Comfort food.  This is a topic of much discussion–and debate–this time of year.  As the weather begins to shift to cooler evenings, it’s as if our bodies ratchet up cravings for food that makes us feel comforted; makes us feel like we want to sink into a long-winters’ nap.  This Fall Squash Mac & Cheese will lull you into a sense of calm in Fall weather.

fall-squash-mac-cheese

Hearty, filling, and let’s face it, not always healthy.  One of my favorites (admit it, one of yours too) is macaroni and cheese.  And I admit, mine is pretty darned amazing.  Gooey, cheesy, full of carbs, and rich flavors.  If left to my own devices, I’d probably eat a whole pan of a good homemade mac & cheese.  Of course, I’d have indigestion and probably a heart attack later that same night, but ooohh, it’d be so good in the moment.

Alas, my age (and my doctor) remind me more and more regularly that this kind of eating isn’t probably the smartest choice on a regular basis.  I mean, everything in moderation and all.  And sometimes the standby of what you know and love can be on the menu.  But I guess need to think beyond than those 30 minutes of devouring the fat-laden and heavy richness that is a good mac & cheese.

Sigh.  I hate this whole getting older thing.  Having to be responsible with my health and all.  Sheesh.

Lo and behold, I have found an awesome alternative!  Now before you go poo-pooing the idea of a “healthy” mac & cheese, give this one a shot.  This time of year there are Fall Squash of all kinds overflowing every bin, bushel and box you walk past at farmer’s markets and grocery stores.  If you’re very lucky and actually have a green thumb (which I do NOT), you may even have them all over your backyard.

I found the inspiration for this recipe in two places in the last week or so.  The first was a blog embedded in an ad for some big box store with a link to recipe for Pumpkin Mac & Cheese.  The second was in my local newspaper (yes, they still print them, and yes, I still love my Sunday paper).  A recipe for a Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese was in the Taste section of the paper.

Hmmm…it was starting to come together.  My doctor’s voice in my head saying I needed to eat healthier, the weather cooling off enough for me to get off of my ever-expanding rear end and exercise in the mornings, and these two recipes calling to me.  Eureka!  My very own awesome alternative of the ultimate comfort food was born!  Fall Squash Mac & Cheese!

Yes, healthy comfort food DOES exist.  And it exists in this super delicious Fall Squash Mac & Cheese!

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Fall Squash Mac & Cheese
Fall Squash Mac & Cheese
Print Recipe
What a fantastic way to sneak super healthy veggies and whole wheat pasta into the kids! Or veggie-averse adults, for that matter. The creamy nature of the blended squash with just enough cheese to satisfy the craving for gooey goodness will make this healthy alternative a go-to comfort food a stand-by in your house in no time!
Servings Prep Time
12 people 45 minutes
Cook Time
15 minutes
Servings Prep Time
12 people 45 minutes
Cook Time
15 minutes
Fall Squash Mac & Cheese
Fall Squash Mac & Cheese
Print Recipe
What a fantastic way to sneak super healthy veggies and whole wheat pasta into the kids! Or veggie-averse adults, for that matter. The creamy nature of the blended squash with just enough cheese to satisfy the craving for gooey goodness will make this healthy alternative a go-to comfort food a stand-by in your house in no time!
Servings Prep Time
12 people 45 minutes
Cook Time
15 minutes
Servings Prep Time
12 people 45 minutes
Cook Time
15 minutes
Instructions
  1. Peel the butternut squash. Remove seeds and flesh from inside of squash. Dice squash into 1" cubes.
    Fall Squash Mac & Cheese Ingredients
  2. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Prepare pasta per package instructions. Drain and toss with 1 tsp. olive oil to prevent sticking. Set aside.
    Whole Wheat Rotini Pasta
  3. In a large saucepan, combine squash and 2-1/2 cups of the milk. Heat over medium high heat, bringing to a boil. Once the milk begins to boil, reduce heat to medium and simmer until squash is tender when pierced with a fork, approximately 20 minutes.
    Squash & Milk
  4. While squash & milk cook, heat large saute pan over medium high heat. Add 1/2 tsp. bacon fat. Saute onions in pan until translucent, about 10 minutes.
    Sauteed Onions
  5. Once squash is fully cooked, remove from heat. Using a stick blender (or blending in batches in a traditional blender), puree milk and squash until a smooth texture is created.
    Blending Squash & Milk
  6. Stir together the flour with the remaining 1/4 cup of milk, creating a thick mixture (also called a "slurry"). Add this mixture to the squash puree and stir to incorporate completely.
    Flour Mixture into Squash Puree
  7. Add cheese and stir until a creamy consistency is achieved.
    Cheese into Squash Puree
  8. This is where the gooey nature of the cheese comes into play!
    Stirring Cheesy Squash Mixture
  9. Add salt & pepper to taste. Also, add the nutmeg and stir to incorporate.
    Nutmeg Into Cheesy Squash
  10. Add pasta to cheese & squash mixture.
    Pasta & Cheesy Squash
  11. Add sauteed onions to pasta and squash mixture. Stir to incorporate.
    Onions into Pasta & Squash
  12. Pour pasta mixture into baking dish coated with cooking spray. Top pasta with bread crumbs.
    Fall Squash Mac & Cheese
  13. Bake at 425 for 10-15 minutes, or until bread crumbs begin to brown.
    Fall Squash Mac & Cheese
  14. Serve as a main course alongside a tossed green salad, or as a side dish to your protein of choice.
    Fall Squash Mac & Cheese and Side Salad
Recipe Notes

I realize that this dish seems like it has a ton of steps, but when you have all of your ingredients prepped, it really does come together in no time.  I also love that the orange of the squash could easily be mistaken for the traditional cheese used in so many mac & cheese recipes.  All the easier to trick some folks into trying this delicious alternative!

A note about the squash:  While I use butternut squash here, you could easily use other Fall squashes just as easily.  Acorn, kobocha, or even pumpkin--all of them would be delicious in this comfort food classic.  Same goes for the cheeses.  I used smoked gouda, but any combo of cheeses could be substituted.

Finally, I mention here using 1/2 tsp. of bacon fat to saute the onions.  First of all, I realize that not everyone has a jar of bacon fat in their fridge.  You could fry up some bacon and use the grease from that (or actually add bacon if you wanted to really punch it up).  Barring that, you can simply omit that step and use olive oil or other cooking fat. I will say though that this small amount of bacon fat really adds a depth of flavor that you won't find in other substitutes.  Consider it your "secret ingredient" to giving this Fall Squash Mac & Cheese the boost it needs!

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