Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese

So, for a while now I have been intrigued by the thought of incorporating vegetables into homemade macaroni and cheese. Macaroni and cheese is such a comfort food, yet can so often be so processed and without substance. My “go to” easy version of macaroni and cheese is Annie’s brand. It’s organic and pretty good. I learned of it a few years ago when I spent much of my time babysitting young ones. I have enjoyed it many an evening for an easy supper, yet I knew that there was more to this macaroni story.

Over the last few months, I began venturing into the homemade macaroni and cheese territory and really love what I have discovered! My first attempt was a different recipe than what I will share below. It was okay. I tried to enhance it by adding some shredded zucchini, and again, it was okay. Definitely a little more nutritious, but not amazing. I even gave a frozen batch of that to friends who had just brought a baby into their family. I don’t know that they were impressed! I wanted amazing. Amazing nutrition and amazing taste. I had heard of butternut squash macaroni for some time and wanted to try it, but had never taken the plunge. 2011 was really the first year I have ever even bought and cooked butternut squash, and I have fallen in love. It’s so richly colorful and so good for you.

I used the recipe from Tyler Florence’s cookbook, Start Fresh, as my guide. (Great cookbook by the way!)

Here’s what it involves…I halved a large butternut squash, took out the seeds, and then got it ready to bake. He recommends putting it cut side up on a baking sheet, drizzling it with olive oil, and then sprinkling salt and pepper and roasting it at 400 degrees for 30-40 minutes or so. I think you can also roast it cut side down in a little bit of water if you prefer. You just want to cook the squash long enough, so that is tender enough that you can scrape it from the skin once it has cooled.

Meanwhile, bring salted water to a boil and cook the pasta.

Once the squash is cool enough, scrape from skin into a food processor. Since I used such a large squash, I froze half of the roasted squash (once I scraped it from the skin), so that I can easily make this in the future without roasting another squash. Add milk (about 1/2 cup. I used 1% milk, and he recommended whole milk). Puree until smooth. Add the squash puree to the pasta and stir together. At this point I went ahead and stirred in some grated cheddar cheese rather than saving all the cheese solely for the top. I think extra cheese makes just about everything better!

Grease baking dish and spread pasta mixture in it and top with additional cheese (I used cheddar; he recommended Monterey jack). Bake at 350 degrees until cheese is melted and top turns golden.

It was AMAZING!!! Next time I will make it with whole wheat pasta to add a little more nutrition. I forgot salt and pepper, and it definitely needed a little bit. This is so good for adults and kids alike. I am fairly confident that it is my new “go to” mac and cheese recipe. A little more work for sure than boxed versions, but well worth it!

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