7 December 2014

Butternut Squash Sheetpan Macaroni and Cheese…Because We Still Have to Eat!!


Butternut Squash Sheet Macaroni and Cheese
 
As my kitchen moves into high gear in preparation for the holidays, as cookies are baked, iced, and frozen, and as menus are planned, I realize that there are thirty more days on the calendar in the month of December other than Christmas Day that we simply have to eat! Plain and simple. To me there is absolutely NOTHING on the planet as comforting as a delicious, homemade macaroni and cheese for which I make no apologies whatsoever for its cheese, butter and carbs. It may even help ease any stress you might be feeling with the parties and entertaining looming. So let's eat shall we.

There are many trains of thought on what makes the perfect home made macaroni and cheese. Do you make yours with a béchamel sauce? Does it come out of a box? Do you make it on the stove top or in the oven? Is it saucy or not? Do you add tomatoes, truffles or lobster? Whether smooth and creamy, stringy and gooey, or just plain cheesy, everyone has a slightly different take on what constitutes the perfect homemade macaroni and cheese. What we don't want are adjectives like gummy, grainy or oily.
Over the years I have spent considerable time trying a wide variety of macaroni and cheese recipes and through experimentation I have discovered what works best for me. For quite a few years now my favourite macaroni and cheese recipe has been from that Seattle institution Beechers. I have always been open minded, but, perhaps that is just another way of saying I am easily swayed by the promise of a plateful of ooey, gooey cheese and a crunchy topping. No matter what method you choose there are some very important factors to making stellar macaroni and cheese. 
The quality of the cheese and the type of pasta are very important to a consistent product, but, the moneymaker for a GREAT macaroni and cheese is the sauce. A classic cheese sauce begins with a béchamel sauce, a simple sauce made of butter, flour, milk, and a few seasonings. To keep the sauce from separating, make sure to grate the cheese so it melts quickly, stir the room temperature cheese into the hot milk mixture off of the heat a little at a time. The flour binds the sauce, so that when the cheese is stirred in, the result is creamy and smooth, not stringy and curdled. Coat your pasta with the sauce as quickly as possible after it is rinsed. Overheating the cheese or letting the sauce sit too long can lead to the fat separating out of the cheese, which creates an oily sauce.
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“From morning till night,
 sounds drift from the kitchen,
 most of them familiar and comforting....
On days when warmth is the most important need of the human heart,
the kitchen is the place you can find it."

E.B.White  (1899-1985)
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The cheese that you use for your dish will depend on personal preference. However, understanding the melting properties, flavours and textures of different cheeses can help you select the cheese that's just right in recreating your own rewarding version of this dish. It is important to choose a cheese that melts well. "Light" and "low fat" cheeses will not work well. I wish I could tell you otherwise because I like to shave calories with the best of them. If you have found a brand that does work without being grainy please let me know.  I have had success with Cheddar, Swiss, Gruyere, Parmesan, Monterey Jack, Edam, Gouda, Tallegio, Oka, Fontina and Provolone. When it comes right down to it a good aged Cheddar has always received preferential treatment in my recreating this classic. Sharp white cheddar produces the smoothest result, while yellow and extra sharp Cheddars can become grainy.
 
According to the Martha Stewart website, "A good Italian brand of dried elbow macaroni will have the best consistency. Under cook your pasta so that it is the slightest bit crunchy (very al dente) in the centre, then rinse it under cold water. This stops the cooking and washes off the excess starch. You might think that starch would be useful in further thickening the casserole, but it isn't. As it bakes, that extra starch merely expands and lends a mealy texture to your sauce." The classic pasta to use is elbow macaroni. I use "maccarunciell lisci" a bronze extruded pasta from Gragnano, Italy whose rougher surface is the perfect foile for enabling the sauce to cling. It is an artisanal pasta larger than elbow macaroni but a similar shape. Of course you can use any shape of pasta where the sauce with pool in the tubes or crevices such as fusilli, conchiglie (shells), or ziti...but they do call it "macaroni and cheese" otherwise it should be called "pasta and cheese". Wink…wink.
 
Quite possibly a classic macaroni and cheese is THE ultimate comfort food.  It’s rich, flavourful and filling. It is easy to make, universally loved, and comforting in the extreme.  While classic Cheddary options are divine, other combinations of cheeses and various ingredients can combine to make a great thing even better. My favourite recipe is from Chef Shawn Cirkiel of Parkside who suggests white Cheddar which is a sharp, nicely meltable choice with that classic flavour. Adding in Gruyere for its oniony sweetness elevates the dish nicely as well. It's all in your choice of cheese. 
 
This time around I opted to boost the health factor with the addition of butternut squash. Now butternut squash may be just a little too sweet for my liking but feel free to choose whatever squash you desire.  I will keep experimenting.

Just like muffin tops the best part of a comforting dish of macaroni and cheese for me are the crunchy bits and in the case of mac 'n' cheese the crunchy bread on top as well.  To create those sought after crunchy bits in every bite spread your macaroni and cheese onto a baking sheet and expect to be transported...let me just say it was everything I hoped it would be! Using a cookie sheet was an idea adopted from Amanda Hesser, cocreator of food52.com and coauthor of The food52 Cookbook , who found the perfect balance between crispy and creamy macaroni and cheese. 
 
This dish will brighten your kitchen and warm your belly whether you are anticipating a casual meal over the holidays or digging out from under the latest snowfall. Think outside of the blue box and let a comforting, homemade macaroni and cheese work its magic. 

What is your favourite recipe? Leave me a link and maybe we will have a smack down.

**Butternut Squash Sheetpan Macaroni and Cheese**

1 medium-size butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
Olive oil
Kosher salt
3/4 cup chicken or vegetable broth
3/4 pound tubular pasta, such as penne or large elbows
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
2 1/2 cups grated, sharp cheddar cheese
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup grated Gruyere
2 slices home style bread buttered on both sides, cut into cubes

Preheat oven to 500 degrees F. 
 
In a large pot, combine cubed butternut squash and broth and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and simmer for 20-25 minutes, until squash is tender. Drain and puree with an immersion blender. Set aside.

Cook pasta in salted boiling water until al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water. To the pasta add the pureed squash. Set aside.

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in large, heavy saucepan. Add the flour. Cook the flour for a couple of minutes in the butter then add the milk. Whisk the sauce until it comes to a gentle boil and thickens and add mustard powder. Remove from heat. Add 2 cups of the Cheddar cheese a little at a time. Stir until  the cheese melts. Taste the sauce and season with salt and pepper. Add cheese sauce to the pasta mixture.

Spread mixture in an 11-by-17-in. rimmed baking sheet, shaking pan to fill evenly. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup of grated Cheddar cheese, grated Gruyere, and Parmesan. Top with buttered bread cubes. Bake until browned and crisp on top, about 15 minutes.
 

You are reading this post on More Than Burnt Toast at http://morethanburnttoast.blogspot.com. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author/owner of More Than Burnt Toast. All rights reserved by Valerie Harrison. Best Blogger Tips

12 comments:

  1. Macaroni and cheese is the ultimate comfort food, and I do love the addition of the butternut squash- it's one of my favorites. Baking it in a sheet pan is brilliant! :)

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  2. A great idea and tasty combination! This Mac & Cheese must taste really good.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

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  3. it's so funny isn't it how we, as food bloggers, seem to focus on the holidays and festivals and being clever about what we're going to make and then we neglect the every day aspect of a little thing called life... your mac and cheese looks gorgeous and is the perfect antidote!

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    1. Macaroni and Cheese will not get me a lot of hits on my post so close to Christmas Dom, but our blogs are about what we are eating when all is said and done. Thanks for taking the time to comment. I really appreciate it.

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  4. Love, love, love the idea of using the sheet pan. How clever. Who doesn't love mac and cheese and the additional of the butternut squash is fantastic.
    Sam

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  5. My kind of comfort food during the stressful holidays!

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  6. Good post with fun dialogue and a delicious recipe!

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  7. I love that you diced and added the butternut squash on top, such a great way to "think out of the box". This could easily be my new favorite mac n cheese. Happy Holidays!

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  8. Warm, comforting, and really so many things are better with butternut squash.

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  9. This dish makes me feel warm and cozy just reading about it, Val. :-) I love making comfort food over the holidays, leaving the posh, fancy stuff for the big day. And I really like that quote. :-)

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  10. I've been craving mac and cheese, and I love that this at least has a vegetable in it!

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  11. I'm a big fan of butternut squash and love the idea of using it in a cheesy mac and cheese!

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Welcome to my home. Thank you for choosing to stay a while and for sharing our lives through food. I appreciate all your support, comments, suggestions,and daily encouragement.

Val

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