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No Bones About It: Squash mac and cheese is a new fall favorite

Squash mac-and-cheese makes for a belly-warming and hearty vegetarian dish, perfect for a cold autumn night. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Squash mac-and-cheese makes for a belly-warming and hearty vegetarian dish, perfect for a cold autumn night. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

When I come across recipes that claim to hide vegetables in other foods, I get a bit defensive.

How dare you insult my cauliflower by claiming it’s so flavorless that it can be stealthily tucked away into mashed potatoes? Why are you stealing my spinach salad and pureeing it into your brownie mix?

I like vegetables, and I want to taste them. But I acknowledge that I am not necessarily in the majority on this.

Maybe you’re trying to trick picky young eaters (or grown-up ones) into getting their five a day. Or maybe you’re looking for creative ways to use all those winter squashes you found too beautiful to resist on that visit to Green Bluff.

Either way, this is fall comfort food at its best: homemade mac and cheese with a rich, flavorful sauce that gets its thick, silky consistency from pureed butternut squash.

Serve it with green salad, apple slices (again, that over-zealous trip to Green Bluff), or nothing at all, because, hey, the veggies are already in there.

Squash Mac and Cheese

Adapted from foodnetwork.com

10 ounces winter squash, such as butternut, delicata or kubocha

8 ounces macaroni or other pasta of your choice

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

pinch red pepper flakes

1/2 cup vegetable broth

1/2 cup milk (I used unflavored, unsweetened almond milk)

1 cup grated sharp cheddar or gruyere cheese

Salt and pepper to taste

For whole squash: Cut squash in half and scrape out seeds. Brush cut sides with olive oil and place the halves cut-side-down on a baking sheet. Roast at 400 degrees until tender, about 40 minutes.

For prepackaged, precut fresh or frozen squash: Prepare according to package directions.

Cook pasta according to package directions until al dente.

While pasta cooks, heat butter in a large saucepan on medium-low heat. When melted, add garlic, thyme, pepper flakes and a pinch of salt. Cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes.

Add broth and squash. Cook, mashing squash with a wooden spoon or potato masher. Add milk. Blend mixture with a stick blender or food processor until smooth. Return to heat and cook until mixture begins to bubble. (You may want to add a splash more broth or milk if your squash is on the dry side.)

Drain pasta and stir into squash mixture. Add cheese in small handfuls, stirring thoroughly after each addition so no clumps form. Stir over low heat until cheese melts into into sauce. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Optional: Spoon mac and cheese into a baking dish, sprinkle the top with a bit more grated cheese and a tablespoon or two of breadcrumbs, and place under the broiler for a couple of minutes, until cheese on top bubbles and breadcrumbs begin to brown.

Yield: 4 servings