or substitute 2 tablespoons of olive oil if you prefer) and combine it with the panko breadcrumbs. Top the mac and cheese with the breadcrumbs. Bake for 30-35 minutes until bubbly and browned.
adapted from Barefoot Contessa