Butternut Mac 'n' Cheese

Macaroni and cheeseMacaroni and cheese from a box is one thing, but the real homemade stuff is pure, edible bliss. Add in the nutty flavor of butternut squash, and the kiddie staple becomes one amazing dish.

The following recipe for butternut mac 'n' cheese is from Todd English's new cookbook, "Cooking In Everyday English: The ABCs of Great Flavor at Home."  When they sent a copy of the book for me to review, it was one of the first dishes I saw and couldn't wait to try. Warm, comforting, and rich, it's a perfect fall dish. Plus, kids love it, and don't even know they're eating squash, especially when you tell them there are cookies on top (yes, really).

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Unsalted butter, 2 Tsp.
Butternut squash, 4 cups peeled and diced (about 1 lb.)
Penne pasta, 3 1/2 cups (12 oz.) uncooked
Heavy cream, 2 cups
Ground nutmeg, 1/8 tsp.
Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, 1/2 cup finely grated, divided
Ricotta cheese, 1/4 cup
Kosher salt, 1 tsp.
Freshly ground black pepper, 1/4 tsp.
Amaretti cookies, 2 crushed
Panko breadcrumbs, 1/2 cup

Preheat oven to 350. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat; add squash, and cook, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes or until golden brown. Add 2 cups water; cover and cook 5 minutes or until squash is tender. Drain.

Prepare pasta according to package directions.

Meanwhile stir together cream, nutmeg, and 1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese in a large saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, 7 minutes or until mixture begins to thicken. Stir in squash. Process mixture with a handheld blender until smooth. (Or, let mixture cool 20 minutes, and process, in batches, in a food processor or blender until smooth.) Stir in ricotta, salt, and pepper.

Stir together hot cooked pasta and squash mixture. Pour into a buttered 11 x7 inch baking dish. Stir together cookies and panko, and sprinkle over pasta mixture. Top with remaining 1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Cover tightly.

Bake at 350 for 20 minutes. Uncover and bake 7 minutes or until top is browned. Serve immediately.

Note: For a less sweet dish, omit the cookies and double the panko.

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