I love macaroni and cheese. But really, who doesn’t? Well, except if you’re lactose intolerant, or vegan, or gluten free, or just don’t like cheese (who are you? We probably can’t be friends.)
Anyway, because of my love of macaroni and cheese, I don’t make it very often. It’s a matter of dignity, see, when I come face to face with a dish of homemade mac and cheese, I lose it. It’s messy. There’s some grunting, and rooting, and noodles and cheese sauce flying... And then it’s over, and I end up bloated with my pants unbuttoned and cheese in my hair.
Ok, so maybe it’s not that bad. I don’t usually get any cheese in my hair.
But because I’ve found that I can’t seem to control myself when it comes to this, I’ve tried to make the dish a little more redeeming. I add healthy stuff to it. Specifically squash or pumpkin. It doesn’t change the texture at all, the overall flavor is just slightly sweetened, and I find the color a little more vibrant than if the squash is left out. Overall, it’s still delectable, but with some added fiber and vitamin content.
Here’s what’s in it:
⅓ c. butter
⅓ c. all purpose flour
2 tsp. mustard powder
1 tsp garlic powder
½ tsp smoked paprika
2 c. cooked winter squash pureed or mashed * (I’ve used pumpkin but this time it was butternut)
3 c. milk (I use 1% since this is what we drink in my house. I’ve done it with skim before, too)
1 lb cheese freshly grated** (I prefer a mix of things, this time I used half NY extra sharp and VT extra sharp)
lots and lots of fresh ground pepper
1 box dried macaroni (I used Dreamfield’s crazy low carb pasta. Use what you like)
In a medium saucepan melt butter over medium low heat. Whisk in flour to make a roux. Keep stirring over medium low heat to remove the pasty taste from the flour. Here’s where I’m weird, I add the dried spices now. Mustard, garlic, paprika all go into the roux. It turns an awesome color. Toss in the squash*. Whisk in the milk. As it heats, it will begin to thicken.
Toss the pasta into boiling salted water. You had that going, right?
Once your sauce thickens, you can add your cheese. If you’re baking this at the end, reserve about a cup of cheese to sprinkle over the top. If you don’t want to, that’s fine too, I’m flexible. I typically turn the burner off at this point and let the residual heat melt the cheese slowly. Then I turn it back on because it’s taking too long and I’m impatient.
Check your pasta. You want it on the slightly underdone side of al dente. Drain, and toss it back into the pot. Now dump in your cheese sauce. Marvel at the beauty that is macaroni and cheese. But you’re not done. Taste test for seasonings. I typically find that mine needs some salt to counteract the sweetness from the squash. And then I stand over the pot with my pepper grinder for about a full minute. I like pepper.
Taste it. Go ahead, I give you permission. Add more of whatever it needs. More garlic powder? How about mustard? Be creative, fresh or dried herbs, veggies, anything can go in this stuff. Done? Okay then. This is where we divide. Sometimes I like to eat my macaroni like this, straight out of the pot, coated in creamy sauce. However, most of the time, I bake it. Throw it into a 9x13 inch pan, top with that reserved cheese, and throw it in the oven at 400F for about 15-20 minutes. Heaven.
*Mine was mashed and then I used an immersion blender once I added the milk to smooth it out since I didn’t want the chunks of squash to be noticeable. This method also has the added benefit of smoothing out any bits of roux that may be gloppy. But I bet it would still be totally awesome if you left some bigger bits of squash in there.
**Pre-grated cheese has this stabilizer powder coating it that makes it not stick together, this is yucky and I don’t like the way it melts, which is why for melting purposes, I always grate my own cheese.
***Unrelated: I have actually found that my mac&cheese with the squash re-heats in the microwave better than the un-squashed version. Maybe the squash holds the sauce together and doesn't allow it to separate upon re-heat? I have no idea. Just a fun little fact.
This is clearly not a low-cal dish. Again, why I don’t make it often. It usually lasts long enough for dinner and maybe two lunches the next day. But that’s just me and my very tall boyfriend with an enormous appetite. He had three helpings for dinner last night. I had two, and some broccoli thrown in the second (because I’m being healthy). What? Don’t judge.