Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese

DSC01024I recently had a hankering for macaroni and cheese, but wanted to try a version with butternut squash as an alternative to the heavy cream and butter in classic recipes. I found a recipe from Cooking Light that claims to make a “serious dent in the calorie and fat content of good old macaroni and cheese, while preserving the creamy comfort-food texture.” I wasn’t sure if it was possible for a “healthier” version of mac and cheese to come close to the real thing. But it was great—really creamy and delicious. You’d have no idea there was squash in the sauce if you didn’t know. The Gruyere, Pecorino Romano, and Parmiagiano-Reggiano create a powerhouse of flavor that make this dish especially tasty. It turns out you can get pretty darn close to the real thing.

Butternut Squash Macaroni & Cheese (slightly adapted from Cooking Light, September 2011; serves 8)

3 cups cubed peeled butternut squash (about one 1-pound squash)
1 1/4 cups fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 cups fat-free milk
2 garlic cloves, peeled
2 tablespoons plain fat-free Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 1/4 cups (5 ounces) shredded Gruyère cheese
1 cup (4 ounces) grated pecorino Romano cheese
1/4 cup (1 ounce) finely grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided
1 pound uncooked cavatappi
Cooking spray
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1. Preheat oven to 375°.

2. Combine squash, broth, milk, and garlic in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer until squash is tender when pierced with a fork, about 25 minutes.

3. Let the sauce cool for about 10 minutes. Add salt, pepper, and Greek yogurt. Using an immersion blender, process until smooth. Place blended squash mixture in a bowl; stir in Gruyère, pecorino Romano, and 2 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano. Stir until combined.

4. Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt; drain well. Add pasta to squash mixture, and stir until combined. Spread mixture evenly into a 13 x 9-inch glass or ceramic baking dish coated with cooking spray.

5. Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add panko, and cook for 2 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from heat; stir in remaining 2 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Sprinkle evenly over the hot pasta mixture. Lightly coat topping with cooking spray.

6. Bake at 375° for 25 minutes or until bubbly. Sprinkle with parsley, and serve immediately.

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