Recipe of the Week: Back-to-school butternut mac and cheese

12:00 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 26, 2017 Austin360 Eats
Erin Scott
“No Excuses Detox” by Megan Gilmore

Americans’ enduring love of mac and cheese hasn’t waned, despite criticism earlier this summer of what’s inside the Kraft blue box.

We’ve published recipes for DIY powdered mix that you can use to make your own mac and cheese, but this version from “No Excuses Detox: 100 Recipes to Help You Eat Healthy Every Day” by Megan Gilmore (Ten Speed Press, $19.99) calls for simmering butternut squash while you cook the pasta and then pureeing the orange flesh with nutritional yeast to make a sauce for gluten-free (or regular) pasta.

Gilmore admits that this dish isn’t going to fool Kraft fanatics, but it offers a canvas for adding other vegetables for a healthful main or side dish at lunch or dinner. She says the sauce freezes well, so you can make extra and pour into ice cube trays so you can have a smaller amount of sauce handy whenever you want it. When you’re ready to use the frozen cubes, just place a few of them in the pot with the hot cooked pasta that has been drained.

Butternut Mac ’n’ Cheese

1 tablespoon coconut oil

1/2 yellow onion, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1 pound fresh or frozen butternut squash chunks

1 3/4 cups water, divided

1 pound gluten-free macaroni or shell pasta

1 cup fresh or thawed from frozen shelled peas

1/4 cup nutritional yeast

2 teaspoons fine sea salt

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 cups fresh baby spinach, chopped (optional)

2 to 4 cups leftover roasted or sautéed vegetables (optional)

To prepare the sauce: In a large pot, melt the coconut oil over medium-high heat and sauté the onion and garlic until they start to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the squash and 1 cup of the water and bring to a boil. Stir the veggies, lower the heat to a simmer and cover the pot to cook the vegetables until tender, about 20 minutes.

While the squash simmers, cook the pasta according to the package directions, adding the peas during the last 5 minutes of the cooking time.

Remove the lid and make sure the butternut squash is fork-tender. Simmer off any remaining liquid, then transfer the cooked vegetables to a high-speed blender. Add the remaining 3/4 cup water, nutritional yeast, salt, chili powder and lemon juice and blend until completely smooth. (Be sure to leave the vent in your blender lid open to prevent the steam pressure from building up — it could blow the lid off your blender and cause burns. Instead, loosely cover the vent with a thin dish towel to prevent splattering.)

Drain the tender pasta and peas and toss them with the butternut sauce in a large pot over medium heat to warm up everything. At this point, you can stir in the spinach, which will wilt quickly when stirred, or roasted vegetables. Taste and adjust any seasoning. Serve warm. Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. Serves 4 to 6.

— From “No Excuses Detox: 100 Recipes to Help You Eat Healthy Every Day” by Megan Gilmore (Ten Speed Press, $19.99)

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