Who dislikes mac and cheese? I know of no one. It’s the ultimate comfort food, and the variations on a theme are truly endless. It’s a dish that is infinitely customizable, which makes me very happy. I got the idea for this particular one on Pinterest. I still had a few apples left from our big apple picking trip, and I was looking for creative uses. This fit the bill. I also loved that there were some very nutritious vegetables tucked into the cheesy pasta. It really made me feel less guilty about eating mac and cheese.
The recipe had some ingredients with which I’m not familiar, so I decided to simply be inspired by the idea and make it my own. I chose to make it a stovetop version of mac and cheese, which I always like because that means it’s ready to eat that much faster. Win! Another change I made: the original called for caramelized onions, which sounded delicious. However, those take time. It literally takes up to 45 minutes to properly caramelize onions. I planned to do it, then it became one of those days, I didn’t start dinner as early as I’d intended, and a shortcut was necessary to actually get dinner on the table before midnight. So sautéed onions became the order of the day. It was still wonderful, though I think next time I will plan better and do the caramelized version. Then I can compare!
Matt and I really enjoyed this one. The squash’s rich sweetness played off the tartness of the apples quite nicely, and both were complimented by the sweet onion and sharp cheddar. For a vegetarian dish, simply omit the bacon and swap the chicken stock for vegetable stock.
Source: inspired by Pinch of Yum
1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut into bite-size chunks
Kosher salt and black pepper
1 box small-cut whole wheat pasta (I used medium shells, but elbow macaroni or penne would be fine)
1 large onion, thinly sliced
4 slices bacon, chopped
1 tbs unsalted butter
2 tbs flour
1 ½ cup whole milk
½ cup chicken stock
¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
8 oz. sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
2 oz. cream cheese
2 large apples, peeled, cored and chopped
Preheat your oven to 400 F. Toss the butternut squash with a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread out onto a baking sheet in a single layer. Roast for about 30 minutes, until cooked and slightly caramelized. Remove from oven and let cool slightly. Place the squash into the bowl of a food processor and puree until completely smooth. Set aside.
Bring a large stockpot of water to a boil. Salt generously, then pour in the pasta and cook according to package directions. Drain well and transfer to a large serving bowl. If you are still a ways off from assembling the dish, toss with olive oil to prevent sticking.
Meanwhile, preheat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat and drizzle in some olive oil. Add the onions and sauté until softened and cooked through. Season to taste with salt and pepper and set aside.
Preheat a medium pot over medium-high heat and drizzle in a scant amount of olive oil. Add the bacon pieces and cook until they are browned and crisped. Remove with a slotted spoon to a paper towel lined plate. Pour off all but one tablespoon of the drippings. Add the butter and let melt. Add the flour and whisk for one minute. Add the milk and chicken stock and continue whisking until it is smooth. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring up to a bubble. Lower the heat, and whisking occasionally, let it cook until it’s thickened. Add in the shredded cheddar, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and cream cheese. Turn the heat to low and let it all melt.
To assemble: toss the pasta with the butternut squash puree, the apples, onions, and cheese sauce. Garnish with the crumbled bacon bits and serve immediately. You can also garnish with minced fresh parsley, torn basil, or grated Parmesan cheese if desired.