I know it's barely been two months since I posted about Baked Mac and Cheese with roasted squash, collards, bacon and sage, but I just made this dish again the other night, only with a few changes. I won't say it was 'better,' since I omitted the bacon and that would be just impossible, but it was pretty spectacular. As I have been eating it for just about every meal for the past three days, it seemed unfair not to share the variation.
The brilliant thing about this recipe is that the roux which traditionally thickens the creamy sauce is replaced by roasted winter squash. You can roast the squash ahead of time and store it in the fridge to ease the prep on the day you plan to make the dish.
I actually followed the original recipe more closely this time, using the ricotta cheese, vegetable stock and pinch of nutmeg originally called for, but this time I added blanched kale and steamed cauliflower. The pasta is gooey and hearty enough to feel decadent, yet light and vegetal enough to convince you you are eating something healthy. I can't think of a more satisfying one-dish meal on a chilly winter's day. I don't have much experience with picky children, but this seems like a good recipe to get them to eat their veggies. The pureed squash blends into the cheese, leaving its voluptuous texture and sweet flavor, and the cauliflower gets disguised into the white of the noodles. (Kale haters: you're on your own.)
Baked Mac and Cheese with Roasted Squash, Kale and Cauliflower
Makes one 9x13x2" casserole, 8ish main-course servings
1 bunch kale (redboor or dino), stems removed
12 oz. dry penne pasta
1 head cauliflower, broken into bite-sized florets, stems sliced thinly
2 cups (1 pound) roasted winter squash flesh
1 cup vegetable stock
1 1/2 cups whole milk
grating fresh nutmeg
8 oz. grated sharp (orange) cheddar cheese
4 oz. ricotta cheese (the good stuff, like Bellweather)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup breadcrumbs from 1-2 slices crusty boule
1 oz. grated parmesean or pecorino
Preheat the oven to 350º.
Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil. Add the kale and cook until crisp-tender, a few minutes. Fish out with tongs or a slotted spoon. Let cool until you can squeeze out all the water, then chop coarsely. Add the penne to the water and cook, stirring occasionally, until a bit firmer than al dente. (It will continue to cook, and absorb the liquid from the sauce in the oven.) Drain well. Place in a very large bowl, with the kale. Steam the cauliflower until crisp tender, 5 -10 minutes, and add to the bowl as well.
Meanwhile, combine the squash, stock, milk and nutmeg in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, then mash or puree smooth. Season with 3/4 teaspoon salt. Pour over the pasta and veg. Add the grated cheddar and ricotta. Stir to combine. Taste for seasoning.
In a skillet, fry the breadcrumbs in the olive oil, with a few pinches of salt, until crisp. Remove to a bowl, let cool slightly, and toss with the parmesean or pecorino.
Grease a 9x13x2" casserole. Spread the pasta mixture in the pan and scatter the breadcrumbs evenly over.
Bake at 350º until bubbling and golden, about 20 - 30 minutes.