Every Fall, I patiently await the arrival of two things: pumpkin & butternut squash. I’ve been going pretty pumpkin-happy lately, but good ol’ butternut squash has been getting the cold shoulder. I knew it was time to turn my attention toward this slightly sweet squash. And what better way to do that than with one of my all-time favorite recipes?
Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese. Sound weird? Think again. This is by far my favorite homemade mac & cheese recipe I’ve tried. It is so creamy, cheesy and delicious. The butternut squash is not overbearing; in fact, if you don’t tell eaters that it’s there, they probably won’t notice it. No, the squash is there to provide something extra to this spectacular mac. It adds a deep, harvesty flavor, making this even more comforting and hearty than your average mac & cheese. It’s got that classic flavor your looking for, plus something more, something better.
The flavor from the squash is awesome, but you’ve also got flavor coming at you from all kinds of other directions. Thyme provides a woodsy depth while onions give you that “pow” factor. The best part about the onion is that it’s grated, not chopped. So you get the onion flavor without having big chunks ruining the smooth texture of the sauce. It’s so flavorful and delicious, without straying too far from the qualities of classic mac & cheese. It’s like nothing else I’ve ever had.
And it is so good.
One of my favorite things about this mac & cheese is that you can always count on the sauce to turn out. Sometimes, mac & cheese sauces can be trial and error. Some days they turn out right, other times they’re too thick or too thin. And most of the time, you have no clue why it did or didn’t work out. Well, this sauce always comes together. It is PERFECTLY creamy with an ideal viscosity that’s not too runny or too thick. Plus, it’s plentiful. No sauce shortage here!
This is the pinnacle of cozy Fall dishes. Not only is it a mac & cheese, which is comforting and Autumn-associated all on it’s own, but it’s got that bangin’ butternut squash in there too. What says “Fall” better than squash?
A Few Tips Before You Get Cooking:
- You should always use sharp cheddar, not mild or regular old cheddar. Plain cheddar just doesn’t pack a punch. It gets lost, especially in mac & cheese. You’ve gotta have cheese with some backbone!
- Be careful when grating that onion. It’s quite easy to cut yourself.
- You can make this solely stove-top if you skip the panko topping. When you’re done mixing the finished sauce & pasta together, there’s no reason you can’t serve it straight from the pot. The only reason it goes under the broiler is to brown the topping. (I, however, love a good breadcrumb topping & just can’t resist!)
- Tip #3 also means you can make this ahead of time. Get the sauce and pasta done early. Then, when you’re ready to eat, add the topping and pop it in the oven to warm it up and get those breadcrumbs golden!
Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese
Recipe adapted from The Food Network
- 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
- 1 pound macaroni with lines, such as tubatini or mini penne rigate
- kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, 1 turn of the pan
- 5 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 medium onion
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves, plus a few sprigs for garnish
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 cups chicken stock or vegetable stock
- 1 (10 ounce) box frozen cooked butternut squash, defrosted
- 1 cup cream
- 2 1/2 cups (8 ounces) sharp Cheddar, grated
- 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- Black pepper
In a small skillet, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter. Add panko & remove from heat. Stir until well combined. Set aside.
Preheat oven to broil.
Heat a pot of water to boil for the pasta. Salt the water then add the pasta and cook to al dente.
While pasta cooks, heat a medium heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the extra-virgin olive oil and butter. When the butter melts into the oil, add the thyme and grate the onion directly into the pot with a hand held grater or Microplane. Cook the grated onion in butter and oil 1 to 2 minutes, then add flour and cook together 1 to 2 more minutes. Whisk in stock, then combine with butternut squash until warmed through and smooth. Stir in cream and bring sauce to a bubble. Stir in parmigiano and 2 cups of the cheddar in a figure 8 motion and season the completed sauce with salt, nutmeg and pepper. Taste to adjust seasonings.
Drain cooked pasta well and combine with sauce. Pour into a casserole dish and top with remaining cheddar. Sprinkle panko mixture evenly over top. Broil for 5 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from oven & serve.
Trust me, my little cookies. I promise the squash works in here beautifully. You have GOT to try this mac & cheese!