Butternut Squash and Pumpkin Mac and CheesePosted: October 28, 2012
Oh, squash season, how I love thee. I take any chance I can get to squeeze squash into dishes this time of year. And this was opening day for the butternut squash in our home. I am honestly somewhat shocked I didn’t eat the entire thing straight off of the roasting pan and there was some left to make this. Ah, willpower not to inhale a multi-pound vegetable all at once.
Though I love the mix of sweet and savory dishes, Andy doesn’t quite as much, so I did my best to minimize the inherent sweetness of the butternut squash by also adding its much less sweet cousin, the pumpkin. I threw in onions and bacon too (because when should you NOT use them, really?), which have sweet undertones that don’t clash with the squash, but make the dish heartier and more savory. And, if I do say so myself, (and I do) I really knocked this one out of the park. Holy squashcheesygoodness.
This is so creamy and cheesy, you don’t even realize all the vitamins it’s packed with. Vegetables are tricky like that. And, a bonus with really creamy sauces is that you can pair it whole grain pasta and you can’t tell a difference. Now, I’m not a hater on the whole grain pasta, but it is always noticeably slightly weird (for lack of a better term) with light tomato sauces. Or maybe it’s just me.
In my experience, shells hold onto hearty sauces better than macaroni, which why the title is “mac and cheese” not the full “macaroni and cheese.” Like when fast food places use “beef-y” or “chick-n” so as not to mislead you into thinking it’s real beef or chicken. This is “mac,” not actual macaroni and now you can’t turn me in for misleading you.
1 small butternut squash
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
6 strips bacon (I used turkey bacon)
1 small onion, finely diced
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese*
1/3 cup grated Mozzarella cheese*
1/3 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese*
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese*
2 2/3 cup milk (2% or whole)
2 T butter
3 T flour
1/3 cup Panko breadcrumbs
1 15-oz box whole wheat pasta shells
Extra virgin olive oil
*Any cheese you may have on hand would work, as long as you end up with 2 cups total, but it would be best with a mix of mild and sharp cheeses.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Slice butternut squash vertically with a large knife. A good trick for ease of cutting is to microwave the squash for 30 seconds before slicing. Spoon out seeds and pulp and discard. Lightly coat with olive oil and season well with salt and pepper. Place skin side up on a large baking sheet and bake for 35-45 minutes, or until the center is tender. Once it has cooled enough to handle, scoop out squash and mash to a puree with a spoon. Set aside 2 cups of puree for recipe (if any remains, eat as a side dish with another meal: “mashed squash”—yum!) Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees.
While squash is roasting, prepare pasta according to directions on box and set aside. Cook bacon in a small pan, crumble and set aside. Then, in the same pan, saute onions over medium-low heat with a sprinkle of salt and pepper using 1 T of the bacon grease to cook them in. Set aside.
Then, it’s time to get the sauce going! Heat butter over medium heat in a heavy saucepan. Slowly whisk in flour. Once it is mixed, slowly stir in the milk. Once all milk is added, turn heat to high and continue to whisk for about two more minutes until sauce thickens. Add all cheeses, reserving 1/2 cup cheese mixture for the top. Once cheese is melted, stir in both pumpkin and squash puree, onions and bacon. Salt and pepper to taste, then pour over cooked pasta and stir to combine. Transfer into 9X13 baking dish and top with remaining cheese and breadcrumbs. Bake for 20-30 minutes until cheese is melted and center is very warm.
Now enjoy the amazingly creamy, cheesy, vibrantly-colored mess of deliciousness that also happens to be good for you. Which, of course, is always justification for an extra helping.