Have you heard the saying, “Don’t reward yourself with food. You are not a dog.” I get it. You give your dog a treat when he sits or stays or rolls over. Humans, however, are not supposed to reward themselves with food. But why not?
If I go out on a run and want to drink a beer when I come in, you know what, I am going to drink a beer. If I am at dinner with my friends and we decide to order dessert, then we are going to destroy that dessert.
It might even be something as simple as a bribe: I am going to scrub the floors, and when I am done, I will eat a piece of chocolate. Donkeys get dangling carrots. This human gets chocolate.
Note I did not say I was going to chug a six pack of beer or devour my own dessert or wolf down a box of chocolates. I reward myself with moderation. I do not need a saying that makes me feel like I can not make reasonable choices about what I eat.
Unless we are talking about comfort food. Then all bets are off. I can handle my rewards in moderation, but when comfort is in order, I need a calorie cop policing my kitchen.
Like yesterday, when a cold rain fell all day and, if not for having commitments outside my front door, a day when I could have wrapped myself in a cocoon of blankets and stayed on the couch for hours. On those days, enjoying a dish of warm and creamy mac and cheese is the best. So I made some.
I wanted to make a mac and cheese with butternut squash for three years now, so my creation was long overdue. I took my inspiration from similar recipes I had saved across the many blogs I frequent, adding my own twists along the way.
There are quite a few notes in the recipe because there are quite a few modifications that can be made to make this one’s own: change the spices, swap out the cheeses, garnish with bread crumbs (or potato chips or bacon crumbles) or not. Make it however you feel comfortable. Enjoy!
Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese
For the Pasta and Sauce
2 pounds of peeled and chopped butternut squash
16 ounces short cut pasta (I used fusilli but elbows, penne, or orchiette will do)
2 tablespoons butter
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground mustard seed
1 teaspoon aleppo pepper
1 teaspoon black or white pepper
1/2 teaspoon onion salt
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups milk
16 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 tablespoon of butter
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
- Roast the squash on a parchment-lined baking sheet at 425 degree F for 20-30 minutes until tender.
- When cool enough to handle, transfer the roasted squash to the bowl of a food processor or blender and puree until smooth. Set aside.
- Next prepare the pasta and sauce. Boil the pasta in a large pot of salted water until tender, then drain and return to the pot. Set aside.
- In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the two tablespoons of butter.
- Add the garlic and allow to cook until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes.
- Next add the ground mustard seed, aleppo pepper, black or white pepper, onion salt, and salt. Whisk to combine.
- Gradually whisk in the milk and bring the sauce to a simmer. Keep whisking as the mixture heats up to avoid scorching the milk on the bottom of the pot.
- Reduce the heat to medium-low, stir in the shredded cheese, and whisk frequently until the cheese is fully melted.
- Next, stir in the butternut squash puree.
- When the butternut squash puree is fully incorporated into the sauce, pour the sauce over the pasta in the pot and toss to combine.
- If desired, melt a tablespoon of butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the breadcrumbs and, stirringly frequently, cook until a deep golden brown, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle the bread crumbs over the mac & cheese before serving.
The two-pound bag of peeled and chopped butternut squash I used to prepare this recipe yielded two cups of butternut squash puree.
A small butternut squash will work just as well should you wish to prep the squash yourself. Simply halve it, scoop out the seeds, and roast cut side down.
You do not need exactly two cups of butternut squash puree to make this recipe a success; any yield between one to two cups should work.
If you would like a different heat, feel free to sub 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon of cayenne for the 1 teaspoon of aleppo pepper.