I’m a real cheese-a-holic, but oddly never really got why Macaroni Cheese is so popular, but then I tried this; Fresh pasta smothered in an oozy, melty, cheesy sauce, swirled with nutty squash, sweet onions and topped with a crunchy, herby crumb. I was inspired to cook this when I was at the gym, ironically! I’m relatively new to the gym and need a distraction to keep me from counting the calories I’ve been burning. The way I have found to get the time to go really quickly when I’m on the treadmill is to plug in my earphones and watch the Food Network channel. On this particular day it was the fabulous domestic goddess, Ree Drummond, who cooks up a real wholesome comfort food for her hungry family who work on their ranch in Oklahoma. She doesn’t give you quantities of anything, she talks in ‘a whole bunch of’ and ‘a handful of’ when she talks ingredients. I added a few extra things that I thought would work and measured it to make it serve 4. Easily doubled, halved or increased to suit you.
The great thing about this, is that you can prep all of it or individual elements in advance and versatile in as much as you can use any cheese you like, and even bits of cheese that you’ve got hanging round the fridge, make it gluten free by replacing the flour and butter for cornflour (cornstarch) and add more veg, eg spinach, broccoli or roasted peppers for a more nutritious meal. The choice is yours.
- 350g macaroni or short pasta, I used fresh from the fridge but dried works well
- 1/2 butternut squash, halved lengthways, scored and rubbed with a little oil
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 1 teaspoon English mustard, powder or paste
- 1 large onion, sliced
- 500ml whole milk
- 1 tsp powdered vegetable stock or half a veg stock cube
- 2 tbs butter
- 3 tbs plain flour, or cornflour and omit the butter
- 300g cheese, a mix of strong cheddar, gruyere, parmesan and mozzerella, grated
- Thick slice of sourdough bread or any bread, blitzed into crumbs with a few sprigs of fresh thyme and rosemary and a tablespoon of olive oil, 25g of cheddar or parmesan and a pinch of salt
- tbs olive oil
Roast Butternut Squash
Start by slicing the squash in half length ways, remove the seeds with a spoon and score the flesh in a criss-cross pattern and rub with a little olive oil. Place on a baking tray on 180c fan, 200c conventional, 400f or gas 6 for about 40 minutes. Check that it’s cooked by inserting a sharp knife into the flesh, if it’s soft its done. Remove from the oven and allow to cool before scraping out the flesh to the baking dish you will use for the recipe. Mash it lightly with a fork or potato masher.
Cook the pasta until slightly under cooked or al dente as it will be cooked again in the oven. Drain and leave to one side or refrigerate until assembling the dish.
Fry the sliced onions gently in a little olive oil, stirring every now and then for about 20 to 30 minutes until they start to turn a caramel colour and become sweet. *See tip
Make the breadcrumb mix
Make a roux by melting the butter and adding the flour and stirring for a couple of minutes to cook the flour out. Gradually add the milk, stirring constantly until the sauce thickens. (If you are using cornflour, heat the milk until boiling and add cornflour paste and stir until thickened)
Add the mustard, stock powder and cheese and stir until melted. Set aside.
Assemble your Dish
Add the pasta, cheese sauce and onions (and any other vegetables you’re using) to the squash and mix to combine. Sprinkle with the breadcrumb topping. Bake in the oven for 35 minutes until the top is crunchy and golden brown.
Serve with a Green salad or roasted vegetables.