Healthy, vegetarian baked pasta made with winter squash, and topped with parmesan-thyme breadcrumbs.
Folks, the seemingly never-ending race to the
gutter White House is, thankfully, nearly over. (Assuming a certain wild-haired agitator doesn’t challenge the result).
I’ve spent a while wondering how to celebrate the end of the US presidential election. I enjoyed making themed recipes during the primaries, so I clearly had to make something to mark the main day. But what?
At first, I had grand plans for a red, white and blue layer cake with popping candy and white chocolate. But honestly, after months of watching a vitriolic contest speckled with sexual assault allegations, jail threats and overly divisive rhetoric, all I wanted was a big bowl of comfort food.
And I thought you might need some too.
If I had to pick an ultimate comfort food, this would be it. Firstly, there’s pasta, the food version of a big hug. As my mother – and a large chunk of my large, Catholic family – were born in Italy, I grew up eating a lot of pasta. Pasta was also one of the first things I learned how to cook by myself.
So, not surprisingly, it’s a food very close to my heart and stomach. Also, carbs are always comforting.
Secondly, there are two types of winter squash in this dish: butternut squash (also called butternut pumpkin) and kabocha squash (also known as Japanese pumpkin). I don’t know why, but eating some roasted winter squash is like putting on an oversized sweater: it immediately makes you feel warm and cosy.
Either that, or I’ve come down with a severe case of pumpkin/squash fever.
Thirdly, it’s not just pasta, it’s baked pasta. There’s something oddly comforting about putting on mitts and taking food out of the oven. (Although that might be because oven mitts are colorful and have pictures of cupcakes on them).
And lastly, this isn’t one of those comfort foods that’s full of cream, or butter, or both. It’s actually pretty healthy, given there’s:
- A lot of vitamin A-rich winter squash;
- No butter, cream or oil; and
- Not a mountain of cheese.
So it’s one of those cozy foods you can enjoy regularly without wondering if it’ll give you a heart attack.
This recipe has a number of steps, but everything’s fairly simple. The oven does virtually all the work. Unlike most sauces, this one isn’t made on the stove. Instead, you just need a large bowl to mix everything together.
The main ingredient in the sauce is fresh butternut squash puree. Seriously, don’t use canned – the difference is very noticeable in savory recipes.
A Quick Note About Fresh Butternut Squash Puree
To make fresh butternut squash puree, roast some squash until it’s tender, let it cool completely, and then blend it. The roasting time will depend on how large your chunks are. I usually bake the squash at 350°F (180°C) and start checking on them after 35 minutes. If you’re roasting large chunks or squash halves, they’ll probably take around 50 – 60 minutes.
If in doubt, you’re always better off over-baking winter squash. It’s easier to puree if it’s well-done, and any blackened bits can be removed (also, those caramelized brown/black bits are actually delicious). It doesn’t matter if you peel the squash before or after roasting – just make sure you remember to remove the peel at some point!
Once everything has been added to the sauce, it should have the consistency of a thick pumpkin soup. The water-content of texture of fresh squash/pumpkin puree can vary quite a bit, so if the sauce seems way too thick, add a little more vegetable broth (also called vegetable stock) or some milk.
Fun fact: Some squashes are pumpkins, but all pumpkins are squashes.
Last of all, this dish has a little message for all eligible voters in the USA on this very unusual November day:
Happy Election Day!
- Macaroni and Cheese
- 1 large, unpeeled shallot
- 8 ounces (230g) cubed kabocha squash
- 6 ounces (175g) dry macaroni or cavatappi
- 1 cup (240g) fresh butternut squash puree
- ⅓ cup (80g) cottage cheese
- 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
- Pinch of ground nutmeg
- ½ cup (120mL) vegetable broth
- ½ cup (40g) shredded cheddar cheese
- 2 tablespoons (10g) finely grated parmesan cheese
- Salt and pepper
- ½ cup (20g) fresh breadcrumbs
- 1 teaspoon finely grated parmesan cheese
- ½ teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
- Black pepper
- Roasted Vegetables: Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Line a large baking sheet (or pan) with non-stick paper. Wrap the shallot in aluminium foil.
- Transfer the wrapped shallot and cubed kabocha squash to the baking sheet. Bake for 30 – 40 minutes, or until the squash is tender. Set aside to cool.
- Once cool enough to handle, peel and chop the roasted shallot (this is easiest if you use scissors).
- Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F (180°C). Grease an 8-inch (20cm) square baking dish.
- Pasta: Cook the macaroni or cavatappi in a saucepan of salted boiling water for 1 minute less than the time specified on the packet instructions. Drain, rinse under cold water, and set aside.
- Sauce: In a large bowl, combine the butternut squash puree, cottage cheese, fresh thyme leaves and nutmeg. Add the previously roasted and chopped shallot. Mix until well combined. Stir in the vegetable broth.
- Add the cheddar cheese and parmesan cheese, and season with salt and pepper. Mix gently until combined.
- Gently stir in the cooked macaroni or cavatappi. Add the roasted kabocha squash, and gently stir until combined.
- Transfer the macaroni and cheese mixture to the prepared baking dish.
- Breadcrumb Topping: In a small bowl, combine the fresh breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese and fresh thyme leaves. Add a dash of black pepper, and mix until well combined.
- Scatter the breadcrumb topping over the top of the macaroni and cheese.
- Bake the macaroni and cheese at 350°F (180°C) for 40 – 45 minutes, or until heated through with slightly crispy edges.
- Serve the either as a main dish with some vegetables, or as a side dish.
The sauce will be quite thick, like the consistency of a thick pumpkin soup. If the sauce appears to be far too thick, add a little extra vegetable broth (or milk).
To make fresh butternut squash puree, roast some butternut squash until tender, let it cool, and then blend it until smooth.
Medium-sized chunks of butternut squash will take around 35 - 40 minutes at 350°F (180°C) to become tender. Larger chunks, or entire squash halves, will need around 50 - 60 minutes.
A kabocha squash is also known as a Japanese pumpkin. Butternut squash is also known as butternut pumpkin.
Vegetable broth is also called vegetable stock.