Mac & Cheese Wednesday: Butternut Mac & Cheese and Sophie's Squash

Okay, last week, in a fit of writer's block and a crisis of confidence, I appealed to folks on the Silver Shoes & Rabbit Holes Facebook page for ideas. Melissa reminded me that long ago, I mentioned doing a giant macaroni and cheese post. She's right, I did. I made a pinboard, and lord knows I make homemade mac and cheese often enough. However, with so many recipes and frankly, so much cheesiness, the idea of throwing it all into one post seemed daunting.

So this is my idea. Every Wednesday, I plan to post a mac and cheese recipe and a book (or something else) to go with it. 

My first three posts will be easy for me. I have three tried-and-true go-to mac and cheese recipes. I decided to start with this one, even though I seldom make it past February. You see, it uses butternut squash, a staple in our house in the fall, on into the winter. Butternut screams fall comfort food to me, and mixed with pasta and Gruyère, topped with toasted panko crumbs, it's as cozy as a fuzzy blanket and a cup of tea.

I'm so used to making this when the air is crisp and the leaves are changing colors. It's funny to blog about it when the Bradford pear trees are in full bloom outside! But on a chilly, rainy March day, perhaps a decent butternut squash can still be found at the store. Or maybe you can find frozen cubes of it in the freezer section! (Our local Dillon's store stocks ready-cut cubes in the produce section now. Talk about making things easier!)

Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese (adapted from a recipe found in Cooking Light magazine)
[Keep in mind: this recipe came from Cooking Light, so the original states "Fat Free" in a lot of places. I seldom follow through with that, to be honest.]


Butternut Squash, 3 cups, cubed (or about one one-pound squash)
1 1/4 cups vegetable broth (the original recipe called for chicken broth, but I'm a vegetarian)
1 1/2 cups milk (the original recipe called for skim, which I seldom have on hand)
2 garlic cloves, peeled
2 Tablespoons plain Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
5 ounces shredded Gruyère cheese (1 1/4 cups)
4 ounces grated Pecorino romano (1 cup)
1 ounce finely grated Parmigiano-Regiano cheese (1/4 cup) , divided
1 pound uncooked cavatappi pasta
cooking spray
1 teaspoon olive oil or butter
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
a handful of fried sage leaves 

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Combine your squash, broth, milk, and garlic in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce heat to medium. Simmer for about 25 minutes, or until the squash is soft when pricked with a fork. Ta-da! Remove from heat.

Now for the messy part. Place the hot mixture in a blender, along with the salt, pepper, and Greek yogurt. Remove the center piece in the blender lid to allow steam to escape, but use a clean towel to cover said opening, so the mixture doesn't splatter everywhere. Blend until smooth.

In a big bowl, mix the squash mixture with the Gruyère, pecorino Romano, and 2 Tablespoons Parmigiano-Regiano. Stir until combined, then set aside. 

[Confession: I have been known to use a Kraft Italian shredded cheese mix - you know, the ones in the shaker, found in the cheese section in the grocery store - in place of the two grated cheeses. Mainly because, you gotta have the Gruyère, and Gruyère is so expensive!]

Let's not forget the pasta now! The original recipe calls for cavatappi pasta, and the thick corkscrew shapes are perfect for the sticky butternut and cheese sauce. Once, I couldn't find my cavatappi, and went with shells instead. They were fine, but stick with cavatappi if you can. Cook the pasta according to package directions, omitting the salt. Drain well, then stir it into the butternut and cheese sauce.

Spray a 13' x 9" glass or ceramic baking dish with cooking spray, then dumb your pasta mixture into the dish, spreading it evenly throughout the pan. 

Head back to the stove, and heat your oil or butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the panko crumbs and cook for two minutes. You want the panko to be golden brown. Remove from heat, and add the rest of the Parmigiano-Romano. Stir it well, then sprinkle evenly over the pasta.

Bake at 375 degrees for about 25 minutes, or until bubbly - beautiful and bubbly. In the meantime, fry some sage leaves!

Okay, the original recipe called for fresh parsley, sprinkled over the pasta before serving. But last fall, I fried sage leaves for a butternut bruschetta recipe, and I don't know that I can ever not pair butternut squash with fried sage leaves ever again! Rinse and dry your fresh sage leaves well. (Use a BIG handful.) Heat some oil in a small skillet over medium-high. Fry your sage leaves 6 to 8 at a time. It only takes a few seconds! Remove with tongs. Drain over paper towels. You can salt them, if you like.

I wanted to partner the mac and cheese with a book, and for the girls and me, there was no question what book to feature with this recipe. I've blogged about Sophie's Squash before, but it is such a beloved book in this house, that it's worth blogging about again!

Sophie's Squash by Pat Zietlow Miller, illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf.
Schwartz and Wade, 2013.

You know you're in for a treat when you see the adorable endpapers, right?

Sophie's parents let her pick out a beautiful squash at the farmers' market. Her parents thought they would eat it, but Sophie had other ideas.

Sophie loved her squash. She cuddled it and played with it and told her secrets. She named the squash Bernice. She would not let her parents cook it.

Sophie took Bernice everywhere: to storytime, back to the farmers' market, to play in the garden. She refused to give Bernice up.

Bernice started to get splotchy and soft. Sophie took her to farmers' market, to ask for advice.

Finally, Sophie planted her friend in the garden. Winter came, and Sophie worried. Her parents bought her a pet fish. Still, she missed Bernice. When spring arrived, Sophie ran to greet the new green sprout in the garden.

At last, two new squash appeared on Bernice's green vines. Once they were large enough, Bonnie and Baxter became Sophie's new friends.

This book reminds me so much of Little Sis when she was small. We own a forever copy now, and we treasure it.

And I'm so excited! A sequel is coming this summer: Sophie's Squash Goes to School!

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