We just got back from a fabulous week in Cancun, Mexico. Each day, after playing in the water and getting fantastic farmer’s tans while wearing their rash guards all morning, the kids ordered lunch poolside. A huge serving of amazingly rich, creamy macaroni and cheese with a side of french fries and veggies. (Yes, I let them eat french fries once in a while, and even ice cream…) The mac n’ cheese was soooo good it was hard or any of us “adults” to resist diving in and stealing a few bites for ourselves…
Following the 10 hour trip back, and 12 hours of sleep that night, the next afternoon the kids requested, guess what? Macaroni and Cheese for lunch. And so they did, devouring MY… creamy, dreamy, garlicky, mac n’ cheese; but this time a healthy rendition, without any of the cream, butter, or cheese. This super healthy, vegan-ready, mac n’ cheese rivals any of the best traditional versions. The garlic, cayenne and nutmeg add a little something extra that elevates the dish’s flavor profile without altering the soulful, comfort food factor that macaroni and cheese must have. This rich, soft and velvety bowl is easy to make and graces our dinner table several times a month. Getting a full serving of squash, the kids (and adults) savor every last bite….
Yield: 4 entree-sized servings
1 small butternut squash or large sweet potato, baked
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
4 cups dairy free milk, or unsweetened almond milk
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
salt ( to taste)
1 pound campanelle, or any pasta of your choice, cooked just under al dente
Preheat the oven to 400 deg F.
To bake: Place the pre-cut squash, cut side down, in a glass baking dish and bake for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool before handling. OR wrap the sweet potato in aluminum foil and bake for 45 minutes or until tender.
Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large stainless steel pan over medium heat. Add the garlic to the oil and cook until lightly golden brown, about 1 minute. Whisk in the flour and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk in the milk, raise the heat to high and cook, whisking constantly, until thickened, about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and whisk in the cayenne and nutmeg until incorporated.
Pour the mixture into a blender and add in the squash (remove seeds and scoop it out of its skin with a spoon) or sweet potato (remove skin). Blend until smooth. Transfer back to the pan and salt. Taste for seasoning. Add more salt or nutmeg if necessary. If the mixture appears too thick, add additional milk, 1/4 cup at a time.
Put the cooked pasta in a large bowl, add in the sauce. Stir and serve immediately.
Note: To make this dish fancy: many times I transfer the pasta (combined with the sauce) into a baking dish and sprinkle on chopped fresh parsley and freshly made bread crumbs (place 1 to 2 slices of bread in a food processor and pulse until small crumbs). Drizzle a little olive oil, then transfer to a oven, preheated to 450 deg F, and bake for 10 minutes, until top is golden brown. Remove from the oven, let rest for a few minutes, and serve.