“By posting this recipe I am entering a recipe contest sponsored by the National Pasta Association and am eligible to win prizes associated with the contest. I was not compensated for my time.”
Did you all know that October is National Pasta Month? Yep, in addition to October being National Pumpkin Month (not sure if that’strue, but it seems like it!), it’s also the time to give pasta some spotlight. So I’m dedicating this entire week here at Sweet Cayenne to pasta! The National Pasta Association has been so gracious to sponsor the “Pasta Fits” campaign through the Recipe Redux. It’s whole purpose is to encourage Redux members to highlight pasta as the foundation of a balanced and healthy meal.
I’m starting this week off featuring two recipes that utilize the same pasta (one today and one tomorrow). One of my favorite things about cooking with pasta is that you can stretch one box over several meals, using the same pasta shape in multiple ways. And dried pasta is usually very inexpensive! The box of whole wheat penne that I bought for my first two pasta dishes was only 99 cents, and we have stretched it out to 10 servings – now that’s what I call a budget meal!
I also wanted to start off Pasta Week by featuring a recipe that was full of fall flavor and would be warm and comforting on a chilly night. A healthy Mac N’ Cheese sounded like the perfect fit, and for a while now I’ve been wanting to try a version with a butternut squash puree base instead of the usual bechamel. I attempted a healthy cauliflower-based mac n’ cheese a few weeks ago if you remember, and it turned out to be, well, disgusting. It was like eating pasta baked in mashed potatoes. Eww. So I was a little timid about trying a butternut squash version, but boy am I happy with the results!
The creamy, sweet and nutty squash sauce for this mac n’ cheese is somewhere between the consistency of a soup and baby food. It’s definitely not too thick, but just thick enough to cling to and coat the noodles. The cheese flavor shines through the taste of butternut squash and the cheddar paired with it so well that I had a hard time stopping myself from eating all the sauce by itself! It will seem like you have more sauce than you need for the amount of pasta the recipe calls for, but once the penne bakes in the sauce the whole mixture will tighten up and you will have a perfectly creamy baked pasta (as you can see in the photo – it’s not dry at all but not too loose either).
To get you started on this recipe, check out my video to see exactly how I cut a butternut squash:
I’ve added some extra nutrition here by folding in a nice helping of sauteed kale with the noodles and some indulgence factor with deliciously sinful bacon breadcrumb. Don’t worry too much – it’s just 4 ounces of bacon for the entire dish! I went the easy route and bought a big ol’ bag of pre-washed and cut kale from my good friends at Trader Joe’s and used half of the bag in this dish. I’ll be using up the rest of the kale and the other half of my penne in the recipe tomorrow so be sure to come back for round 2!
- 3 cups peeled and cubed butternut squash
- 1 1/2 cups low sodium chicken stock
- 1 1/4 cups 1% milk
- 2 cloves of peeled garlic
- 3-4 sprigs of fresh sage
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
- 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 1 1/2 cups grated white cheddar cheese I used Trader Joe's Gruyere Cheddar Melange
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- Half a box of whole wheat dried penne about 2 1/2 cups, cooked according to package directions and drained)
- 4 ounces center cut bacon
- 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
- 4 cups chopped and stemmed kale
- 1/3 cup low sodium chicken stock
Preheat oven to 375.
Place the squash, 1 1/2 cups stock, milk, garlic, and sage sprigs in a large pot. Bring to a boil of medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low, and cook for 20-25 minutes until the squash is tender.
Remove from heat and carefully transfer to a blender or food processor. Leaving a small opening in the top of blender or processor, pulse slowly to puree the squash mixture until smooth (the air flow will keep the hot liquid from exploding out of the equipment). Transfer the blended squash mixture and stir in the salt, pepper, nutmeg and cheeses. Set aside.
While the squash cooks, prepare the bacon. In a large skillet, cook the bacon until crispy. Place on a paper towel to drain. Pour out any accumulated bacon grease from the pan and return to medium heat. Add the kale, 1/3 cup chicken broth, and sautee until tender, about 5 minutes.
Add the sauteed kale and cooked pasta to the squash and cheese sauce. Toss to combine. Spread the pasta mixture into a greased 9x9 square casserole pan.
To make the bacon breadcrumbs, place the cooked bacon strips and Panko in a food processor. Pulse until a coarse mixture forms, about a minute. Sprinkle the breadcrumb mixture evenly over the pasta dish.
Bake the pasta dish for 25 minutes until bubbly and golden brown. Serve hot!
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