Everyone's favourite comfort food gets a makeover in this cosy yet healthy mac and cheese recipe, made with a creamy hidden veg sauce.
When you think of macaroni and cheese, you probably don't think 'healthy'. Mounds of pasta drenched in cheese sauce, topped with more cheese... low calorie it is not.
But what if there was a way that you could get your mac n cheese comfort fix without straying completely from a healthy diet?
That's where this butternut squash mac and cheese comes in.
A thick, creamy sauce poured over macaroni, topped with cheese (and bread crumbs if you like) and baked until it's crispy on top. Delicious.
If you're looking for meal you can bash out in 30 minutes on a weeknight, this is not it. But traditional macaroni cheese is a treat, and so is this. This dish is perfect for a cosy Sunday with the family.
It's also great for feeding a crowd. It makes six portions, the recipe can easily be doubled, and you can absolutely make it ahead of time and simply pop it in the oven when you're ready to eat.
It's vegetarian, though you can make it vegan by substituting (or even leaving out) the cheese. We've tried it with gluten free pasta and it's still delicious.
Delicious is the key word here. We're yet to find someone who hasn't enjoyed it.
What makes this a 'healthy' mac and cheese?
How have we made this dish healthier? Well, the secret is in the sauce. Rather than a traditional bechamel, made with butter, milk and flour, the main ingredient in this sauce is butternut squash.
The thick, creamy sauce is made by blending cooked squash with stock and a splash of milk, plus some slow-cooked onions for good measure.
If you haven't tried a pureed vegetable pasta sauce yet, you may be dubious. But don't knock it 'till you've tried it. This butternut squash mac and cheese is the perfect thing to satisfy those comfort food cravings without reaching for overly processed foods.
It's also a great idea for fussy eaters and those who aren't keen on vegetables. No one need know you've stuffed your sauce with veg...
So how does it work?
First you slice a couple of onions and cook them very gently until they just start to colour. Next you peel and cube your butternut squash and cook it in stock until soft.
Then you simply pop the onions and squash into a blender with some of the stock, add a splash of milk for extra creaminess, and whiz it up. You're left with a rich and creamy sauce perfect for pouring over macaroni.
Sprinkle it with cheese, pop it in the oven for 20 minutes and voila, a bubbling dish of mac and cheese is yours.
- Not sure about butternut squash?
If you like the idea of a creamy pasta sauce made from veg, but butternut squash just isn't your thing, you can substitute cauliflower.
You can use much the same method and you should end up with a creamy sauce that's equally perfect for spooning over pasta.
This may not be the healthiest meal you'll ever eat but we like to follow the mantra of 'everything in moderation'. Yes, there's cheese. Yes, there's pasta. But not in excess.
You can't deny yourself everything all of the time. Research shows that overly restrictive diets are too difficult to stick too in the long term.
This is a delicious treat, cheesy and stodgy and really filling without the high levels of fat and salt you find in classic mac n cheese.
Plus, stick to our portion sizes and this recipe comes in at just under 500 calories.
Butternut squash mac and cheese recipe
2 small onions, finely sliced
1 tbsp olive oil
1 vegetable stock cube, made into 1 litre of stock
1 butternut squash, peeled, deseeded and cubed (about 1kg cubes)
100ml semi-skimmed milk
500g (dry weight) macaroni
150g reduced fat cheddar, grated
Breadcrumbs, made from one slice of wholemeal bread
Chopped parsley or other fresh herbs
1. Heat the oil over a medium heat and add the onions. Cook for a few minutes then turn down the heat, cooking them until they’re really soft and just starting to colour.
2. In a large pan, cover the cubed squash with the stock and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer until the squash is soft (5-10 minutes should be enough).
Take off the heat and remove the squash with a slotted spoon, keeping the stock.
3. To a blender, add 200ml of the stock, all the butternut squash, the onions and the milk. Blend until smooth and creamy, adding more stock if needed.
Season to taste with salt and pepper.
4. Preheat the oven to 200°C. While the oven is heating, cook the macaroni in boiling water until al dente and drain.
5. In a large baking dish, add the pasta and the sauce and mix well. Sprinkle over the grated cheese and the breadcrumbs if using.
6. Bake in the oven for 20 minutes or until the cheese is browned. Serve hot, topped with chopped fresh herbs if you like.