Main Dishes, Pasta & Risottos, Recipes, Vegetarian

A Healthy Mac & Cheese–It Does Exist!

Growing up as a kid, I was a Kraft Mac & Cheese girl all the way. I had a very discerning palate and if someone tried to feed me Velveta or worse–store brand–well, let’s just say I wasn’t a happy camper. I soon learned the error of my ways (though still rely on Annie’s Mac & Cheese for a quick dinner or lunch). There’s just something about all that artery clogging gooey cheese and cream that makes me happy. I seek out Mac & Cheese at places like S’MAC, Dumont Burger and Artisanal. But the stuff I make at home, that is truly my favorite spin on Mac & Cheese is actually healthy! That’s right–no cream or butter, yet still super creamy thanks to one special ingredient.

What’s this magical ingredient you say? Well…butternut squash! I would have never thought if the recipe wasn’t laid out there for me. Browsing through Ellie Krieger’s The Food You Crave, I saw her recipe for Macaroni and Four Cheeses. For those of you not familiar with this bible of a cookbook (go buy it TODAY), it focuses on making healthy(er) versions of our favorite guilty pleasures and comfort foods. The squash adds color, depth of flavor, creaminess–not to mention a huge nutritional boost. A great way to get kids to eat those veggies without them even knowing.

Over the years I’ve changed the recipe a bit. I use fresh (frozen) butternut squash puree and mix it in after it’s thawed. I started adding a bit of chili powder just to give it a kick. And if there’s no Monterey Jack cheese in the house, replacing it with extra cheddar works just fine. Like most of my favorite recipes, this stuff is great as leftevers. So even though it serves 8 generous servings, my husband and I always find a way to eat every last bite.

Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese (Adapted from The Food You Crave)

  • 1lb whole wheat pasta (think elbows, fusilli or bow-tie)
  • 2 c butternut squash puree (thawed if using frozen)
  • 2 c low fat milk
  • 1 c extra sharp cheddar cheese, grated
  • 1 c Monterey Jack cheese, grated (or just double the cheddar)
  • 1/2 c part skim ricotta cheese
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp dry mustard
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • 2 tbsp breadcrumbs
  • 2 tbsp Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp olive oil

Preheat oven to 375°F. Coat 9×13 inch baking dish or casserole dish with cooking spray. Cook pasta according to directions. Drain in colander and set aside. Meanwhile in a large pot whisk milk and squash puree over medium heat. Continue cooking until reaches a simmer. Whisk in cheeses, salt, mustard, cayenne and chili powder until smooth. Remove from heat. Add pasta and mix until combined. Pour into prepared baking dish.

In a small bowl combine bread crumbs, Parmesan cheese and olive oil. Sprinkle over top of macaroni and bake until cheeses start to bubble around the edges, about 20 minutes. Broil for 2-3 minutes until top is crispy and browned.

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