Wait a minute. Thanksgiving is this week. This. Week. Like what? Holidays generally sneak up on me pretty quickly. But last week, when talking about our culinary class schedule for this week, we made it through the entire conversation before I realized that Thanksgiving week was the week in question. I’m not even sure how I was following and understanding the conversation without having realized this.
My mind lapse probably has a lot to do with the fact that I’m not traveling for Thanksgiving this year. Yep, I’m staying in the New York area and spending thanksgiving with Matt’s family. With just two days off from school, it just wasn’t worth it to deal with the inevitable travel insanity associated with Thanksgiving. So here in the northeast I stay. No worries though, I’ll be in St. Louis for ten glorious days over Christmas. Literally cannot wait.
As it goes with many gatherings, as a vegetarian , it’s always safer if I provide food for the party that I want to eat. I’m not trying to take over anyone’s menu or force others to abide by my whole-food, meatless lifestyle, but a girl’s gotta eat. So when I told my older sister, Rickey, what I was bringing to Matt’s family’s potluck Thanksgiving, her response was, “so you’re just bringing your own meal.” Essentially and shamelessly, yes. But I also tried to include at least one dish that would satisfy a meat-eating crowd. And the easiest way to do that? Cheese and carbs.
I have macaroni and cheese down to a science, and it’s actually pretty simple. I make mac and cheese for almost every potluck-style party because I, and most everyone else, will no doubt love it. There’s a time and a place for a basic macaroni and cheese dish. But for a special occasion like this, I like to mix it up a little. And that’s how today’s recipe was born. This mac and cheese sticks with a traditional blend of sharp white cheddar and swiss cheese, but gets a little something special with the addition of roasted butternut squash and broccoli. It also gets a dab of cream cheese added in, for an uber creamy sauce that’s silky and rich, and uses nutty whole wheat macaroni noodles for an extra bump of fiber. This dish is savory, sweet, totally indulgent, and it just screams autumn.
So you may be wondering what the rest of my plate will look like on what is traditionally considered “turkey day.” Can a vegetarian even like this holiday? Certainly! Along with my satisfying mac and cheese, I’ll also be bringing a vegan fennel and kale stuffing, a vegetarian mushroom gravy, and a cranberry-apple compote, all made from scratch. Doesn’t that sound like a perfect meat-free spread to kick off the most wonderful (and glutinous) time of the year? With the addition of a straight veggie side or two (like a simple salad or some pan roasted brussel sprouts), I’m not just surviving the Thanksgiving feast, I’m truly loving it!
In conclusion, I hope everyone has their menus relatively under control at this point (for your own sanity), and cant wait until Thursday. But if you totally lost track of time (like me) and still need some ideas (don’t fret, you’re only human), this recipe is one that won’t let you down.
Roasted Butternut Squash & Broccoli Mac & Cheese
Serves: 8 Start to Finish: 1 hr 15 min
1 butternut squash, peeled & diced (approx.5 cups)
1 small head broccoli, trimmed into bite-size florets
3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
¼ cup unsalted butter (aka 4 tablespoons)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 shallot, peeled and minced
¼ cup all purpose flour
4 cups whole milk
6 ounces shredded sharp cheddar cheese
4 ounces shredded gruyere/swiss cheese
2 ounces cream cheese
½ cup all-natural whole wheat bread crumbs
1 pound whole wheat macaroni noodles
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Peel butternut squash. Cut in half length-wise. Remove seeds. Cube into ½“ pieces. Toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil and ¼ teaspoon sea salt. Spread onto parchment lined baking sheet in a single layer. Bake butternut squash for 45 minutes, tossing once halfway through.
Cut broccoli head into similar sized florets. Toss florets with1 tablespoon olive oil and ¼ teaspoon salt. Bake in 400 degree oven for 25 minutes. When squash and broccoli are finished cooking, set aside.
Boil 6 cups of water with ½ tablespoon salt in a large pot.
Heat oven to 350 degrees (only if baking, see notes below).
Peel and mince garlic and shallots. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and shallots. Cook for 1-2 minutes. Whisk in flour until smooth. Cook for 3 minutes. Add milk 1/2 cup at a time, whisking constantly to maintain smoothness. Add salt to taste (I added 1 teaspoon).
Bring to gentle boil and reduce to simmer. Simmer milk until thickened, stirring occasionally. Thickening takes about 6-8 minutes. The mixture should coat a wooden spoon.
Add pasta to boiling water. Cook to al dente. The pasta should have some bite and texture at this point.
Toss breadcrumbs with 1 tablespoon olive oil and ½ teaspoon salt. Set aside.
When milk is thickened, remove from heat and stir in shredded cheeses and cream cheese. Stir until smooth. Drain pasta.
Option 1: Smooth & Soupy Mac & Cheese
For if you like a creamy, more liquid-like mac and cheese, but still want that crispy topping.
Combine cheese sauce with cooked pasta and roasted veggies. Pour hot mac and cheese into casserole dish. Sprinkle breadcrumb mixture evenly over top of casserole. Broil for 1 minute or until breadcrumbs are golden brown.
If making ahead of time, make cheese sauce and roasted veggies ahead of time. Store separately in the fridge. Cook pasta just before eating. While pasta cooks, re-heat cheese sauce on the stovetop until hot and smooth. Add freshly cooked hot pasta and room temperature veggies to hot cheese sauce. Pour hot mac and cheese into casserole dish. Sprinkle breadcrumb mixture evenly over top of casserole. Broil for 1 minute or until breadcrumbs are golden brown.
Option 2: Solid-Style Baked Mac & Cheese (or reheating)
For if you like the more solid texture of a baked mac and cheese, or you need to reheat the finished dish.
Combine cheese sauce with cooked pasta and roasted veggies. Pour hot mac and cheese into casserole dish. Sprinkle breadcrumb mixture evenly over top of casserole. Bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes, covered. Then uncover and broil so the breadcrumbs get brown and crispy.
If making ahead of time, pour into casserole dish as directed, but then refrigerate without breadcrumb topping, until needed. When ready to eat, bake until heated through, covered. When heated, remove cover, add breadcrumbs, broil until golden.
For reheating the finished dish, bake at 350 degrees, covered, for closer to an hour, until fully heated through.