Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Butternut mac and cheese

Butternut mac and cheese is a hearty, meatless dish that even the pickiest eater will love; so good, they'll never suspect it's healthy!

Healthy butternut mac and cheese

This recipe originally appeared in 2013 on the Kitchen Apparel blog, as part of a blog swap. Since that blog is no longer active, Sandra, its owner, graciously gave permission for me to repost it here at Yankee Kitchen Ninja. We'll miss Sandra's gorgeous photography and healthy recipes but wish her much luck and success in her new endeavors.

As part of the blog swap, given that we planned it for October, we considered making something with pumpkin. Then, as now, we realized that we were already completely sick of pumpkin (and assumed you probably were, too) so instead opened our topic up to all fall squash.

And, out of “all fall squash”, we both ended up making a pasta dish using butternut squash.

But come on, who can blame us? It's the squash that, with a little butter and maple syrup, can nearly taste like candy.

(Not quite like candy, I realize. But more like candy than, say, a paper bag though, right? Bear with me, I tend to be dramatic when it comes to trying to get you to make a recipe I like.)

Sandra's recipe (which I'm happy will live on as part of Yankee Kitchen Ninja!) was a gorgeous, delicious pasta with butternut squash, broccoli and cranberry beans. I urge you to try it. But I also urge you to try this butternut mac and cheese recipe -- it's freakin' awesome, and only partly due to the fact that Mr. Ninj actually ate it.

Little back story: Mr. Ninj is not a fan of vegetables and claims that it's not often the taste but the texture that turns him off (he is genuinely afraid of asparagus in any form). It's sort of like having a 3-year-old picky eater, to which I'm sure many of you can relate. So when he saw the roasted butternut squash sitting on the kitchen counter as I pulled this dish together, he freaked. I assured him that, because it was being incorporated into the cheesy sauce, he'd never even know it was there.

I was lying, of course -- but, holy smokes, it turned out to be true!

Healthy butternut mac and cheese

The mashed squash almost melts into the cheesy sauce, yielding a pasta dish that truly earns its "mac and cheese" monniker. This is like sneaking beets into chocolate brownies: it tastes delicious and comforting and you don't even realize how loaded it is with good-for-you vegetables.

I resisted adding bacon to this butternut mac and cheese this time (believe me, it almost killed me, as I generally refer to myself as a meatasaurus) but if you're not strictly meatless, feel free to throw some cooked chopped bacon in – trust me, you'll be extra happy.

Another thing that's handy about this butternut mac and cheese is that, if you're pressed for time, there's a squash prep shortcut that can make this fast enough for even the busiest night of the week: if you don't have time to oven-roast the squash, simply steam it until soft and mashable in a veggie steamer basket on the stovetop or in your microwave.

That's The Ninj: always looking for a way to help you get those easy weeknight meals on the table as fast as possible.

I say butternut squash trumps pumpkin -- how about you? Leave a comment: The Ninj wants to know.

Healthy butternut mac and cheese

Butternut Mac and Cheese

(adapted from Better Homes and Gardens)
10 ounces curly pasta (something with enough curves to hold the sauce – I used cavatappi)
3 1/2 – 4 cups peeled and diced butternut squash
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 cups sliced mushrooms (about 8 ounces)
1 bunch green onions, thinly sliced and divided
2 tablespoons flour
1 cup skim milk
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
pinch of nutmeg
1 1/2 cups shredded fontina cheese

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Bring a small amount of water to boil in a pot with a veggie steamer placed inside. Add the squash, cover the pot and steam for about 10 minutes or until the squash is very soft when poked with a fork. [NOTE: Alternately, you can roast the squash, tossed with a little olive oil and salt and pepper, on a baking sheet at 450 degrees for about 25 minutes or until mashable. This can be done in advance.] Mash the squash well and set it aside.

Cook the pasta until al dente. While it is cooking, heat the butter and olive oil in a large pan until hot and foamy. Add the mushrooms and ½ cup sliced green onions (more, if you are an onion fan) and cook for a few minutes until tender (the mushrooms will just begin to brown). Add the flour; cook, stirring continually, for about a minute, until the mixture is well combined. Add the milk, salt, pepper and nutmeg and cook until thickened (this only takes a minute or two). Remove the mixture from the heat and stir in the mashed squash, forming a creamy, orange sauce. Add the cooked pasta and stir gently to coat.

Put half the pasta mixture into a prepared 2-quart baking dish and sprinkle with 3/4 cup of cheese. Add the remaining pasta and top with the remaining cheese. Bake for about 20 minutes until the cheese is melted and it looks yummy to you. Serve sprinkled with green onions.
-- print recipe --

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