Butternut Squash Mac N Chee!

"Hey Mom, was this made with 2 sticks of butter and a brick of cheese?" Delishousss. We had not only one enormous platter of mac n cheese, but two. A macaroni and cheese party, you ask? Why yes. That is exactly what we did the night before Halloween. Since we don't get to collect candy anymore (well that's not entirely true, I snagged a bunch at various Halloween parties), we need to get our calories somehow. So cheese, pasta, cream, breadcrumbs and butter should do the trick. And to make it even more Halloween friendly (orange), butternut squash!

I'm really not a fan of themed parties, to be perfectly honest. It's a lot of work, and I really am just not creative in that department. One theme party I am a fan of though, is food themes. Everyone bring a pizza! Everyone bring a Mexican dish! Everyone bring.... mac and cheese!!

This brings me back to my partner in crime, Jason. We like to get together to eat, drink and have fun as often as possible (both of us seem to have crazy ridiculous schedules). I always boast about his talent in the kitchen, but it seems his fiance, and good friend of mine, Jess, is quite a cook herself! We had two fantastic dishes. One traditional, Jess', and one with a few extra ingredients and calories. 

For anyone looking for some really tasty side dishes for the Thanksgiving holiday, test this out. There are quite a few ingredients, but I promise it is worth it. Want to cut out some of the calories? Substitute some chicken broth for the cream, and don't add as much cheese. 

Butternut Squash Mac N Cheese

1 large box cavatappi
3/4 cups mozzarella (crumbled)
3/4 cups parmesan cheese (grated)
1 1/2 cup raw cows milk white cheddar (grated) (regular white cheddar will work just fine)
1/2 cup soft goat cheese
1 cup milk (I used 2%)
2 cups half and half + 3 tbsp
1 large onion (diced)
4 cloves garlic (minced)
1/4 lb pancetta -ask for thick cut at your deli (diced)
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard (mine was shallot Dijon and it was fab)
2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons flour
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 medium butternut squash (halved longways and seeds removed)
1 1/2 cup Panko breadcrumbs
2 tablespoons unsalted butter + 2 tbsp
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and black pepper
1 cup reserved pasta water

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cover a baking sheet with foil (makes life so much easier). Place the halved butternut squash on the baking sheet and coat in olive oil. Roast in oven for 40 minutes. Remove and let cool. Scoop out the orange squash and puree in a food processor until smooth (about 1-2 minutes). Remove to a small bowl and whisk in 3 tbsp half and half and some salt and pepper. Set aside. 

In a large (your largest) saute pan with high sides, heat 2 tbsp butter and 2 tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add onion and pancetta and cook for 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another 3 minutes until fragrant and soft. Add thyme, crushed red pepper flakes and salt and pepper. Cook for 3 more minutes.

Add flour to the mixture and stir to form a thick onion, garlic paste. Let cook for about 2 minutes. Whisk in 1 cup milk and 2 cups half and half. Whisk to incorporate the flour into the milk, you don't want chunks. Add the Dijon mustard and nutmeg to the mixture at this point and some more salt and pepper, and simmer until the mixture is thick. Will take about 5 minutes (maybe longer, maybe shorter).

When thick enough, add the parmesan and cheddar cheeses. Stir until they are melted and the mixture looks cheesy. Stir in the goat cheese and butternut squash puree and mix to combine. Add another layer of salt and pepper. While cooking the cheese mixture, cook the pasta according to the box, but cook for 2 minutes less.

Before draining the pasta, add a cup of the pasta water to the cheese mixture. Drain the pasta and add to the cheese mixture. Transfer noodles to a large baking dish. Add more salt and pepper. Spread the mozzarella over the top of the pan for one last coating of cheese that will be ooey and gooey after you put it in the oven.

In a saute pan, melt 2 tbsp of butter until browed (about 2-3 minutes). Add the panko bread crumbs to the butter and mix around until all bread crumbs are covered in butter. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the top of the mac and cheese and pop in the oven for 10 minutes. The bread crumbs will brown up and the mozz. cheese will melt into the crust. YUM!

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