Squashed Macaroni & Cheese

By Diane Ruyack

When temperatures begin to drop, nothing hits the spot like comfort foods. As your family gears up for a season full of fun and festivities, you will want your kids to eat better and be healthier. Eating dinner together is a challenge between work schedules and after school activities. It is tough to get the whole family around the table all the time. But even if you can’t do it every day, make a point of it as often as possible. Kids who eat with their families regularly have better nutrition, do better in school, have a greater vocabulary and are less likely to adopt bad habits.  When I think of fall, I think of harvesting squash and pumpkins, apples, etc. Acorn or butternut, pumpkin or spaghetti, winter squash is naturally sweet, versatile, easy to cook, and incredibly good for you. Each bite delivers a fork-full of potassium, vitamin A, and vitamin C. Just one cup of baked butternut squash provides more potassium than a medium banana! Simply roast squash with a little oil and a touch of brown sugar for a rich and easy side dish. Puree it and serve it instead of potatoes or add the puree to broth for a velvety thick soup. Choose squash that are firm, fairly heavy for their size, and have bright, glossy exteriors.

This recipe will keep your family fueled up and provide them with calcium, protein, vitamin A and carbohydrates and fiber if you use whole wheat pasta.

Squashed Macaroni and Cheese

  • 1 pound macaroni with lines, such as tubatini or mini penne rigate
  • Salt
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, 1 turn of the pan
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/2 medium onion
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves, plus a few sprigs for garnish
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 (10 ounce) box frozen cooked butter nut squash, defrosted or cook your own
  • 1 cup cream or half-and-half
  • 2 cups (8 ounces) sharp Cheddar, grated
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, a couple of handfuls
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg, eyeball it
  • Black pepper

Directions

Heat a pot of water to boil for the pasta. Salt the water then add the pasta and cook to al dente or, with a bite to it.

While pasta cooks, heat a medium heavy bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the extra-virgin olive oil and butter. When the butter melts into the oil, add the thyme and grate the onion directly into the pot with a hand held grater or Microplane. Cook the grated onion in butter and oil 1 to 2 minutes, then add flour and cook together 1 to 2 more minutes. Whisk in stock, then combine with butternut squash until warmed through and smooth. Stir in cream or half-and-half and bring sauce to a bubble. Stir in cheeses in a figure 8 motion and season the completed sauce with salt, nutmeg and pepper. Taste to adjust seasonings.

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