Half of the time I'm cooking with squash puree I'm trying to sneak it in and half the time I'm trying to feature it. When it comes to blending in, sauces are the way to go, with squash mac and cheese the cream of the crop. Not only does butternut squash blend perfectly with color-wise with (yellow) cheddar cheese, but it's silky texture gives the sauce body and richness without the need for cream. Using a combination of three distinctive cheeses gives the sauce real character and depth of flavor, blending seamlessly with the squash. No baked mac and cheese would be complete without a layer of crunchy breadcrumbs on top, and I opted for whole wheat panko blended with Parmesan, the perfect crunchy, savory complement to the rich and cheesy glory it rests upon. A classic comfort food healthified without loss of flavor or texture, this meal is a great to way to the feed the family and stave off the winter blues.
Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese
adapted from Cooking Light
1 cup butternut (or other winter) squash puree
3/4 cup skim milk
2 garlic cloves, pressed through a garlic press
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (2.5 ounces) shredded smoked or sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated Pecorino Romano cheese
2 tablespoons (0.5 ounce) finely grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided
8 ounces uncooked whole wheat rotini, macaroni or other small pasta
1/4 cup whole wheat panko or regular breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon olive oil
Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 375°. Spray a 9 x 9-inch baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.
2. Cook pasta two minutes less than directed on the package, drain and set aside, reserving 1 to 2 cups pasta cooking water.
3. Meanwhile, combine squash puree, milk, garlic, and salt in pepper in a blend until smooth. Add squash mixture to a medium saucepan; bring to a simmer over medium heat. Add cheddar, Pecorino, and 1 tablespoon of the Parmesan cheese and 1/2 cup pasta cooking water and whisk to thoroughly combine. Add the noodles and stir thoroughly. Add additional pasta water, a couple tablespoons at a time and stirring well with each addition, until sauce is thin and coats pasta thoroughly. (You want the sauce to be thin as the sauce will cook down and be absorbed by the pasta during baking - I used 1 cup total water.) Transfer the pasta mixture to the baking dish.
4. Combine bread crumbs and remaining 1 tablespoon Parmesan in a small bowl. Add olive oil and toss to coat. Sprinkle in an even layer over the pasta.
5. Bake at 375° for 25 minutes or until bubbly. Sprinkle with parsley, if desired, and serve immediately.