Nothing Says “Welcome Home” Better than Comfort Food: Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese

By Kelli Swensen, Dietetics Student, Sargent College

Okay, so normally when one thinks of mac and cheese, images of blue Kraft boxes with cartoon characters and pockets of powdered cheese pop into mind. Or, if you were lucky enough, your mom may have even made baked mac and cheese where big, soft macaroni noodles are covered in gooey cheese and topped with crunchy breadcrumbs before being baked in the oven. Regardless of how fancy your childhood macaroni and cheese was, chances are the words “butternut squash” were not included; however, after tasting this recipe, butternut squash is more than welcome to be in my heartwarming plate of mac and cheese any time.

After receiving Boston’s lovely welcome back gift of snow and rain, I was more than ready to be back in Karen’s warm kitchen, drinking tea and cooking future Sargent Choice recipes. Before leaving my dorm, I checked the test kitchen menu. I have to admit that, although I did love my Rugrats Kraft mac and cheese when I was little, I’m not an avid macaroni and cheese eater. However, seeing butternut squash as a key ingredient in the recipe sparked my interest and got my stomach rumbling.

With pictures from Karen’s recent trip to the Galapagos Islands sliding through her digital picture frame, we set to work on this cheesy comfort food. To start, we put the uncooked whole grain elbow macaroni in a large pot of boiling water for about 6 min. While the noodles were cooking, we combined the squash and milk in a saucepan. Once the mixture was combined, we turned off the heat and stired in the cheddar, ricotta cheese, salt, and pepper.
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For the butternut squash, we used frozen squash that can be easily found in the frozen isle at Shaws or any other big supermarket. As with any new recipe, we found a few flaws and had to make some adjustments.
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Once we stirred the noodles into the butternut squash-cheese mixture, it was immediately evident that either more butternut squash or more cheese was needed. Because of time, we added in an additional ¼ cup of the part-skim ricotta cheese and about an additional handful of low fat shredded cheddar cheese. When I try this recipe again, I’ll try to first add in more squash and then see if the recipe needs more cheese. Just know that the nutritional facts will be different depending on how much and which additions you make to your recipe. Additionally, we didn’t have any dry mustard. To make up for the flavor we added in salt and pepper until it got to the desired taste.

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Once the cheese and the noodles were combined, we poured the mixture into a baking pan, and placed it in a 375 degree oven for 20min. To get that extra crunch on top, we broiled the pan for about 3 min.

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And the final product? Delicious. Honestly. Every person there went back for seconds, some even thirds and fourths. This mac and cheese is not quiet at gooey as traditional backed mac and cheese, but cheese flavor is definitely present. The butternut squash gives the dish a slight sweetness, which, when combined with the slight saltiness of the cheese and the breadcrumbs, gives this healthier version of macaroni and cheese a 100% comfort food taste.

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Here’s to a great (and hopefully drier) second semester!  The recipe and nutrition information below includes the ricotta and shredded cheese we added to the original recipe to enhance the texture of the mac and cheese.

Squash Mac and Cheese

Yields 8 Servings

Ingredients:

• Cooking Spray
• 1 lb whole grain elbow macaroni (uncooked)
• 2 (10-ounce) packages frozen pureed butternut squash
• 2 cups 1% low fat milk
• 2 cups low fat cheddar, grated
• 3/4 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
• 1 tsp salt
• 1 tsp powdered mustard
• 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
• 2 Tbs grated parmesan cheese
• 2 Tbs unseasoned whole wheat bread crumbs
• 1 tsp olive oil

Directions:

1. Pre-heat oven to 375F.
2. Coat a 9 x 13 in baking pan with cooking spray.
3. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add the macaroni and cook until tender but firm, about 5-8 min. Drain and transfer to a large bowl.
4. Meanwhile, place the frozen squash and milk in a large saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, breaking up the squash with a spoon until defrosted. Turn he heat up to medium and cook until the mixture is almost simmering, stirring occasionally.
5. Remove the pan from heat and stir in the cheddar, ricotta cheese, salt, mustard, and cayenne pepper
6. Pour cheese mixture over the macaroni and stir to combine
7. Transfer the macaroni and cheese to the baking dish
8. Combine breadcrumbs, Parmesan, and oil in a small bowl. Sprinkle over the top of the macaroni and cheese. Bake for 20min. Once cooked, broil for 3min to brown the top.

Nutritional Facts per Serving:
Calories 310
Fat 5g
Saturated Fat 2g
Protein 17g
Carbohydrates 54g
Fiber 7g

If you like this recipe, then you’ll probably love NFC Dietetic Intern Stephanie Horton’s recipe on Food For Real. You can’t have too many healthy variations on an old favorite! Enjoy!

3 Comments

John E. Swensen posted on February 7, 2011 at 5:00 pm

Looks like a wonderful recipe — Also liked to see our grandaughter in print and doing well!!!

Wender posted on September 6, 2011 at 9:12 am

Nice recipe. Can’t wait to try it. Your pictures make it more inviting!

mary posted on September 24, 2011 at 12:39 pm

Thanks for this nice recipe. I think I will try it this weekend to see how it goes. Good work!

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