I made this a lot in college. It’s the result of the 19-year-old me trying ~in the most obvious way~ to bridge the gap between who I was (processed food lover), and who I wanted to be (paleo chic).
Raised in the midwest, that blue box of the “cheesest” powered mac and cheese was, and still is, one of my favourite foods. It’s pure comfort to me.
Away at college, everyone craves comfort, but my need for comfort manifested as cravings for boxed mac’n cheese. But as I stumbled along trying to build a newfound sense of identity, one shaped by the growing wellness trend, I found boxed mac and cheese to be horrifying. Suddenly, my 19 year old self believed that my favourite food was now out of the question as a reasonable thing to eat.
But I missed it. I craved it.
So I made this butternut squash mac and cheese on repeat. I figured that adding butternut squash and swapping gluten-free noodles was healthier. I mentally did gymnastics around the parts of the recipe where you dump heavy cream and a half-block of cheddar. Relationships with food are fraught with blind spots, and I’m no exception to this.
I cooked big batches for dinner for roommates or anyone who was around in our shared house. After the bars and the parties, I devoured the leftovers late at night standing over the sink.
And then one day I decided that even gluten-free noodles were too unhealthy. I stopped making it for years. It wasn’t until the other day when a friend sent me a snapchat of her making it for dinner that it snapped back into my conscious.
Today, I don’t mind that it’s made with heavy cream and gluten-free pasta. It’s a comforting treat that brings me back to living in college and the early days of when I started to experiment with making recipes. It’s not a perfect recipe, but it’s something that I still enjoy, just like boxed mac and cheese.
I no longer feel that my identity can be impacted by a single dish, or even a multitude of meals. No, I’m not going to preach about the virtues of moderation or blab on about a ‘balanced’ lifestyle – whatever the heck that means. I’m just going to say that I still like mac and cheese, butternut or boxed. It’s part of who I am, and I think you should try this recipe because although it has room for improvement, it’s still wonderful and comforting in its own simple way.
Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese
- 2 Tablespoons butter
- Sea Salt
- 1 Butternut or acorn squash, peeled, and diced
- 1 clove garlic, finely minced
- 1/5 lb Macaroni pasta (gluten free)
- 1/2 cup cream (35%)
- 1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese grated
- Fresh ground pepper
- On high heat, bring a large pot of water to boil and add in a generous amount of salt.
- In a large skillet, heat up the butter on medium heat until melted. Add the diced squash, salt, and cover with a lid. Cook for 10 minutes, stir, and add a half cup of water if the squash is browning or developing any color. Continue cooking with the lid on, for another 5 minutes or until mushy, stirring often.
- Add the minced garlic, stir, and cook with the lid off for 2-3 minutes.
- Using a potato masher, mash the squash in the pan. Add in the cream and continue mashing until most lumps are gone.
- Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook using the instructions on the package.
- While the pasta cooks, start stirring in the grated cheese into the squash and cream mixture. Add one small handful at a time, and allowing it to melt and mix in before adding the next.
- Reserve a cup of pasta water before draining the pasta.
- Once all the cheese has been added, add in a half cup of the reserved pasta water or more to get the sauce a bit runny, or whatever consistency you like for mac and cheese.
- Season the cheese sauce with plenty of fresh ground pepper. Begin to toss the cooked pasta with the sauce, adding just a little bit of reserved pasta water to help break it up if needed.
- Serve immediately.