Waiting for the "right time". It's an excuse that's been used for ages to put off everything from breaking up with someone to having a baby. Procrastination is one of those tricky little techniques we use to put off something we're just not sure we're ready to handle. Why I chose to apply this to an easy-to-make, extremely tasty pasta dish is the question of the century. See, I've been waiting for the ever illusive "right time" to make this, which means that instead of enjoying this delicious mixture of tender squash and cheesy pasta, the recipe's been sitting in a folder for years! I present my experience as a cautionary tale, so learn from me guys. Get yourself to the store, pick up some butternut squash while it's still in season and make this asap! (you'll notice that I'm quite good at telling others what to do, not so much for myself!)
When I was pregnant with my daughter, I had about 6 months of really awful all-day sickness. One of the few things that I could tolerate for some strange reason was mac and cheese so I ate it a lot for several months, so much so, that I kind of made myself sick of it in the figurative sense (thankfully, not in the way that that little bundle of joy affected my digestive track!!) Because of that and the strange fact that our two oldest kids didn't like pasta as little kids, I rarely made mac and cheese or any pasta until recently. Now that everyone loves it again, I'm making up for it with this Stovetop Mac and Cheese-Light Version and this new, incredibly seasonally appropriate butternut squash version. Either way, you can't go wrong and both are a snap to prepare!
You start by combining squash, chicken or vegetable stock and milk and boiling them together until the squash is tender, eventually mashing everything together with some spices.
While the macaroni is cooking, you place shredded sharp cheddar cheese, grated Parmesan and creamy ricotta cheese into a large bowl and eventually combine the squash mixture, pasta and cheese mixture and spoon into a baking dish.
You top the dish with some breadcrumbs mixed with Parmesan and olive oil and bake for about 1 hour.
What emerges is a light but cheese-y comfort dish, enhanced with the wonderful flavor of butternut squash. The crusty top is irresistible, especially when combined with the creamy pasta beneath. It's perfect for cool autumn nights.
You can throw together a simple salad and dinner will be complete. We all loved this and I know if will become a regular part of the fall dinner rotation--now is definitely the "right time" for this. How about tonight?!!
Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese
Makes 6 servings
Prep Time: 30 minutes (10 minutes active): Bake Time: 1 hour
- 1 butternut squash (about 1 pound-mine was a bit over that, it's ok), peeled, seeded and cubed (you can definitely buy the already cut up and cubed version to save even more time)
- 1 cup low-sodium chicken stock
- 1 1/2 cups skim milk
- Pinch of cayenne pepper
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- Black pepper to taste
- 1 pound elbow macaroni
- 4 ounces extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated (about 1 cup)
- 4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided
- 2 tablespoons breadcrumbs
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
1. Preheat oven to 375ºF.
2. Into a medium saucepan, place the cubed squash, chicken stock and milk. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Then lower the heat to medium and cook for about 20 minutes, until the squash is tender and can easily be pierced with a fork. Remove from the heat and use a potato masher to mash the mixture so that it's smooth. Add the cayenne, salt and some black pepper to taste and stir well. Set aside.
3. While the squash is cooking, bring a large pot of salted water to boil and cook macaroni for about 8 minutes so that it's al dente, Drain and transfer to a large bowl. Mix in the mashed squash mixture, cheddar, ricotta and 2 tablespoons of the Parmesan. Combine well.
4. Spray a 9-inch square baking dish with vegetable cooking spray or grease with butter and pour the mixture into the dish and spread evenly. In a separate small bowl, mix together the breadcrumbs, olive oil and remaining Parmesan and sprinkle evenly over the pasta in the baking dish.
5. Cover the dish tightly with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Then uncover and continue baking for 30-40 minutes longer, until the top is lightly browned and crisp. Serve right away.
6. Entire dish can be made one day ahead and kept covered in the refrigerator. Just reheat until hot throughout or make the dish through Step 4, cover tightly with aluminum foil, chill and then bring to room temperature before cooking--you may need to tack on a few minutes to the cooking process, but it'll be great that way too and is a good timesaver. Leftovers last several days kept in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Note: Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart. I cut the pinch of nutmeg from the recipe and used a bit more squash.