I realize that I posted a recipe with butternut squash and apples just last week. but I’m posting another today for two reasons: first of all, it’s a winning combination that you absolutely should try like right now, and second of all, because I had to find some way to use up that gigantic butternut squash. If you’re already sick of it, don’t worry I have something really different coming up next post.
For the rest of you, I think you should get excited by this. There are some dinners when you want to pretend to be fancy (so you cook duck confit), but then there are times when you just want to go back to your 5 year old palate and eat a big bowl of something carby, gooey, and cheesy. What better way to appease your inner child (and/or real life children) than mac ‘n’ cheese? Except, this dish is way more than the mac ‘n’ cheese out of the box. It’s like if regular mac ‘n’ cheese grew up, moved to New York City or Barcelona and became a more sophisticated, worldly version of itself, but still remained true to its roots.
(Side note: can we talk about those apostrophes? Technically you should have one either side, but that looks weird. But only having one, or even worse, no apostrophes, bothers the grammar fiend in me. Writing out “mac and cheese” makes me feel like I’m betraying the very nature of mac ‘n’ cheese. I’m so conflicted. Is this just me?)
Anyway, back to the food. A lot of things are going into elevating this mac ‘n’ cheese from the blue box stuff. First, the sauce includes two pretty special things: butternut squash puree and cream cheese. I’m pretty into both of these things. As if that wasn’t enough, there are two special add-ins: tart crispy apples (by the way, did you know that the tartness and crispiness of an apple are correlated? I can’t remember where I read that but I’m pretty sure it’s true) and caramelized onions. It’s pretty sublime stuff.
With all of the goodness packed into this recipe, it should not be surprising that it comes from one of the best food blogs out there, Pinch of Yum. What is surprising is that it’s actually pretty healthy. I didn’t add up the calories from my slightly altered version, but I can’t imagine that they would be too far off of the original’s 296. It’s difficult to argue with that.
I did make a few minor changes. Instead of chicken broth in the sauce, I just used reserved pasta water, my theory being that it would still pack the salty punch without the need for one more ingredient. I also made my own butternut squash puree instead of using canned, they don’t have canned stuff here. It’s not too much of a hassle to make it yourself, but feel free to use canned. Instead of condensed milk, I used crème fraîche mostly because I didn’t want to buy condensed milk just for this recipe. I also changed up the cheese, using a mixture of Comté (like a French gruyere), Mimolette (like a French Edam), and Parmesan. This is just what I had around and thought would taste good (it did), but feel free to use cheddar or whatever cheese is easy.
The two biggest changes I made were leaving out the bacon, which I did because French bacon is perpetually disappointing (pity me), and include mustard. The idea isn’t to actually taste the mustard in the final product, but to add another dimension to the sauce. If you’re going to include mustard, you definitely want it to be a high quality one. Mine is a nice creamy one that is a mixture of Dijon and grainy mustards. It’s the best. Of course, you can leave out the mustard, and it will still probably be the most delicious mac ‘n’ cheese you’ve made, but where is your sense of adventure?
Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese with Apples and Caramelized Onions
Adapted from Pinch of Yum
1/2 box (250g or 2.5cups dry) wholegrain fusilli, macaroni, or other short pasta
1 cup butternut squash puree (canned or homemade)
1/3 cup crème fraîche (recipe here, you can also use regular cream or condensed milk)
1/4 cup reserved pasta water
30g (1 oz) cream cheese
1-2 teaspoons good quality mustard
1/2 cup grated cheese (cheddar is the classic option, I used a mix of Comté, Mimolette, and Parmesan)
1 tablespoon butter
1 medium onion, sliced thinly
1 large crisp apple (Pink Lady or Granny Smith are good options)
Melt the butter in a pan over medium low heat. Put the onions in, and stir well to coat evenly with the butter. Put a lid on the pan and allow the onions to cook undisturbed until soft, about 15 minutes. Remove the lid and turn the heat up slightly. Stir the onions every few minutes to prevent burning and cook until caramelized, at least another 15-20 minutes.
While the onions are cooking, you can prep the other things. Grate your cheese and measure out all of the sauce ingredients. Chop the apple into a fine dice. Cook the pasta according to package directions, making sure to reserve about a half cup of pasta water.
When the onions are ready, it comes together in a flash. Drain the pasta and return it to the pot over low heat. Add the butternut squash puree, crème fraîche, cream cheese, mustard, and a small amount of pasta water (you can add more later if you want things saucier). Stir until everything is evenly incorporated. Add the cheese and stir until it melts. Taste the sauce and make any seasoning adjustments necessary. Stir in the onions and the apples, and serve hot.
Note: As Lindsay mentions, the sauce can “dry out” really easily. If this happens just add some milk or pasta water to revive it