In a perfect world, mac n’ cheese would be considered a nutritional powerhouse….along with at least a dozen other foods I can think of. In the real world, I’ll just have to continue making healthier versions of the foods I grew up loving. And that I want Audrey to experience as well. I don’t want to deprive her of childhood favorites, but I want to give them to her in a way I can feel good about and that I can enjoy right alongside her. Here I’ve created a version of mac n’ cheese – with less cheese, whole-wheat elbows, and rich, creamy butternut squash – that is the perfect side dish, lunch, or grab n’ go snack.
*These muffins freeze wonderfully – so make a big batch and you’ll have a quick dish ready in a pinch.
Butternut Squash Mac n’ Cheese Muffins
12 months + up
Makes 12 muffins
1/2 lb. whole-wheat elbows
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
3/4 cup milk
3/4 cup shredded Cheddar cheese, plus more for sprinkling tops
1/2 cup shredded Jack cheese
1/4 cup parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 1/2 cups pureed butternut squash* (to make homemade, see below)
1 egg yolk
Preheat oven to 375.
Line a 12-cup muffin pan with paper liners. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain well and set aside.
Meanwhile, melt butter in medium saucepan or dutch oven over medium heat. Whisk in flour, stirring constantly for 1 minute. Slowly whisk in milk. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens. Stir in cheeses, mustard and salt and pepper. Lower heat to medium and continue to stir until cheese is melted. Remove from the heat and stir in squash puree and egg yolk. Add cooked elbows to cheese mixture and stir until combined. Fill each liner with mac and cheese mixture. Sprinkle tops with extra cheddar cheese and bake until lightly browned on top, about 25 minutes. Let muffins cool slightly in the pan and then continue to cool on a wire rack. Place in an airtight container and refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months.
*For the squash: Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Peel and de-seed a 1 1/2 pound butternut squash, cut into a small cubes. Combine the squash, 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil and a pinch of salt in a large bowl and toss to thoroughly coat. Transfer to a baking sheet and roast for 20 to 25 minutes, stirring a few times, until the squash is tender and beginning to turn golden and are slightly caramelized. Remove the squash from the oven and place in a food processor, puree until smooth.