comfort food in squash form

With all of the instability happening in the world these days, comfort food is beginning to play a big part in my daily meals. It definitely helps that the weather is dreary outside. Winter squash, of all varieties, is one of my favorite vehicles for comfort food. Whether roasted, pureed or sautéed, squash can be prepared in endless different ways. I’m an equal opportunity squash enthusiast; acorn, butternut, delicata or kabocha, I love it all. 

A few years ago I was at a friend’s potluck in San Francisco, where I was introduced to butternut squash mac and cheese. I sidled up to the buffet table one too many times to stuff my face with this inventive and tasty side dish. My friend who brought the dish was happy to  share the recipe with me. It’s since become one of my go-to fall and winter comfort dishes.

The butternut squash gives the dish a sweet edge.  I’m convinced, although I might be living in a fantasy world, that it’s healthier than traditional pasta and cheese combos. I mean, there’s added vitamin A and C with the addition of butternut squash, right?

This is a quick and simple recipe, it freezes well, and will turn even those who think they don’t like squash, into squash lovers.

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My kitchen notes

I like to use orecchiette pasta for this recipe because its ear shape ensures full sauce coverage. But you can, of course, use whatever pasta you prefer.

Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese 

3 cups peeled and cubed butternut squash

2 cups chicken stock

1/2 cup milk

2 garlic cloves, peeled

1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 1/4 cups (5 ounces) shredded cheddar gruyère cheese (I find this combo at Trader Joe’s)

1 cup (4 ounces) shredded smoked gouda cheese

1/4 cup (1 ounce) finely grated Parmigiano-Regiano cheese

1 pound uncooked cavatappi or orecchiette pasta

1 teaspoon olive oil

1/2 cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs)

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 375°.

2. Peel and cube butternut squash.

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3. 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. Remove from heat.

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4. Place the hot squash mixture in a large bowl. Add salt, pepper, and Greek yogurt. Blend until smooth with an immersion blender. If you don’t have an immersion blender, use a food processor.

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5. To the mixture, add shredded cheddar gruyère, smoked gouda and 2 tablespoons of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Blend until combined.

6. Cook pasta according to package directions, drain well. Add pasta to squash mixture, and stir until combined.

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7. Spread mixture evenly into a 13 x 9-inch glass or ceramic baking dish coated with cooking spray.

8. Heat 1 teaspoon olive 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 of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Sprinkle evenly over the hot pasta mixture.

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9. Bake at 375° for 25 minutes or until bubbly.

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