Cold weather also means that winter squash season is here. Wouldn't you know that a number of folks I work with at area farmers' markets have been asking their friendly-neighborhood food educator for recipes that use these most delicious of deep yellow and orange cucurbits. Of course, I always have the curried butternut squash soup recipe in my back pocket, but as you can probably guess by now I am always tinkering with ingredients and fiddling with recipes. A few weeks ago at the Bloomingdale farmers' market I was whipping up a few batches of a variation on the veggie alfredo pasta using sauteed delicata squash instead of bok choy (and substituting some cool weather parsley and chives for the summer basil). Then about a week later, while flipping through a copy of Bon Appetit at my parents' house following dad's birthday dinner, I came across a recipe for butternut squash macaroni and cheese... and decided to improve on it a bit.
(Yes, I just said that: "Let me just make this recipe published in an established foodie magazine better.")
I got a little overambitious with the portioning, so I called a couple of friends as I popped the delicious cheese-and-vegetably-pasta goodness into a deep baking dish and into the oven to bake last Monday night. My buddy Jeff showed up with a bottle of white wine an hour later. We barely made a dent in it, even as I sent him off with leftovers. After hearing about the heavenly mix of smoked cheese and garlicky bechamel laden squash the next day, my gentleman friend invited himself over for an impromptu dinner of leftovers on Wednesday evening. I sent Kenton off with leftovers as well, and by Friday I had just two servings left. These last bits were hungrily polished off during the brief lunch break that my co-teacher Sofiya and I had at the end of our week of teaching cooking at E.L. Haynes. (More on that week-long culinary instructional adventure in controlled chaos to come....)
For now, to warm your heart and your belly, I give you (friend tested, paramour approved)
Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese, Improved
- 16 ounces (a bag or box) whole wheat pasta -- I used shells, but rigatoni, penne, or traditional elbow macaroni would be just as good
- 1 medium butternut squash -- peeled, seeds removed, and cut into bite-sized chunks (1" or so big)
- 1 delicata squash -- also peeled, seeds removed, cut into bite-sized pieces
- 2 1/2 cups milk -- raw, if you can get it
- 1/4 cup flour
- 8 ounces (a block) of smoked gruyere cheese, grated -- this comes out to about 2 cups
- 3-4 cloves of garlic -- peeled and minced
- 1 leek -- washed well and sliced into thin rounds
- 1 handful (er, what is that, 1/4 cup?) breadcrumbs
- 3 spoonfuls of butter
Preheat oven to 425F.
Saute leeks and garlic in a large pot with a spoonful of butter and cook over medium heat until fragrant (about 1-2 minutes). Add squashes and 2 1/4 cups of milk. Bring to a boil, then quickly lower heat and simmer until squash is tender (15-20 minutes).
Meanwhile, in a separate pot, boil the pasta, according to package instructions, until cooked al dente (aka not mushy), then drain and set aside.
Whisk together 2 spoonfuls of butter and the 1/4 cup flour to make a paste, then stir in the remaining 1/4 cup milk and mix the resulting roux into the cooked squash mixture. Use an immersion blender (my preference -- I love that thing!), a food processor, or a regular blender to blend the squash-milk-flour mixture into a thick sauce.
Stir in the cheese and cooked noodles. Spread the whole thing into a large baking dish, sprinkle with breadcrumbs, and pop it into the oven for a little while (20 minutes or so) until the cheese sauce is bubbly and the breadcrumbs are nice and browned.
It is just lovely with a simple tomato salad on the side and a glass of pinot grigio. (Jeff said so.)