A few weeks ago I had a brilliant idea. I would make a butternut squash sauce with lots of fresh, grated cheese, a healthy version of Mac and Cheese. I even mentioned this award winning idea to a few people, who encouraged me unabashedly. Then I went home and flipped on the computer to check out my idea with Mr. Google. Turns out there are around 8,000 other brilliant chefs who share the same novel idea of butternut squash mac and cheese! Here are some of my favorite bloggers and their twist on this dish.
Two Peas and Their Pod: http://www.twopeasandtheirpod.com/creamy-butternut-squash-pasta/
Iowa Girls Eats: http://iowagirleats.com/2012/11/15/butternut-squash-mac-cheese/
Pinch of Yum: http://pinchofyum.com/healthy-mac-and-cheese
Cooking for Keeps: http://www.cookingforkeeps.com/?s=butternut+squash+carbonara
Ultimately, I tucked my tail between my legs and moved forward to set my own mark upon the butternut squash mac and cheese phenomenon. As always my motivation was to keep things as simple as possible (fewer ingredients, fewer pots) without compromising taste. I made some steamed butternut squash and onions, and blended them together with a bit of evaporated milk and mustard powder. Put the puree into a pot and added lots of grated cheese, Gruyere, Monterey Jack, and sharp cheddar.
I wanted a gluten free version, so I omitted the roux (flour and butter) that most recipes suggest. It works fine without a roux, but can be less stable when re-heating. Here are a few things to keep in mind when making a cheese sauce without a roux: 1) always use low heat 2) don’t use cheddar cheese without another type of cheese, it tends to become very stringy 3) the cheese should be grated and at room temperature (ideally grate your own, don’t buy pre-grated) before adding it to the butternut squash puree 4) don’t replace the evaporated milk for regular milk 4) American cheese is a good addition/substitution for this dish as it melts very well.
After eating several bowls of pasta and sauce, I realized I had a package of ground turkey in the fridge. So, I sautéed the turkey, added some chopped tomatoes and some of the butternut squash sauce. Mixed it with the pasta and topped the whole thing with more cheese and cooked it until bubbly. I left the casserole dish on the counter. I never served it for a meal. It was done before dinnertime even came around. A scoop here, a fork full there, and it disappeared. It came out great and everyone loved it. It might not have been a new, brilliant idea, but it certain became a family favorite.
10 oz. butternut squash, peeled and in ½” cubes
½ medium onion, diced
6oz. evaporated milk
½ teaspoon mustard powder
1 cup Gruyere cheese, shredded and divided into 2 half cups
1 cup Monterey Jack cheese, shredded and divided into 2 half cups
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese, shredded and divided into 2 half cups
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 box pasta (I use brown rice pasta from Trader Joes)
1-tablespoon canola oil
1 lb. ground turkey or chicken
Salt and pepper
1 ½ cup chopped tomatoes (I use Pomi chopped tomatoes)
In a microwave safe bowl with a vented cover, steam the squash and the onions in a tablespoon of water for about 6 minutes. The squash is cooked when it easily pierces with a knife.
Transfer cooked squash and onions to a blender. Add the evaporated milk and mustard powder and puree until smooth and creamy. Be sure to remove the top from the blender just a bit to let the steam escape.
Add the pureed squash mixture to a heavy bottomed saucepan. Bring to a gentle simmer. With the heat on low, add half a cup of Gruyere cheese and whisk until well incorporated. Then add the Monterey Jack cheese and whisk again. Do the same thing with the cheddar cheese as well.
To Make the Casserole:
Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.
Cook the pasta according to the directions on the box. Drain and set aside.
Heat the oil in a large skillet. When hot, add the ground meat, salt and pepper, and sauté until cooked through (there should not be any pink meat). Add the chopped tomatoes, and the cheese sauce, and cook another 2-3 minutes. Add the cooked pasta, mix well and transfer to a casserole dish. Top with the remaining cheese (you should have ½ cup Gruyere, ½ cup Jack, and ½ cup Cheddar). Put the casserole into the oven for about 20 minutes or until hot and bubbly. Serve.