Listen... I know I can be cheesy, but y'all butternut squash my vibes over here! I'm givin' you the scoop on one of my greatest recipes, which happens to be a fun twist on a classic favorite: Butternut Squash "Mac & Cheese"! Believe me, I understand the skepticism that comes along with me offering you a dairy-free mac & cheese recipe. I do. BUT! I can assure you, it is well worth exploring! And... it's easy to make. I know, that's ALWAYS good news.
I would like to disclose briefly why I chose to omit dairy from this recipe. Dairy is not "bad" - it is entirely just a personal preference to limit my own consumption of it as often as I can. I also know that this may be particularly helpful for anyone out there that does not tolerate diary well, or anyone with following a specific diet that excludes dairy. This means, of course, that this recipe IS vegan-friendly, and can also be gluten-free with a simple swap of the type of pasta used! HOORAY! I love sharing goodness with as many fellow foodies as possible!
The Butternut Squash is such brilliant addition to a mac & cheese dish because it actually makes the sauce super creamy without adding any butter, and almost gives it a gourmet feel! It's also an easy way to bulk up the nutrition by adding more vegetables to the dish without even noticing, AND it's not nearly as calorie-dense as cheese! Besides the Butternut Squash, we have one other superstar in this recipe: Nutritional Yeast. THIS is what gives our "mac & cheese" that cheddar taste! And as the name implies, it is VERY nutritious! Nutritional Yeast is a complete protein - yes, that's right! This means it contains all nine essential amino acids that humans must get from food, making it an excellent way for vegans to add high-quality protein to meals. It's very rich in B vitamins, and contains antioxidants and trace minerals required for optimal health (such as zinc, selenium, manganese, and molybdenum). Pretty much, it's AWESOME.
I know you're getting pretty jazzed up about this recipe now - so let's get to it!
You will need...
1 small butternut squash (about 2lb)
16 oz pasta (I used whole wheat shells, but know that you can opt for a gluten-free pasta option if you need)
2 1/2 cups milk (I used oat milk, but another non-dairy option would be fine)
Salt and Pepper (1/2 tsp each)
Paprika (1 tsp)
Nutritional Yeast (1/2 cup)
*I suggest beginning with the measurements I have listed here and then continuing to add more of each of these ingredients depending on how you like the taste. Personally, I'm crazy about paprika so I always add more, and you can certainly add more of the Nutritional Yeast if you'd like more of that cheesy flavor.
1) Prepare the Squash
Chop the top and bottom off the butternut squash, peel with a vegetable peeler, and scoop out the seeds from the inside with a spoon. Cut the squash into 1-in pieces and transfer to a medium pot. Add enough water to the pot to cover the squash (about 3/4 of the way full) and bring to a boil. Allow the squash to cook until tender (about 12-14 mins), then drain into a colander.
2) Cook the Pasta
For easy clean-up, keep this a one-pot meal by refilling the same pot you used for the squash. Boil water, and cook pasta according to box directions. Drain pasta and save the empty pot for your last step.
3) Make the Sauce
You can absolutely make this sauce ahead of time and simply reheat it in the pot with the pasta when you're ready to serve! Otherwise, while the pasta is cooking, transfer the cooked squash into a blender and add milk, salt, pepper, and paprika and blend until you have a smooth sauce. In your empty pot, heat the sauce on medium heat until warm, and gradually stir in the Nutritional Yeast until well-combined. Add in the pasta, stir, and serve!
So, what'd we learn? Eating WELL... definitely does not mean bland or boring! I am honestly obsessed with creative ways to enjoy all of my favorite treats in a way that my body still appreciates! Have FUN in the kitchen, and don't be afraid to squash things up a bit!