Friday, 1 August 2014

Butternut Squash Mac 'n Cheese

A grown up take on a kids' favourite...butternut squash mac 'n cheese with a Parmesan crumb crust.

I like to make this in individual dishes and keep them in the freezer for a convenient meal. They can be baked straight from the oven, but take less time if defrosted first. In our house it's the go to meal when we're eating something that not everyone likes!

This can be done over a couple of days, if you bake the squash when you have the oven on for something else. Once the squash is baked, everything is pretty quick and easy.

To bake the butternut squash, cut it in half so the fatter and thinner parts are separated. Then cut each half lengthwise and remove the seeds from the fatter part. Place the four pieces skinside up in an ovenproof dish and add about 1" of water. Bake at 350F until the flesh is soft. Test by pressing the skin with your finger. It takes about an hour, depending on the size of your squash.

Allow the squash to cool, then use a spoon to carefully scrape the flesh out of the skin. Measure out 2 cups and set aside.

Next up is to cook the macaroni. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook 8 ounces of macaroni until just undercooked (it will cook again when it gets baked). Drain and run under cold water to stop it cooking. Drain again and set aside.

The sauce takes the same amount of time it takes to boil the water and cook the pasta.

Melt 4 tablespoons of butter and cook 1/2 cup of minced onion until it softens.

4 tablespoons of flour
1/2 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Cook for 2 minutes.

Gradually add 2 cups of milk, whisking to avoid lumps. Make sure the sauce starts to boil before turning off the heat.

You should have a thick, glossy sauce, and the only lumps should be the pieces of cooked onion!

While the onions are cooking, grate 2 cups of cheddar cheese and add it to the 2 cups of roasted squash that was set aside.

Add the squash and cheese to the sauce, and stir to combine. If the cheese does not all melt, not to worry, it will melt when it bakes.

Add the sauce to the cooked and cooled macaroni and mix well.

Taste and adjust seasoning at this point.

Divide the macaroni and cheese into the dishes. It makes enough for 6 individual mac 'n cheeses.

If you are making one large casserole, it fits a 9" x 13" nicely.

Make the Parmesan crumb topping by combining:

1/2 cup breadcrumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
salt and pepper to taste
olive oil just to help it stick together

Sprinkle this across the top of the mac 'n cheese and it is ready to bake and serve!

Some other ideas:

  • Use your favourite cheese instead of cheddar. This is a great way to use up the bits of cheese that seem to accumulate in the fridge.
  • Add minced fresh sage into the crumbs.
  • Add in cooked, diced bacon.
  • Serve it straight from the stove, no need to make the crumb topping or wait for it to bake.
  • Up the squash content and fold in some cubed, roasted squash. Peel the squash, cut into 1" cubes, toss with salt, pepper and olive oil and place in an ovenproof dish. Add a few sprigs of sage or thyme and about 1/2" of water and bake at 350F until tender. Make sure the water doesn't evaporate before it's cooked, or it will burn.
  • Why not use yam instead of squash?
  • The onions can be omitted, just melt the butter and add the flour, salt and pepper and continue on.

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