One of the oldest foods that every college student knows all too well is obviously Mac and cheese. It’s the ultimate fitting food that makes cold days or nights feel more comfortable when you mix these two ingredients together. But is that really all it takes to make Mac and cheese taste so great? As you know, I always like to push the envelope and make iconic dishes more flavorful and healthy, since it is possible to have your cake and eat it too! Here’s how you can make mac and cheese with acorn squash. It’s healthy and you’re kids will likely eat it up as well.
The element of surprise
Since kids are going to be just as enthusiastic about Mac and cheese, you want to give them something healthy cleverly hidden within this chewy and gooey bowl of steaming comfort! Last year, when I was doing some baking experiments with different squashes, I came across a revelation that gave me a great idea. I love baking squash but the problem that I always had with baking these in my outdoor grill was this type of squash needs special prepping.
It’s just not enough to add salt onto the meat of your acorn squash and will need butter and salt to get it to taste better. I discovered that butter will pool in the space where the seeds are scooped out. I found that maple syrup mixed with room temperature butter will coat the entire surface that soaks into the meat which helps it caramelize better. My biggest discovery was baking these on my grill which gave the squash a natural smoky flavor.
This not only gives your cooked acorn squash a deeper earthy flavor that really boosts the taste of your cheddar cheese. Once the squash is baked it’s soft enough to scoop out once it cools so be sure to only scoop out the meat and don’t get any of the skin in it. I forgot to mention that it works great squishing it through a ricer so you get elbow pasta-like shapes that come out. This makes it fit in better with your pasta rather than small cut-up chunks.
The sweet caramelized sweetness plus the smoked flavor add more savory flavor in my opinion than just cooking your acorn squash with butter and a touch of salt. Your kids will also find it tasty too and will never be any wiser once it’s baked with the noodles and cheese sauce. Acorn squash also adds more texture to this dish without breaking up the chewy nature of elbow pasta.
Cutting your acorn squash
Because acorn squash is so dense, it has always been a problem for me to cut these problematic and often slippery buggers. One method is simply to angle the squash on your cutting board and cut off the top where the stem grows out from. This way, you can easily have a flat surface to help stabilize your squash while you cut it in half. The best knife for this is a nice sharp chef knife. Then you can use an ordinary spoon to scoop out the seeds inside.
Always use a wooden cutting board so the sliced-off top squash will not scoot around while you use the chef knife to slice through the squash using a downward angle to start the blade through the squash itself. The rest of the cut is finished pushing the knife handle downward to finish slicing through the remaining squash.
Acorn Squash Macaroni and Cheese
I am sharing a recipe for macaroni and cheese. It’s not your traditional macaroni and cheese, but it’s a fabulous autumnal twist on the old classic. Don’t worry. I didn’t go so far as to bake this for myself this week, but it’s something appropriate for the season that is worth sharing with all of you.
And, if you enjoy acorn squash, I think you’ll like the earthy quality it adds to the classic macaroni and cheese. Moreover, it’s a decent method for hiding squash. A child might overlook the squash and only have eyes for the cheesy mass of noodles. I am hopeful this is the case, at least. Let me know. Eat. Enjoy. And promise to blow on your steamy forkful before you inhale this acorn squash macaroni and cheese.
Roasted Acorn Squash Macaroni and Cheese
- heavy saucepan
- 1 lb Rigatoni (penne, or elbows)
- 1 lb Acorn squash
- 4 Cups Lowfat organic milk
- 6 Tblsp Flour
- 5 Tblsp Unsalted butter
- 1 Tblsp. Smoked paprika
- Kosher salt, sea salt & fresh ground pepper to taste
- 8 Oz. Aged white cheddar cheese
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Cut the acorn squash into 2 halves. Remove the seeds and membrane. Divide 1 tablespoon of the butter and set inside each cavity. Rub the cavities with a spot of sea salt and place into the oven to roast for about 45 minutes or until tender.
- Remove the squash from the oven. Set aside to cool. Turn the oven down to 350 degrees.
- Bring a large pot of well salted water to a boil. Add the pasta and cook at a rolling boil until just tender. Drain. Rinse. Set aside
- Chop the squash into bite size pieces being careful to avoid any skin.
- Bring the milk to just a boil in a heavy saucepan. Set aside.
- Melt the butter in another pan. Add the flour and whisk over low heat for about 5 minutes. Do not brown. Remove from the heat.
- Add the butter mixture to the milk and whisk well to get rid of lumps. Add 1/2 tsp of paprika. Season with salt and pepper. Return to heat. Cook the mixture over medium heat, whisking constantly until it’s smooth and it thickens, about 5 minutes.
- Add milk mixture to the pasta and coat. Mix in squash pieces as well. Pour into a 9 x 12 baking dish. Spread the grated cheese over the top of the pasta mixture. Sprinkle the top with the remaining paprika.
- Bake for 25 minutes. Then, place the dish under the broiler (about 4 inches away from heat) and cook for another 3-4 minutes until slightly golden.
- Serve warm.