I realize I'm coming at you with a butternut squash recipe in the middle of spring. This is because I bought a butternut squash about 3 months ago with plans to make a butternut squash macaroni and cheese that was very fitting for winter, but I never got around to it, until now.
I love that this butternut squash was able to hang around my house full of life for months and months. And truly, one can never go wrong with a macaroni and cheese recipe, especially in times like these, when we need comfort food on the regular.
Does anyone else have a hard time watching the news? I really just can't or I sink into a big depression. And, I have to admit, I am NOT a fan of everything opening back up, but I do realize it is vital for the economy. In my house, we will be staying in and putting our focus on doing things at home and outdoors. Again, just because you can doesn't mean you should. The virus has not gone away, folks. Please be careful!
In the meanwhile, comfort food is in full demand and macaroni and cheese it is. Now, full disclosure, Nigella wrote this recipe as Sweet Potato Macaroni and Cheese and I'm sure that is equally delicious, BUT I think butternut and sweet potato are interchangeable and right now we use what we've got. Also, I don't have the pennette pasta she calls for, but I use orecchiette, which is one of my favorites because the shape is like a little cup, perfect for holding sauces and add-ins.
Adding the sweet potato/butternut squash allows us to use far less cheese than the traditional baked macaroni and cheese. Nigella calls for sharp tangy feta and a good mature Cheddar. I relish any chance to indulge in feta so I'm happy with that. I also have a very nice aged Murray's English Cheddar. One thing is for sure: I am almost always stocked up on cheeses.
I'm going to call this a healthy macaroni and cheese BECAUSE there is literally no other macaroni and cheese that is packed with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. I mean we're in a pandemic and we need to be eating healthy, right? So indulge and take comfort in a hot bubbling cheesy dish that is delicious and delivers all the goodies your body needs.
Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese
Adapted from Nigella.com
by Nigella Lawson
1 pound sweet potatoes (or butternut squash)
10 ounces pennette (or other small, short pasta)
4 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon English mustard
1/4 teaspoon paprika, plus more for sprinkling on top
3 ounces feta cheese
1-1/4 cups mature cheddar, plus more for sprinkling on top
4 fresh sage leaves
salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat the oven to 400F. Put on a largeish pan of water to boil, with the lid on to make it come to the boil faster. Peel the sweet potatoes (or butternut squash) and cut into roughly 1-inch pieces. When the water is boiling, add salt to taste, and then add the sweet potato and/or butternut squash, and cook for about 10 minutes or until soft. Scoop them out of the water into a bowl using a slotted spoon and lightly mash with a fork, without turning it into a puree. Don't get rid of this water, as you will need it to cook your pasta.
In another saucepan, gently melt the butter and add the flour, whisking to form a roux, then take the pan off the heat, slowly whisk in the milk and, when it's all combined and smooth, put back on the heat. Exchange your whisk for a wooden spoon, and continue to stir until your gently bubbling sauce has lost any floury taste and has thickened. Add the mustard and the 1/4 teaspoon paprika. Season to taste, but do remember that you will be adding cheddar and salty feta later, so underdo it for now.
Cook the pennette in the sweet potato/butternut squash water, starting to check 2 minutes earlier than packet instructions dictate, as you want to make sure it doesn't lose its bite entirely. Drain (reserving some of the pasta cooking water first) and then add the pennette to the mashed sweet potato/butternut squash and fold in to combine, the heat of the pasta will make the mash easier to mix in.
Add the feta cheese to the sweet potato/butternut squash and pasta mixture, crumbling it in so that it is easier to disperse evenly, then fold in the white sauce, adding the 1-1/4 cups grated Cheddar as you go. Add some of the pasta cooking water, should you feel it needs loosening up at all.
Check for seasoning again, then, when you're happy spoon the brightly sauced macaroni and cheese into 4 small ovenproof dishes approximately 1-1/2 to 1-1-3/4 cup capacity or one 12x8. Sprinkle the remaining cheddar over each one, dust with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of paprika, then shred the sage leaves and scatter the skinny green ribbons over the top, too.
Put the pots on a baking tray, pop into the oven and bake for 20 minutes (or, if you're making this in a larger dish, bake for 30-35 minutes), by which time they will be piping hot and bubbling, and begging you to eat them.