Gobble, gobble y’all! Thanksgiving is just around the corner and I CANNOT WAIT. Especially with this Roasted Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese on the menu!
Nick and I will be spending Thanksgiving with my parents and sister in Chattanooga this year, so I have been helping my mom menu prep. I may or may not have started this process a month ago…AKA way too far in advance for an intimate meal for five. I just can’t control my OCD/planning/type A/list-making tendencies!
While I’m not trying to screw with tradition, I thought it would be fun to tweak a few dishes in our classic Thanksgiving repertoire this year. You know, just to keep things interesting and fresh. I zeroed in on one of my all-time favorite fall/Thanksgiving ingredients: butternut squash (evidence here and here).While we typically just serve it roasted with EVOO, salt, pepper, and a dash of cinnamon, I went out on a ledge and decided to incorporate it with one of Nick’s (and let’s be honest, everyone’s) favorite foods- macaroni and cheese. And hence we arrived at this Roasted Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese.
First and foremost, let me be clear. I am not doing this to be healthy. As we all know, calories do not count on Thanksgiving. So while it is an added bonus that this recipe is healthier than its classic cousin, at the end of the day it’s still mac and cheese. AKA contains pasta. And cheese.
But y’all…the flavors in this mac and cheese are WOW. The closest comparison is an orchestra. You know when you hear the orchestra warming up and you are like HOLY SHIT WHAT ARE THESE HORRIBLE NOISES? But then the concert starts and everything comes together beautifully? You may be questioning this ingredient list. But please, trust me, everything comes together perfectly in the end product.
The roasted squash brings a hearty, caramelized tone to the dish that goes perfectly with the sharp cheeses. I used Gruyere and white Cheddar, but feel free to use your favorite combo of cheeses or whatever you have on hand! Pinches of nutmeg and cayenne go a long way, providing an underlying layer of warmth and spice to the macaroni. And last, the bright, earthy flavors from the fresh sage and thyme tie it all together.
If I haven’t already convinced you to make this for Thanksgiving based on flavor, how about this: it can be made ahead! Prepare it a few days prior up to the point of adding the breadcrumbs, then throw it in the fridge. Pull it out on Thanksgiving day, add the breadcrumb topping and throw it in the oven. Less time cooking on Thanksgiving day = more time drinking apple cider mimosas!
- 4 cups butternut squash, chopped (I use pre-cut squash from Harris Teeter!)
- 1 pound short pasta (I used Cavatappi)
- 2 cups grated cheese (I used Gruyere and sharp white cheddar)
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
- 2 teaspoons fresh sage, chopped
- 4 tablespoons flour
- 2 cups skim milk
- 1½ teaspoons Dijon mustard
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne powder
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 2 cups Panko
- 1 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped
- 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan
- Salt & pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 375°F. Place chopped squash on baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast for 30-35 minutes, or until squash is fork tender.
- Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package instructions to al dente. Rinse and transfer to bowl. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil and stir to prevent sticking. Set aside.
- In a large skillet over medium heat, melt 4 tablespoons of butter. Add in garlic, thyme leaves and sage. Cook for 2-3 minutes, or until the garlic stars to lightly brown.
- Add in the flour, whisking until most of the lumps are gone. Cook for approx. 3 minutes, and then add in the milk. Whisk together and cook for approx. 3 more minutes until mixture starts to thicken.
- Remove from heat and mix in the grated cheese. Add in roasted butternut squash, mustard, nutmeg, cayenne and black pepper. Mix until cheese is melted, and then blend with an immersion blender (or in a regular blender) until there are few chunks and it is well combined. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Pour cheese sauce over cooked pasta and mix until noodles are well covered. Pour into a greased 9" x 13" baking dish.
- In a separate bowl, combine Panko, sage, Parmesan, salt, pepper and melted butter. Sprinkle mixture over the pasta.
- Bake in 375°F oven for 30-35 minutes until the breadcrumbs are golden brown. Let rest for 15 minutes before serving.