A Squared: What's For Dinner Wednesday: Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

What's For Dinner Wednesday: Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese

Mac and cheese is probably one of my all time favorite comfort foods. Pasta and cheese are two of my favorite foods, so putting the two together in one dish is pretty much the pinnacle of food happiness for me.


Given the opportunity, I could eat mac and cheese all the time save for the diabetes, heart attacks, and obesity that accompany a diet like that. With that in mind, I'm always looking for ways to make my favorite foods healthier-- and when I find a good recipe, I always keep it on hand for when I need a comfort food fix. So when I discovered a Cooking Light recipe for mac and cheese with a secret healthy ingredient (that also happened to taste great) a few years ago I tried it almost immediately.


While I have been tweaking the recipe with my own updates every time I have made it, the basis of this recipe is what makes it so special: pureed butternut squash creates a thick and velvety sauce that's slightly sweet, but very mild in flavor-- and so much better for you than a cream-based sauce. Whisk in a flavorful cheese like sharp cheddar (or maybe gruyere) and you've got a creamy cheese sauce perfect for a big pan of baked mac and cheese. I like to add fresh sage to the crispy breadcrumb topping, which complements the flavor of squash really nicely. And not only is it a rich and creamy comforting dish, but butternut squash has so many nutrients that this is a dish that's secretly good for you too!


I made this mac and cheese on Halloween while it poured outside and it was a perfect dinner for a night in. Also, it was made with Halloween-shaped pasta-- hence the odd flecks of black you might see in the photos of the finished product above.


Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. butternut squash, peeled and cubed
  • 1 1/4 cups fat free low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 cups skim milk
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 Tbs. fat free cottage cheese
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper 
  • 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg  
  •  8 oz. grated sharp cheddar
  • 1/2 cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese, divided
  • 1 lb. uncooked short cut pasta
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 Tbs. olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 2 Tbs. fresh sage leaves, chopped
  • 1 Tbs. fresh parsley, chopped
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Combine squash, broth, milk, and garlic in a large saucepan over medium high heat. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and simmer until squash is fork tender, about 25 minutes. Remove from heat.

Place the squash mixture in a blender. Add cottage cheese, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Blend until smooth and no large chunks remain. Pour blended squash mixture into a large bowl. Stir in the cheddar and half of the Parmesan. Stir until combined and cheese has melted into the liquid.

Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain well. Add pasta to squash mixture, and stir until well coated. Spread pasta mixture evenly into a 13 x 9-inch baking dish prepared with cooking spray.

Meanwhile, heat 1/2 Tbs. olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add panko and cook for 2 minutes or until golden brown, stirring frequently. Stir in sage and saute for another minute. Remove from heat and stir in parsley and remaining Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle evenly over the hot pasta mixture. Lightly drizzle the remaining 1/2 Tbs. olive oil over the top.

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until brown and bubbly.


Editor's Note: Recipe based on original recipe by Cooking Light.

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