Saturday, September 24, 2011

A lighter Mac and Cheese with Butternut Squash

Fall meals call for comfort food. Mac and cheese is a wonderful comfort food but I have been staying away from dishes heavy on cheese or cream.  Once again, I am trying to lose some weight. Yet, I still am cooking for other people and so I need to make meals that are palatable and are filling. The Eggplant parmesan from a few days back was not fried and had less cheese so I felt better about eating it plus I think it improved the dish.
Now I am attacking my Mac and Cheese recipe, but only slightly. If you have seen my mac and cheese recipe on here, you know that one is definitely cheesy and buttery.  I wanted to cut down on those some but still make a company worthy dish.  I decided to try Butternut Squash after seeing it used in a recipe in Cooking Light September 2011. If you really want to shave off calories, check their recipe out. They cut back further by not making a b├ęchamel at all. They also added Greek Yogurt and since I love Greek yogurt I threw in even more.  Since I was making this for a group of hungry, skinny people, I mostly just made it more nutritious by adding butternut squash and cutting back a bit on cheese and butter.  I may try the Cooking Light version one day and let you know what I think.

What I can tell you is that I would like to always add butternut squash to my Mac and Cheese from here on! I feel good about its nutritional value. It is a great source of vitamin A and C, fiber, plus contains a good amount of B6, E, potassium, manganese, magnesium and a bit of iron. But on top of that, it adds a beautiful color and creaminess to the dish! It seemed decadently full of cheese!

I also used whole grain Panko not just for whole grain goodness but also for extra crunch. If you can find it in your local health food or wholefood store, get it! It is great for stuff like this. You could further the whole grain by using whole grain pasta. I like whole grain spaghetti but don’t like the larger ones in this dish so up to you.
This will have about 400 ish calories per serving, a bit less than typical mac and cheese, which is more like 900 calories.  It looks and taste rich and flavorful but not overly squashy.  It is not obvious that it has butternut in it but it is MUCH more nutritious with the butternut squash addition. I think it is a good way to get extra vegetables into non –veggie eaters. I am happy when I can serve nutrient dense foods that people really like!
If you are not watching calories, you could add more cheese to this recipe and still get a higher nutrient value of the butternut and a bit less fat.

Mac and Cheese with Butternut
About 10- 12 side dish servings  

1 medium Butternut squash or buttercup squash or
kabocha or canned pumpkin  (about 2-2 1/2 cups pureed)

1 1/2 TBSP butter

2 -3 TBSP flour

2 cups low fat milk, slightly warmed (may need more)

2 cloves garlic, pressed

Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper to taste, maybe about a tsp.

½ tsp.  fresh grated nutmeg, Onion powder, paprika, thyme 

¼+ tsp. garlic powder, crushed red pepper flakes or cayenne pepper

1 lb. pasta, hearty variety cellantani or elbow would be good choices, whole grain if desired

1/3 cup Greek yogurt, optional

1 1/3   cup Swiss or gruyere cheese, shredded

1 1/3   cup sharp or extra sharp cheddar, shredded

1/3 cup parmegiano reggiano, grated

2-3 large tomatoes (or use 4-5 roma tomatoes)

About ¾ cup panko bread crumbs (whole wheat is best if you can find them)

Another 2 Tablespoons Parmegiano regiano

First, cook the squash. I prefer roasting it for added flavor and color. To roast, you may wash and cut it into quarters .  OR you could peel it whilst whole and cut into cubes, which will cook a bit faster. Discard seeds or save them to roast like pumpkin seeds. 
Place squash into a rectangular baking dish, which you may line with foil. Add a little water and cover with foil, baking at 350 for about 45 minutes (30 minutes for cubes) and then uncover and cook for 15 minutes more.  Let it cool and peel if you have not yet.
Another method you could use to cook squash: simmer squash cubes on the stovetop in a large pot with water, about 25 minutes and drain.
 Once butternut is cooled. You may mash by hand or puree in a food processor with a bit of water.
Squash may be cooked and mashed ahead of time. Keep refrigerated.

Preheat oven to 375.
In a large pot, melt butter and add flour, cook for two minutes.
 At the same time, heat salted water in large deep pot for pasta. Once it is at a lively boil, add pasta. Keep the water boiling. Check for doneness
 To the butter and flour, add warmed milk and whisk or stir vigorously. Add the mashed squash and spices. Stir and cook for 8 minutes or so. If it looks too thick you can add a bit more milk.
Remove from heat and add Greek yogurt. Then stir in cheeses, mixing thoroughly.
Add well drained pasta and then place into a large rectangular dish that is oiled ( I like to spray olive oil with misto sprayer).  
In a skillet heat 1 tablespoon butter and add panko crumbs stirring for about 2 minutes. Add 2  TBSP parmesan cheese, grated, salt and pepper if desired.
Thinly slice tomatoes and place on top of pasta. Top with bread crumbs and bake uncovered for about 20-25 minutes in a 375 degree oven.


  1. Mmm i love butternut squash! My mom makes something like this (which I plan to try making myself and posting now that it's fall time) that uses squash in the mac and cheese and it's so good! The flavors go fantastic together. This is the perfect Autumn dish :)

  2. I love mac and cheese, all time favorite.

  3. What a great twist to use the butternut squash in this mac and cheese! It sounds delicious!

  4. Looks delicious! I have the same recipe and I'm dying to try'll happen this year - because it sounds to yummy for words! Glad you liked it!

  5. Who doesn't love mac and cheese, but I really love the idea of adding butternut squash. I haven't cooked with squash that much, but the few dishes I've made were really good. Nice post!

  6. I agree, fall meals mean comfort food and this sounds great. I love that you lightened it up!

  7. I"ve been hearing so much about this recipe! I need to try it..yum!

  8. I love butternut squash - never once thought to add to mac n cheese though. What a great way to sneak a little extra nutrition into your kids too!

  9. Thanks for commenting! So glad you like the Butternut pasta combo. You should check out my very 1st post from March 2011 Butternut Lasagna.I"m not sure how to post a link to it 0_0

    BTW, although I did see Butternut squash in Mac and cheese in a Cooking light recipe--this is NOT the cooking light recipe. I just have been reworking my regular recipe and added butternut. The cooking light is different and lower in calories so if you want that recipe look in the Spetmeber magazine.This one is just my own blend of recipes through the years and while lighter not quite as light as theirs. :-) Just did not want to confuse anyone.