Hiding vegetables in meals is so fun. The obvious benefit is that it gets kids to eat some nice vitamins and fiber without any flashbacks to traumatic cabbage experiments. But for us it’s not just about feeding our kids healthy food, it’s really more about enhancing the food we eat in general. I find it so gratifying to take a comfort food that is notoriously unhealthy yet delicious, swap in some healthiness, and still enjoy it as an addictive comfort food. Fatty, carbo-loaded mac and cheese, meet your new best friend: pureed squash.
With squash mixed into the cheese sauce, you maintain a familiar orange color while also adding some natural sweetness. And you can cut the amount of cheese significantly. Cheese is great, but let’s face it, mac and cheese is just a texturally amazing glob of grain covered in dairy. Let’s balance the scales with some local farm fresh goodness!
We based our recipe on the Golden Macaroni and Cheese with Butternut Squash Puree recipe over at Food & Wine, but increased the squash-to-cheese ratio, made a few other tweaks, and added some herbs and lovely green broccoli for an extra kick of nutrition and warmed flavor.
Health Boost Macaroni & Cheese with Winter Squash – Recipe
- 1 lb pasta (we used penne)
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter or lard, plus more for greasing
- 3 lbs pureed squash
- 2 tablespoons flour (AP, whole wheat, or gluten free are all good)
- 2 cups whole milk
- 12 oz sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
- ½ lb broccoli, chopped
- 1 tablespoon fresh savory, chopped fine (optional)
- ½ teaspoon dried sage (or more if fresh)
- 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
- hot sauce and herbs for serving (optional)
1. Process your squash by roasting and pureeing. Click here to see how we break down a monstrous Hubbard Squash.
2. Start water boiling for the pasta. When the water is boiling, add the pasta and cook for about 2 minutes less than the pasta’s instructions.
3. Preheat the oven to 350° F.
4. Heat butter or lard in saucepan over medium-low. Stir in the flour until smooth and let it brown a bit, stirring it constantly to prevent burning. This is a basic roux.
5. Add the milk and mix thoroughly. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring on occasion to prevent scalding and promote even heating.
6. Whisk in the squash and then add the 8 ounces of the cheese in small batches, stirring to melt and eventually create a smooth sauce. Set the remaining cheese aside.
7. Add the herbs and broccoli and season with salt and pepper to taste.
8. When the pasta is finished cooking, be sure to drain the water. Then you can add it to the cheese sauce in a large bowl and mix so all pasta is covered.
9. Grease a 9×13 pan with butter, lard, or oil and spread the mac and cheese in an even layer. Top with breadcrumbs and then sprinkle on the rest of the cheese.
10. Bake for about 30 minutes, checking in on it at 20 and 25 minute to make sure nothing is going wrong. When finished it will be bubbling and look fantastic.
11. Top with hot sauce and/or herbs if desired for a pretty finish. Serve as a side, as a main dish, or eat it from the fridge as leftovers.