1 t olive oil
2 t bacon fat
1 small onion, diced or sliced
salt and pepper
2/3 t dried rosemary
1/3 lb small pasta shells
2 t salted butter plus more to butter baking dish
4 oz. roasted butternut squash, mashed
2/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1/2 cup croutons
1. Heat oil and melt bacon fat. Cook onions over medium to medium-low heat until they are soft, browned and caramelized, 10-20 minutes, stirring often. Season with pepper, small pinch of salt, and rosemary.
2. Cook shells in well-salted, boiling water until they are just under al-dente.
3. Butter the baking dish. Using a ziptop bag and your choice of rolling pin, mallet, wine bottle, etc., break down some of the croutons so you have a half crouton, half breadcrumb mix. Mix in remaining 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese.
4. When onions are done, mix in squash and allow to cook for at least one minute until thick and hot.
5. Drain pasta, reserving 1-2 cups of pasta water. Return to pan and stir in butter.
6. When onion and squash mixture has thickened, add pasta water to thin into a sauce. The amount will depend on how thick your squash mixture is. Aim for a sauce that is not too runny, as you're making a mac and cheese casserole here, not squash soup with pasta (though that's not half bad either). Combine sauce and shells. Add more pasta water if desired to thin. Taste, and adjust seasoning if needed.
7. Place pasta into baking dish and cover with the crouton and cheese mixture. If your pasta is done, place under the broiler just long enough to lightly brown the top. If your pasta is still slightly crunchy, place in a 400 degree oven and bake until the top is lightly browned.
Note: You may use frozen and thawed squash puree in a pinch. The flavor won't be as strong, so make certain to cook the mix in step 4 down to concentrate slightly before thinning with pasta water. For a vegetarian version, omit the bacon fat and replace with butter.
For roasted squash: Sliced a butternut squash into 1" cubes (discarding or reserving the seeds for other uses), toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast at 350 degrees until the squash is soft and lightly browned. When cooled, scrape the flesh from the skin and mash. This can then be divided into portions and frozen.
For the complete essay and photos, click here: On Butternut Mac and Cheese
© 2011, OnBlank.com