Whenever we think of comfort food, the very first thing that springs to mind is creamy and melty Macaroni and Cheese. We love it every which way, from the electric orange stovetop stuff that comes out of a box, to refined casseroles of artisanal cheese, hand-cranked pasta and brioche breadcrumbs.
We particularly enjoy this version of oven baked Mac & Cheese, which calls for Penne Rigate (the ridges in the pasta soak up the maximum amount of sauce) combined with a smooth puree of sweet and smoky Roasted Butternut Squash. The vitamin rich winter veggie will almost trick you into thinking this dish is entirely healthy… until you invariably eat half the tray in one sitting, that is.
Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese
1 lb box Penne Rigate pasta, cooked according to package directions
1 large butternut squash
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
4 cups extra sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
8 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
7 cups milk
1 teaspoon dried thyme
½ tsp grated nutmeg
salt and pepper
Heat oven to 375 degrees. Cut the squash in half lengthwise, and scoop out the seeds. Drizzle the squash with olive oil, and place cut side down on a baking sheet. Bake until tender, about 1 hour. Set aside until cool. When cooled, scoop the flesh into a food processor, and purée until smooth.
In a small bowl, combine the breadcrumbs with 1 cup of the shredded cheese. Set aside.
Melt 6 tablespoons of the butter in a large saucepan. Add the flour and cook for 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Add half of the milk and stir until thickened. Add the rest of the milk and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and add the remaining 3 cups of shredded cheese and stir until melted. Add the thyme and grated nutmeg, along with salt and pepper to taste.
Add the cooked pasta and pureed butternut squash to the large saucepan of melted cheese, and gently stir to combine. Pour into a large, buttered, ovenproof baking dish. Sprinkle the top of the casserole evenly with the reserved cheese and breadcrumb mixture. Dot the top with the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Cook in the 375 degree oven for 20 minutes until the cheese is lightly brown and melted, and the casserole is bubbling slightly.