sweet and nutty butternut squash mac and cheddar cheese, recipe by Amy McCoy

Butternut Squash Mac + Cheese

Serves 6 to 8 (10 to 12 as a side dish)

Active time: 1 hour to 1 hour 10 minutes

which breaks down like this: 30 minutes squash prep if using whole, fresh squash (you can use the cubed squash to save time, of course) and 30-40 minutes to grate cheese + make pasta + make Béchamel

Total time: roughly 1 hour 45 minutes

This recipe is one that I developed a while ago for Edible Rhody. After publication, they shared it online in a roundup of recipes from a number of other Edible Communities magazines, and, my editor told me, this recipe went viral.

Who knew butternut mac and cheese would get that kind of response? Maybe it's a PSL-adjacent kind of thing? Not a fan of the PSL, btw. I like me some regular caffè latte, no added flavors, thankyouverymuch. 

Pumpkin spice latte aside, this IS a nice, comfort food recipe with a sweet and nutty flavor profile (sweet from the butternut, nutty from the roasting), and it would make a good Thanksgiving side dish - even as I am begging you to please keep any Thanksgiving gatherings small this year. 

Our Normal Times Thanksgiving is a multi-day extravaganza with 25-ish or so people, and it is SO much fun (I repeat, SO much fun!), but this year, JR and I will be having a 2-person Turkey Day, and will maybe have to recreate our traditional post-dinner (and *some* drinks) Thanksgiving Dance Party USA over Zoom.

I’m not saying that’s ideal, but I bet we can STILL dance like idiots over video pretty successfully, and then go to bed happy, knowing that we’ve done our part to keep our loved ones safe. Or as safe as possible.

Now that we’re done with that PSA, back to the mac + cheese. It’s best to use a good-quality sharp cheddar, Kerrygold is a nice option, Grafton Village Cheddar would be lovely, as would Cabot Clothbound, or, heck, maybe even splurge and go for some Neal’s Yard Montgomery's Cheddar.  It is a holiday, after all. 

We serve our mac with Crystal hot sauce, the pride of Louisiana, the very same hot sauce that’s on the tables at Willie Mae’s Scotch House - home of the best fried chicken EVAH - but, if you’d like to make this a little spicer from the get-go, add crushed red pepper flakes to your heart’s content, or sliced rounds of spicy andouille sausage - which is what I’ll be adding the next time I make this.

You could also top each portion with crumbled bacon, or with toasted walnuts, or pecans, or hazelnuts. 

You could serve it with turkey and gravy, or fried chicken, or on a plate with a big pile of spicy salad greens (even after Halloween snow, our spicy greens have kept growing!). 

The squash can be roasted a day in advance, and the final melt-and-brown the cheese bake could happen a day after making the mac and Béchamel sauce, just be aware that cooking times could be longer when the mac and cheese goes from the fridge to the oven (see note way below).

You’ll need the following bowls, pans, and things - do not ever let it be said that I didn’t warn you, there IS a bit of cleanup after you’re done:

  • 3 mixing bowls - one for grated cheese, one for cooked pasta, one for mashing squash
  • A large, rimmed sheet pan + parchment paper for roasting squash
  • A box grater or cheese grater
  • A large, non-reactive (stainless) saucepan
  • A whisk
  • A lasagna pan

Ingredients

  • 3 ¼ to 3 ½ pounds whole Butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and sliced into ½-inch rounds.
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus oil for greasing the baking dish
  • 1 pound pasta, I’m currently obsessed with Cavatappi for all mac and cheeses, but you could also use Ziti or Penne Rigate - in any case, prepare that pasta according to the manufacturer’s instructions for al dente, so on the lower end of the cooking time
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 6 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 5 cups whole milk, warmed
  • 8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated (yields approximately 4 cups), divided
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

Method:

  1. Preheat your oven to 375°F.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, toss the squash with the olive oil, then transfer to a large, rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper and arrange in a single layer.
  3. Roast the squash on the middle rack for 50 to 55 minutes, until the edges are golden brown, and the squash easily mashes with a fork.
  4. Remove the squash from the oven, allow to cool slightly, then transfer to a mixing bowl and mash.
  5. The squash can be roasted and mashed a day ahead of the mac and cheese assembly and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator overnight.
  6. Keep the oven at 375°F and prepare the pasta according to the manufacturer’s instructions, then transfer to a large mixing bowl.
  7. Make the Béchamel sauce. In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the flour gradually and use a whisk to blend it into the butter. Cook until the flour mixture is a light caramel brown shade, approximately 5 to 7 minutes, being careful not to let the mixture burn. Slowly add the milk, whisking constantly as you do to keep the flour mixture from clumping. Cook over medium heat, whisking frequently, until the sauce is the consistency of pancake batter, approximately 10 to 12 minutes.
  8. Remove the sauce from the heat, stir in half of the shredded cheese and the nutmeg, then season with salt and pepper.
  9. Stir the mashed butternut squash into the Béchamel sauce until it is evenly distributed throughout.
  10. Lightly oil the bottom of a 13 by 9-inch lasagna pan and spread the sauce evenly over the bottom of the pan to coat it.
  11. Pour the Butternut-Béchamel into the bowl with the pasta, stir well to combine, then transfer the Béchamel-coated pasta to the lasagna pan. 
  12. Top the pasta with the remaining cheese, then sprinkle the thyme leaves over top, season with salt and pepper, and bake until the cheese is golden brown and the sauce is bubbling, 30 to 35 minutes.

note (as promised): This macaroni and cheese can be prepared up to the point of topping with cheese and thyme and may then be covered and refrigerated for up to one day. Please note that the cooking time may need to be adjusted up from 30 to 35 minutes, as the ingredients will be starting from a colder temperature than if the macaroni and cheese was baked immediately after the Béchamel was prepared. 

*if you're interested in that chicken tea towel to go with your mac + cheese and hot sauce - or to go with any other food, cooking endeavors, or gift giving (gift giving!!) - it's right over here 

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