Butternut squash mac and cheese is perfect for fall and the holiday season. Patty’s family made it as a Thanksgiving side a few years ago and I’ve been hooked ever since. While butternut squash mac and cheese is technically healthier than regular mac and cheese, it’s not my motivation for sharing this recipe.
This mac and cheese recipe has an undeniable rich texture with softer and more subtle flavors. It works so well as a holiday side because the butternut squash really compliments the traditional ‘holiday’ flavors on the rest of your plate. It’s creamy and smooth and pairs nicely with sharp cheddar cheese to bring it all together.
I make my butternut squash mac and cheese with fresh rosemary and fresh thyme for some more savory fall-inspired flavors. The top is finished (baked or broiled) in the oven with buttered panko crumbs and shredded parmesan cheese. Do not skip this step!
No Roux Required
Most mac and cheese recipes require a roux (flour, butter, and milk), to serve as a thickening agent for the cheesy sauce. The base of this recipe is made up of blended (pureed) butternut squash, milk, and butter. It becomes the perfect creamy vehicle for melting cheese and also saves a few steps. My only tip is to season the sauce with plenty of salt and pepper to really bring out the butternut squash flavor.
Best Cheese for Mac and Cheese?
For regular mac and cheese, I typically like to use a blend of sharp and mild Cheddar cheeses, plus a more mild Fontina. Butternut squash is very mild, therefore I recommend you blend with sharper cheddar cheeses to help balance everything out and retain some cheese character. Mozzarella and fontina are both great choices for more mild creamy cheeses.
Canned Versus Fresh Butternut Squash
I usually opt for fresh butternut squash when I make this recipe. It’s very easy to prepare and you can use the same water to boil your pasta. If you use fresh butternut squash, look for one that is just over a pound. You can also buy pre-cut butternut squash to save some time and prep. The only extra equipment you need to account for is a blender.
A 15-ounce can of pureed butternut squash replaces the FRESH butternut squash in this recipe. Follow the recipe as written, but mix and heat the butternut squash, butter, pre-minced spices and herbs, and milk in the skillet and stir until smooth, warm, and creamy before adding the cheese. You can also choose to blend everything together as well.
P.S. A special thanks to Stargazer for sending me their ultra-smooth cast iron skillet. I’m a huge fan so far and highly recommend it.
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Creamy butternut squash mac and cheese made with sharp cheddar cheese. Topped with buttered panko and parmesan cheese.
- 1 pound mezzi rigatoni, small shells, or elbows
- 1 pound fresh butternut squash, cubed (see note on canned)
- 8 ounces shredded sharp cheddar cheese ( I like Cabot Seriously Sharp)
- 3/4 cup panko crumbs
- 1/2 cup whole or 2% milk (more if needed)
- 1/3 cup shredded parmesan cheese
- 4 tablespoons butter, divided
- 2 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed
- 1 sprig, fresh rosemary, leaves removed
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
- salt and pepper, to taste
- Preheat oven to 400°F.
- Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Add butternut squash and cook until easily pierceable with a fork with no resistance. About 10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, combine, panko, 2 tablespoons melted butter, thyme, and Parmesan cheese in a small bowl. Stir to mix and set aside.
- Remove butternut squash with a slotted spoon and place in a blender. Add pasta to the same boiling water and cook al dente. Strain and set aside.
- Add rosemary, milk, garlic, and 2 tablespoons melted butter to the blender. Blend until smooth and creamy. The consistency should be easily pourable and very creamy. If it’s too thick, add some more milk. See note below on consistency.
- Pour butternut squash into an oven-safe skillet or pan over medium heat. Season all over with salt and pepper, to taste. Add the cheese and stir until fully melted and creamy.
- Add rigatoni and stir until fully incorporated. Top with panko mixture and bake for 10 minutes. For an extra golden crust, finish with a 1-2 minute broil. Top with additional thyme if desired.
A 15-ounce can of pureed butternut squash replaces the FRESH butternut squash in this recipe. Follow the recipe as written, but mix and heat the butternut squash, butter, garlic, finely chopped rosemary, and milk in the skillet and stir until smooth, warm, and creamy before adding the cheese.
A note on texture: If you prefer a creamier or thinner sauce, add more milk until you reach your desired consistency. This renders a creamy yet dense sauce that I personally prefer. It sticks to the noodles and isn’t necessarily runny.
Keywords: butternut squash mac and cheese