I was born into a family of white wine-drinking cheese lovers. However, the gene seems to have skipped me, and I got the dark-chocolate-and-red-wine tooth. It wasn’t until I went to Italy in 2010 for a masters course on the Mediterranean diet (best 6 credits ever) that I realized I actually do like cheese—I’m just picky.

Still, I grew up eating boxed macaroni & cheese, which barely counts.I consider Kraft’s iconic orange cheese sauce to be more of a “cheese-like” product. However, that’s what my taste buds think of when it comes to mac & cheese–bright orange, salty soup with limp pasta. Consider it some kind of inverse mac & cheese snobbery. I don’t care if you dress it up in truffle salt or add lobster and baby peas and charge twenty bucks—I’d still choose the blue box.

When I was working on articles about healthy recipes for kids last fall, I came across a few recipes for  macaroni and cheese made with pureed butternut squash, which gives the sauce that vibrant orange color while stealthily adding a lot of nutrients. I was intrigued, but never got around to making it myself. My mac & cheese cravings are rare, but one of my goals for this winter was to try some new recipes, since I have the time, and this was near the top of the list.

I ended up adapting this recipe from Oh She Glows to make a non-vegan cheese sauce so I could use the ingredients I had on hand.

img 4183 - Butternut Squash Mac & CheeseThis recipe makes 2 servings, but you can easily double it.

Ingredients:

  • 1 butternut squash, peeled & cubed (only 1/2 cup is used for the sauce but why not make the whole damn thing and use the rest somewhere else?)
  • Olive oil
  • Salt & pepper to taste
  • 1/2 tbsp butter or margarine
  • 1/3-1/2 c skim milk (or other milk of choice)
  • 1/2 tbsp cornstarch
  • 3 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • garlic powder to taste (I used ~1/4 tsp, maybe a little more)
  • paprika to taste (optional)
  • 2 servings of pasta of choice (I used whole wheat rotini)

img 4164 - Butternut Squash Mac & CheeseDirections:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Toss cubed squash with olive oil and salt & pepper and pour into a casserole dish or roasting pan. Cook until tender, about 45 minutes (may take more or less time).
  2. Meanwhile, start the cheese sauce. Whisk the corn starch into the milk until there are no clumps.
  3. Melt butter in a saucepan on low-medium heat. Add milk mixture and stir. Then add nutritional yeast, garlic powder, paprika (if using), and salt and pepper to taste. Stir until thick. It took about 15 minutes for this to thicken up when I made it, but yours could take more or less time, so keep an eye on it.
  4. After squash is done and cool enough to handle, add 1/2 cup to a food processor or blender along with the cheese sauce. Blend until smooth.
  5. Pour sauce over pasta and toss until well-coated.

Note: You can add any kind of mix-ins you want. The first time I, added kale, roasted broccoli, and tempeh bacon. When I had leftovers for lunch the next day, I kept the green stuff but nixed the tempeh bacon and added some (cooked) frozen peas.

I really wasn’t sure if I was going to dig this or not, but I loved it! Served with a big salad, it totally hit the spot! No, it’s not a substitute for Kraft mac & cheese, but it’s its own delicious thing, which I actually found I liked a hell of a lot more. This recipe is definitely a keeper.

What’s your favorite way to eat mac & cheese? Are there any recipes you keep meaning to try but haven’t? 

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