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Butternut Squash Faux Mac and Cheese

This cozy pasta dish looks like the traditional macaroni and cheese that has won the hearts of so many American children, but it packs a punch of healthy vegetables instead of yellow cheese.

When hunger strikes, we often eat with our eyes first, so why don’t give your picky eater a chance at taking a bite out of this nutrition-packed version of this favorite staple? Our butternut squash version looks so similar to the real mac and cheese, your young eater might be fooled into loving this upgraded version with tons of minerals and vitamins!

With a sweet, nutty taste similar to pumpkin, the delicious flavor of butternut squash belies its serious nutrition profile. Did you know it’s packed with healthy fiber as well as vitamin C, manganese, magnesium, potassium, vitamin A and vitamin E?

Roasting the squash is a delicious preparation approach, but slow cooking it to caramelized perfection requires more time than most home cooks allow for when it comes to weeknight meals.

This recipe is easy enough for a quick weeknight dinner and cooks up swiftly since the squash is cut into little bits with a food processor and then sauted until tender in just a few minutes. Also super convenient, the Butternut Squash Faux Mac and Cheese packs very well at room temperature in an ECOlunchbox (pictured above in a Seal Cup Medium that holds 1 ½ cups) and doesn’t need to be re-heated to taste great at lunchtime.

Ingredients

  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1-pound butternut squash, seeds scrapped out and peeled (use a potato peeler!) and cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage
  • 1 pound macaroni pasta (we use Barilla gluten-free “Elbows” pasta)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 cup freshly grated parmesan plus additional for sprinkling
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter (optional)

Directions

  1. Cook onion in oil in a large nonstick skillet over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until golden.
  2. Finely chop squash pieces in a food processor. It’s very important to use the machine and not attempt this by hand as the squash is very hard and chopping so small would be quite difficult and time consuming.
  3. Add squash and onion with water and salt to taste. Simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, 15 minutes, or until squash is tender. Add sage and simmer 1 minute more.
  4. Cook pasta in a 6-quart pot of boiling salted water until al dente. Reserve 1 cup cooking liquid in a cup and drain pasta. Return pasta to pot and add squash mixture, parsley, 1 cup parmesan, butter, and plenty of freshly ground black pepper, stirring until butter is melted. Season with salt and add some of reserved pasta cooking liquid to moisten if necessary.
  5. Serve sprinkled with additional parmesan.

Note: We love frying sage leaves in a vegetable oil (we prefer peanut oil, but canola is also good and has a very mild flavor) and serving on top of the noodles. For a savory addition, toss a little sautéed pancetta or bacon into this pasta.

This recipe serves 4 and takes about 30 minutes to make.