Butternut mac and cheese
Butternut Mac and Cheese: a healthier, more nutritious and extra flavourful take on the traditional mac and cheese.
- 400 gr peeled butternut squash or pumpkin
- 2 tbsp butter or olive oil
- 1 large onion
- 1 small branch fresh thyme
- 2 tbsp wheat flour or rice flour, if gluten-free
- 400-500 ml oat or soya milk unsweetened!
- black pepper
- grated mozzarella or emmental or vegan cheese
- 320 gr cooked macaroni or rigatoni
- grated parmesan cheese vegan: nutritional yeast + drizzle of lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 220ºC.
Peel and slice the butternut squash lengthwide. Scoop out the seeds and chop into equal-sized cubes (2-3 cm length). Bake over baking paper or a silicone sheet for 20 mins or until soft. In the meantime…
Let's make the béchamel sauce. Heat up a pan to medium heat, add the butter or oil and the chopped onion. Sauté until golden and slightly caramelise. Add the fresh thyhme leaves here.
Add the flour and mix well until it becomes a thick paste.
Gradually and slowly, add the milk while you keep stirring with a wooden spoon or a spatula. Once you've poured in all the milk, allow it to cook until the sauce becomes smooth and dense. Turn off the heat.
At some point during the preparation, start getting your pasta ready: boil it, strain it and add 1 tsp olive oil so it doesn't stick together. Set aside for later.
When the butternut squash is tender and soft… Pour the sauce into a tall container. Add the salt, pepper and nutmeg, along with the roasted butternut squash (only the desired amount, save the rest for another recipe).
Blend until smooth, return the now orange sauce to the pan, heat it up for 1 minute then add the cheese and turn off the heat. Allow the cheese to melt slowly and stir it in so it blends in with the sauce.
Add the pasta to the pan and mix well. Serve immediately with a grated hard cheese on the side and freshly ground black pepper.
- Double or triple the sauce amount to make a bigger batch. Save the sauce you don’t use for later: lasagna, bakes, other pasta dishes, as a sauce… You name it.
- If you have little time…
- Microwave the butternut squash cubes (less caramelisation, but still OK)
- Skip the onion and make the béchamel simply with a fat, flour and milk.
How to store leftovers
- Keep in the fridge for up to 3-4 days.
Food helps me connect deeper with nature and its cycles. When I use seasonal ingredients I become acquainted with the colours, textures and flavours of the season. When I peel, chop and heat, I become more aware of what the soil is so generously providing us with, moment to moment, season to season. It is this connection and awareness that elevates cooking, it makes it an almost spiritual, ritualistic practice. Just a little food for thought!
I truly hope you enjoy this butternut mac and cheese as much as we did at home. This is a truly delicious comfort food that can make everybody at home happy: the young, the old and the in-betweeners.
You might already know (or love) mac and cheese. If you do, feel free to skip this section. And if you’re curious, stick around. Macaroni and cheese are a staple of American cuisine, a tasty comfort food that is savoury, creamy and very very cheesy.
What is Mac and Cheese?
Truth is, I’ve only eaten mac and cheese once or twice, most probably when I lived in New York in 2011. They are usually prepared with small elbow macaroni mixed in a luscious sauce made with bechamel and cheese (usually Cheddar and Gruyère). Typically baked in a casserole-style tray and sometimes topped with breadcrumbs to invite that golden crunchiness. You can make it from scratch, or buy a packaged mix for simplified preparation (this latter has been a very popular format in North America, because of how cheap and practical it is).
Mac and Cheese through the historic lense
It said that Thomas Jefferson (US president #3) fell for creamy macaroni when he went to Paris. He requested his chef, James Hemings, to put together a version of it for a state dinner in 1802, where the dish was “a pie called macaroni”. From then on, the “macaroni and cheese” fever took off: versions of this dish started to appear in cookbooks during the 19th century. As ingredients became cheaper and more accessible, mac and cheese became available and lost its “upper-class appeal”.
Despite it being considered a North-American dish though, we should take a few steps back in time if we want to find the origin of pasta casserole dishes. The oldest written evidence of a pasta and cheese casserole dish dates back to the 14th century: a Parmesan and pasta dish in an Italian cookbook called Liber de Coquina. Pasta dishes found their way to other countries, and in 1769 the first modern recipe for mac and cheese was recorded in The Experienced English Housewife, where she used a mix of Béchamel sauce and cheddar cheese (known as Mornay sauce in French cooking). Most probably, Jefferson tried a somewhat similar dish in Paris.
Kraft Macaroni & Cheese was the first brand to sell them in a packaged mix format in 1937. Back then it was introduced as “make a meal for four in 9 minutes”. This became a quick success both in the US and Canada, especially as the effects of the Great Depression were still very much present. During World War II, with food rationing, this type of products gained even more traction – you could get 2 boxes of Kraft Mac & Cheese for 1 food ration stamp.
Butternut mac and cheese: healthy, nutritious and sweet
This butternut mac and cheese version is slightly healthier, more nutritionally interesting and with extra flavour. It has become quite popular to use butternut squash, due to its orange colour (giving it a Cheddar-look) and natural creaminess. The recipe is simple:
- Roast your butternut squash
- Make béchamel sauce
- Mix both and add cheese
- Boil macaroni and mix with sauce
- Healthier: we incorporate vegetable into the dish (butternut squash)
- Nutritionally interesting: more proportion of veg and less bechamel (flour) and cheese (fats).
- Extra flavour: a tad sweeter thanks to our gorgeous butternut squash, and with a herbal note from the thyme.
Other butternut squash recipes
You might not use the entire butternut squash, so here are some beautiful recipes that might serve as inspiration:
- Butternut squash soup with rosemary croutons
- Butternut squash pizza
- Butternut squash & sunflower seeds paté
You could also bake the whole butternut squash in cubes and add them to your salads, frittatas or stews.
IN YOUR KITCHEN
If you try this recipe, please let me know how it went in the comments section.
If you share it on social media, I’d love to see it! Tag me @silvia.cooks and use #SilviaCooks.
Baked Macaroni and cheese casserole with Cheddar and Gruyère (Serious Eats)
Macaroni and cheese (Wikipedia)
Marvelous Macaroni and Cheese (Smithsonian Magazine)