Monday, October 8, 2012

Butternut Mac Attack!

Macaroni and cheese is one of those culinary traditions that connects all of us. Everyone and their mother loves a heap of mac on their plate, so I reckon it's safe to say we all have fond memories attached to it. My mother was the first to serve me mac n' cheese in the form of Kraft Dinner. Preparing this meal was one of my earliest cooking experiences, if you can call it that, considering it was just boiling pasta, draining it with what I thought was a pirate sword, tossing in a nob of margarine, a few glugs of milk, and the grand finale: the powder packet of orange dust. My brother and I inhaled our Kraft dinner with boiled hot dogs and a token vegetable: frozen peas for him, cucumber for me. My use of the word "inhaled" is deliberate here, as I recall visions of my older brother holding his fork like a toddler, shoveling macaroni into his gullet so furiously that it caused him to cough every ten seconds from food going down the wrong pipe, as our mother reprimanded him tried to prevent him from choking to death with "CHEW YOUR FOOD!!!".
Come to think of it, many of my memories of mac n' cheese are tied to my brother. We both scream in anguish every time Kevin McCallister is interrupted from enjoying his nutritious, microwaveable macaroni and cheese dinner by a clock chiming nine, thus signaling the entrance of the burglars ("How could he not take one bite?! Just ONE bite!!!"). As it turns out, my brother and I are not alone on this one.
Speaking of microwaveable mac, we discovered that as teenagers we both enjoyed Stouffer's macaroni and cheese nuked to the same manner of perfection: still frozen on the outside, hot as lava in the center. It was while watching "Kids in the Hall" everyday at 3 and 3:30 on Comedy Central that we often devoured our half ice-cold, half scalding Stouffer's. Not so coincidentally, one of our favorite sketches included mac n' cheese...

It was finding these small, everyday parallels that helped us to eventually become friends after a traumatic childhood of sibling rivalry a daily bloodbath which has left me emotionally and spiritually scarred for life. But that initial Stouffer's revelation combined with the realization we both loved "Kids in the Hall" and engaged in underage drinking and pot smoking, well, we became the best of friends. I told you that Mac is the tie that binds.
The recipe I have for you today is trailblazing in that it does not rely on weird vegan products to mimic delicious mac flavor. No non-dairy milk, no nutritional yeast, no Earth Balance. Personally, I try to stay away from vegan substitutes because I think they're bullshit, both nutritionally and idealistically. That's just me. So this Mac Attack's primary ingredient is a vegetable, which is backed up by raw nuts, garlic, and another vegetable. Did I mention it tastes just as good as artery-clogging mac n' cheese, if not better? I'm as serious as a heart attack. Besides, did ya really think you could eat that much garbage without any side effects?
So make this recipe and save on your tape worm food expenses.

Butternut Mac Attack!
adapted from Oh She Glows
There are two ways to go about this dish. Traditionally: baked in a casserole. Or Quickly: served straight from the pot. The latter is a bit creamier, but the former is a classic. I say try both ways before choosing a fave.
For the cheese sauce:
1/2 medium-large butternut squash, peeled, chopped into ½” chunks, seeds reserved for roasting
extra virgin olive oil
salt & pepper
2-4 cloves garlic depending on your taste
3/4 cup raw cashews
1 teaspoon good quality dijon mustard (Annie’s dijon is the bomb)
turmeric for color (optional)
pasta cooking water
Green vegetable of choice: I like broccoli best, but okra, kale, collards, spinach, arugula, peas & green beans all work nicely here too
Pasta: One pound of choice (I used Tinkyada brown rice fusilli because it “promises a delightful eating experience-NOT MUSHY!”)
breadcrumbs or polenta
For "The Second Course":

Catsup (Homemade is best but, again, Annie’s is my go to store-bought catsup)
Preheat oven to 350°F.  Toss squash cubes with a teaspoon of olive oil, salt & pepper. Spread evenly on a baking sheet and place in the oven for 45 minutes, flipping after 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the rest of the cheese sauce. Process the garlic in a food processor, add the cashews and process again, followed by the dijon. The mixture should resemble a coarse meal.
Decide which green you’d like to include and prepare accordingly. When I use broccoli or okra, I prepare it exactly as I did the squash and roast it until it’s a bit browned, about 25 minutes. With green beans, lightly steaming them is perfect. As for the leafy greens, I prefer to leave them raw, torn by hand or cut into ribbons. They soften just by being mixed in with the hot pasta and cheese sauce. It’s up to you. The idea is to have your green veggie ready to go by the time the pasta is cooked and cheese sauce is finished.
Cook your pasta until al dente, OR cook only until half done if making the casserole version of this recipe. Reserve some pasta water when draining.

When squash is lightly browned, remove from the oven, allow to cool for a few minutes, then add it to the food processor and blend it with the cheese sauce until smooth, periodically scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. Most likely, the sauce will be too thick, which is where the pasta water comes in. With the processor running, slowly pour in the water until you reach your desired consistency. Using pasta water is much like using a stock: it adds flavor and complexity to a dish with ease. If you’d like your cheese to have a radioactive flare of color, add a teaspoon of turmeric and blend.
Gently toss the pasta with the cheese sauce, then mix in the green vegetable. If serving from the pot, you are ready to chow down. If you opt for the baked dish, prepare your breadcrumbs by processing a slice of bread and a teaspoon of olive oil in a food processor (I prefer to use polenta in place of the bread). Pour the pasta into a casserole dish, top with breadcrumbs, and bake at 350°F for about 25 minutes-in the last five minutes turn on the broiler to achieve that mark of excellence in classic mac n’ cheese: the golden brown, crispy top.
Serve with ketchup.
Fattening up our tapeworms!

1 comment:

  1. I love that kids in the hall sketch! This looks delicious.