Tis the season.. for winter squash! This recipe of Naomi’s from April could do with a repeat! -ed.
I love butternut squash. I make risotto with it, add it to beef stew, or often simply bake it on it’s own. So it was only a matter of time before I tried it with my baked macaroni and cheese! The squash is so smooth in this dish and makes it seem even cheesier – but I assure you, this is still a leaner, lower fat version than your usual mac ‘n’ cheese would be. One third of the cheese measurement is cottage cheese – I used 2% but take it even leaner with 1% if you wish. There is no cream or butter – just a flour and milk mixture to make your cheese mixture thicker.
In my version I bake the squash separately first – it’s just my hands-down favourite way to cook this vegetable. Due to a missed nap (my one year old, not me) I ended up making this in stages, baking the squash earlier in the day, later cooking the macaroni, and finally making the cheese ‘sauce’ and bread crumb mixture and putting it all together. The baked squash takes about 45 minutes in the oven (350⁰F/180⁰C) – so you could either do it the night before and have it ready to use for the night you put this dish together – or, if time allows, bake it when you get home from work. While you prepare the rest of the dish and get the table ready or whatever else you need to do it’s baking away. In my instructions below I’ve assumed you will do everything on the same day or evening. Also, you could certainly do a speedier version by steaming or microwaving your butternut squash.
This whole dish can be put together and refrigerated for a day or two – so if you had extra time on a Sunday afternoon it would be a perfect meal to put together for one of your busy week night meals.
I have seen recipes that combine the squash with the cheese mixture and use broth as well. I did neither with my version – preferring to keep it simpler, keep the squash and cheese mixture separate and layer each in the casserole dish.
One final note is that you could easily add more squash. The first time I made this I had about 2 cups (500 ml) worth of squash, but the squash I used this time was smaller – and I ended up with one cup (250 ml). Both were good and interestingly, the squash is very subtle with this dish – so even if you aren’t a big fan – give it a go – you just might like it here!
- 1 1/4 cups (300 ml) 1% or 2% milk
- 3 tablespoons (45 ml) all-purpose flour
- 2 cups (500 ml) grated cheddar cheese (medium or aged)
- 1 cup (250 ml) 1% or 2% cottage cheese
- 1/4 teaspoon (1 ml) salt, or to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon (2 ml) pepper, or to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon (2 ml) ground nutmeg
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) dried oregano (optional)
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) dried basil (optional)
- 1 to 2 cups (250 ml to 500 ml) cooked butternut squash (baked or steamed)
- 1 cup (250 ml) plain, dry bread crumbs
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) olive oil
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) paprika (or less if you prefer)
- 2 cups dry elbow macaroni (try whole wheat or vegetable)
Preheat the oven to 350⁰ F (180⁰ C). Slice the squash in half lengthwise and then across widthwise.
Scoop out the seeds and place in a covered baking dish. Bake the butternut squash for about 45 minutes, until soft.
Alternatively, steam or microwave the butternut squash until soft. Either peel or slice the squash beforehand and most methods suggest placing the butternut squash cut side down, with a small amount of water in the dish.
When the squash is cooked, and if it isn’t already peeled, scoop the squash off of the skin (this should be very easy to do if it is cooked enough). Mash and set aside.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of lightly salted water to boil.
Preheat oven to 400⁰ F (200⁰ C) if you did not bake the squash, otherwise just turn the heat down.
Coat 8-inch square or other suitable baking dish with oil. I prefer to sprinkle several drops of olive or vegetable oil into the dish and spread with a small piece of paper towel.
Whisk 1/4 cup of the milk and the flour together in a small bowl or measuring cup. You will end up with a fairly thick, smooth mixture.
In a heavy-bottomed saucepan heat the rest of the milk (1 1/2 cups) over medium heat, until steaming. Stir frequently. Add the flour milk mixture and stir or whisk as it thickens. This will take 3 to 5 minutes approximately. Remove the saucepan from the heat and add the grated cheddar cheese. Stir until melted. Add the cottage cheese, stir until melted. Add the salt, pepper, other herbs (if using) and nutmeg. Stir.
In a small bowl, mix together bread crumbs, oil and paprika.
Add macaroni to boiling water, stirring to prevent it from sticking. Cook, stirring frequently for 4 to 5 minutes. Drain, rinse with cold water and drain again.
Add the macaroni to the saucepan with the cheese mixture if the saucepan is large enough. Otherwise mix the macaroni and the cheese mixture in a large bowl. Use a spatula to mix evenly and thoroughly.
Spread half of the macaroni cheese mixture evenly in the baking dish. Spread the mashed or pureed squash over the macaroni cheese mixture. Add the second half of the macaroni cheese mixture. Sprinkle the paprika breadcrumb mixture on top. Add some freshly grated pepper.
At this point you could cover and refrigerate the dish overnight or for a day.
Cover the baking dish with a lid or foil and place in the center of the preheated oven. Bake for 40 minutes. Uncover and bake for a further 5 minutes, until the bread crumb mixture is crispy. You may want to adjust the timing according to your preference to have the dish more liquidy or drier. The second time I made this I removed the cover after 30 minutes and let it bake the final ten minutes uncovered.
Remove from oven and serve.
Naomi cooks, bakes, writes and photographs for The Taste Traveller – her blog with recipes that are (mostly) very healthy, often vegetarian and kid-friendly. Some recipes are entirely her own creations, others are inspired by her cookbook collection, recipes found online or those from friends and family. A stay at home mom to a 17 month old she’s enjoying this creative outlet and sharing it – although not sure how it’s all going to happen when there are no nap times to work with anymore!