Without question, the ultimate comfort food is macaroni and cheese — gooey, cheesy, warm, and indulgent. The inspiration for this twist on the classic mac 'n’ cheese comes from one of my favorite pasta dishes from the charming Italian town of Mantova: Tortelli di Zucca, handmade pasta stuffed with a velvety smooth purée of pumpkin, crushed almond Amaretti cookies, and a hint of spices. The memory of that incredible dish coaxed me into creating this recipe, an Italian-American fusion of ultimate comfort. This unique take on mac n' cheese features classic autumn flavors of roasted butternut squash, fragrant sage, and an unexpected sweet and spicy gingersnap-pecan crunch.
- One 1-pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes*
- 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more to finish
- ½ teaspoon salt, plus more for cooking macaroni
- ½ teaspoon pepper
- 1 pound elbow macaroni
- 3 tablespoons butter, plus more for greasing
- 1 small onion, diced
- 1 tablespoon fresh sage, minced
- 2 tablespoons flour
- 1 cup chicken stock
- 1 ½ cups nonfat milk
- 2 cups aged gouda cheese, grated
- 1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- Pinch of nutmeg, freshly grated
- Pinch of cayenne
- 8 gingersnap cookies, crumbled**
- ½ cup pecans, chopped
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil.
Toss the squash with the olive oil, salt, and pepper. Transfer the squash to the baking sheet. Place in the oven and roast for 20-25 minutes until lightly browned. Set aside and turn the oven down to 350 degrees.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add the macaroni and cook until al dente according to the package instructions, about 8 minutes.
While the pasta is cooking, heat a large pan over medium heat. Add the butter, onion, and sage. Sauté about 4-5 minutes until the onions are translucent. Add the flour and stir to combine. Let the mixture cook for 1-2 more minutes. Whisk in the chicken stock and milk, and let come to a boil to thicken up.
Next, add the cheeses, mustard, nutmeg, and cayenne. Stir to combine. Then, mix in the squash. Use a whisk to mash up the squash a little. (I prefer to leave a few chunky pieces of the squash in the sauce.) Add salt and pepper, to taste.
Drain the cooked pasta and return it to the pot. Pour the sauce over the pasta and combine well. Grease a casserole dish with butter, and pour in the macaroni and cheese. Sprinkle the gingersnap cookie crumble and pecans over the top and drizzle with a little olive oil.
Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes. Remove foil and continue baking until lightly browned on top, about 30 more minutes.