Butternut Squash & Parmigiano Pasta (a healthier mac & cheese)
So I’m a HUGE fan of mac & cheese. It’s a meal, it’s a side, it’s a life style. And my all-time favorite is Ina Garten’s Mac & Cheese. I generally leave out the tomatoes, but do lots of add ins. Last Easter I made 3 types of this recipe, one plain, one broccoli & bacon, and one spicy chicken, roasted red pepper & tomato. HUGE hits. But sometimes your brain is annoying and says to you “Hey! A plate of mac & cheese is not that healthy, and eating it for leftovers for a week is REALLY artery clogging, please pick something else.” And in those moments, I suggest Butternut Squash & Parmigiano-Reggiano Mac (you can use good old Parmesan too, I just went fancy when I did mine).
This came to be because I had a butternut squash and no idea what to do with it. I’ve done roasted acorn squash, but wanted to try something different. And then I found a few recipes I could play off of and started getting super excited. Wanna see the end result now? I don’t blame you… TADA!
Ok, now that you’re convinced this looks amazing, I want to insert a small disclaimer. This recipe can take awhile. BUT it’s worth it and reheats really well so it’ll make a great holiday addition, and leftover favorite. But it’s no 30 minute meal with Rachel Ray (I’m less annoying than her though so that has to count for something).
Things You Need:
- A butternut squash
- Minced garlic
- Cooking white wine (optional)
- Butter/Olive oil
- Sour cream or plain greek yogurt
- Milk (I used 1% but it doesn’t matter)
- Chicken stock (optional)
- Parmesan or Parmigiano-reggiano (fresh, and grated)
- Sage (fresh, only a few leaves needed)
- Box of large shell pasta (really any pasta is fine, but we used shells and it seemed to work well)
- Salt & pepper (sea salt and fresh ground pepper corns are best, but use whatcha got)
- Handblender & container to blend in (I use a cylinder pitcher for this as narrow containers seem to work better than wide bowls, and this way it’s easy to poor… but trial and error sometimes is the best strategy for finding a good blending container)
Step 1: Roast the Squash
Alright, real step one is cutting the squash, which is no small feat, but then you roast it. So first, cutting it. Get a sharp knife, sharpest you have. Winter squash are notoriously hard and you really can hurt yourself trying to saw through them with a crappy knife, so sharpen that thing up. Now, lay the squash on its side and cut off the bottom and the top (carefully! Like so…. )
THEN stand it on its now flat bottom and cut down through the middle long ways.
Once you’ve split your squash, scoop out the seeds and stringy parts and either keep them to roast or toss them out. In the bottom of a baking dish (big enough for both sides of squash to fit in fleshy side down) add ¼ cup of white wine and 2 tablespoons of minced garlic. Cover the dish lightly in foil and put this in the oven at around 400 degrees for about an hour.
At about 45 minutes in, check the squash to see how soft it is. You want to check a few spots. If a fork doesn’t go in easily, it needs more time. Make sure there is still liquid in the bottom (if not, add 1/8 cup of water or white wine) and return it to the oven. You want the squash to be soft enough to scoop out easily and blend easily.
Step 2: Sauté the Onions & Mushrooms
While the squash is cooking, sauté ½ a yellow or white onion in olive oil or butter over medium heat. When the onion is soft and starting to brown just a little, remove from heat and add to the container you’ll use for blending the sauce.
When the onions are done, toss 1 package of mushrooms (sliced) into the same pan (adding a bit more oil or butter if needed) with ½ teaspoon of minced garlic. Cook on medium high heat until soft and starting to brown up. Pull the pan from heat when done and set aside.
Step 3: Prep the Sauce & Pasta
After cooking the onions (or during if you’re REALLY good at multi-tasking while cooking) grate 1 cup of Parmigiano-reggiano cheese into the sauce blending container. Grate about ½ a cup in a bowl on the side for topping the plates later.
Now add 1/3 teaspoon of sea salt, 5 sage leaves (chopped up into small bits), and 1/2 cup of milk to the blending container too. If you want to use the chicken stock (adds a little salty depth to the sauce) you can use half milk, half broth.
When this is ready to go, put on your water for the pasta. All these moving parts may not be timed perfectly, but that’s ok. If the pasta finishes first, strain it and set it aside. If the sauce is finished first, no big deal, just set the blended stuff aside and wait for the pasta.
Step 4: Sauce it up
When the squash is done and soft, take it out of the oven, remove the cover and let it cool a little. You don’t want to burn yourself while scooping out the yummy stuff. When it’s cool enough to handle, use a metal spoon to scoop out the flesh into your blending container on top of the other ingredients.
Now blend this A LOT. Use a spatula or spoon to make sure the stuff on the bottom is getting included and blend again – you really can’t over blend this, so when in doubt, give it another surge. If it’s VERY thick, add milk 1 tablespoon or so at a time. Remember you still have sour cream to add though, so don’t make it too thin.
Step 5: Putting it all Together
Drop your pasta back in the pan it cooked in on the stove. Add 1 cup of sour cream/plain yogurt, and pour in the blended squash mixture. You may not need all of the blended squash stuff, so put in ½ or so, stir and add more if needed. This depends a lot on the size of your squash, so it’s hard to get the perfect amount each time. If you have extra, make some more pasta and keep for left overs (or freeze the sauce alone for later to reheat, add sour cream to and eat over pasta at another date).
Heat this mixture on low until everything is to your preferred temperature. Add salt and pepper to taste (we liked it a bit saltier to balance out the sweetness of the squash, but it’s definitely a preference thing)
When your creamy deliciousness coats the shells and is hot enough, dish it out. Lay a spoonful of mushrooms on top and a sprinkle of grated Parmigiano-reggiano cheese. You can serve smaller portions with a side caesar salad too which is healthier and delicious.
This is a great fall dish, one great for large groups too if you want to make it for Thanksgiving or Christmas. It reheats well (just add a sprinkle of milk or water before reheating) and is delicious for lunch throughout the week, so I found. We’ll definitely make again.