You all know how much I love a good mac n cheese (not that I've ever come across a bad mac n cheese) and that I could pretty much eat it for breakfast, lunch, dinner and a few snacks in between. I've met the odd person over the past few years who can't stand the stuff...but for the most part I think that people just love mac n cheese. I don't know what it is about a warm bowl of cheese covered pasta but it just warms my heart, like a big comforting hug. Mac n Cheese just does it for me.
This week my MIL and SIL were up visiting and on Monday while I was at work (sob sob) the wonderful David treated them to an afternoon on the beach at North Berwick. Keeping in mind that this is Scotland and it is October I planned our meal wisely...what better to come home to after a day of walking in the wind and rain than a steaming dish of mac n cheese.
I wanted to make this mac hearty, filling, rich, creamy and above all different. Ages ago I made a mac n cheese with chunks of roasted butternut squash, which was a big hit...so I thought I would tweak that a bit. Added veggies must negate the calories in the cheese...right? The chunks of squash in the mac I made before were great, but I wanted something silkier...I wanted a really smooth and creamy dish.
I cut a butternut squash in half length wise, scooped out the seeds and put it cut side down into a baking dish and then into the oven (180f ish) for about 40 mins. I wanted the squash to be soft enough to just scrape it out of the skin. While the squash was roasting I put a huge pan of water onto boil and then cooked and drained 500g of elbow macaroni (I feel very strongly about only using elbow macaroni for my mac).
I like to make my cheese sauce right in my shallow Le Creuset casserole because it can be used on the stove top, plus it saves on washing yet another pot and I can generally tell if there is enough sauce for all the pasta. My basic cheese sauce is 50g of butter melted until bubbling and then 2 tbsp of flour whisked in for a couple of minutes. I then add 300ml of milk and stir until nice and thick. I usually add a pinch of cayenne and mustard powder and a good crank of pepper and salt. For this mac I used a extra mature cheddar, but sometimes I use a mixture of cheddar, edam, gouda, mozzarella...whatever is on hand. About 200g grated (a handful reserved for the topping) goes into the white sauce. To make the sauce creamy I added 150ml of creme fraiche (full fat), and then scraped out the squash (once it was really soft) using a fork and added it to the cheesy mixture.
Then in with the pasta and mixed it all up. If the pasta wasn't really covered I would have added a bit more creme fraiche or some more milk...but luckily this time I had made just the right amount of cheese sauce. I topped the dish with the cheese I had saved, a naughty sprinkle of store bought breadcrumbs (I just happened to have in the cupboard) and a quick drizzle of olive oil to help the bread crumbs brown. Into the oven it went (180f ish) for about 20 mins until it was crisp and golden on top. Between 4 greedy adults there was barely a scoop left.
I have to say this was hands down the best mac n cheese I've had for a long time. I christened it my Harvest Mac since pumpkins and squash are in abundance at the moment, but seeing as I can get butternut squash all year round at the supermarket I think it might just become my not-so-boring standard.