Butternut-Chicken Mac and Cheese

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What a mouthful!  I like short names for recipes, like "taco soup" or "cornbread."  I tried to think of a shorter name, but the above title best captures it.  Several years ago, I fell in love with butternut squash and promptly wanted to incorporate it into everyday life.  Rachael Ray made a recipe with it that she called "butternut bowties," (nice and short name, nice dish) and I made it and loved it, but Drew insisted that this was not acceptable main course dinner material.  I'm still learning how to feed a man.  So, the dilemma was presented:  how to continue making this dish into a main course?  The answer I've found is to add cooked, diced chicken.  In doing so, you have proteins, carbs, veggies, and dairy all in one tasty dish, and it can be eaten alone or with a side salad.  Yay!  Why did it take 3 or 4 years to try that?

The dish itself is so tasty.  We loved it, and it probably gave us 6 servings with the chicken added in.  It's also a good way to lighten up mac and cheese without losing anything in terms of taste or texture.  The butternut squash and sage add a nice fall/winter flavor.  It's a good dish for any day, but I will warn you that it's a solid hour and a half prep, if not longer.  You can break that up into stages, though.

Butternut-Chicken Mac and Cheese
inspired by Rachael Ray

1/2 to 1 lb boneless skinless chicken, cooked and cubed or diced
1 butternut squash, halved and seeds removed
1 tablespoon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
16 oz. macaroni or other small pasta
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
A pinch of nutmeg
A pinch of cinnamon
5 to 6 sage leaves, thinly sliced
1 cup grated cheddar cheese

1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Preheat oven to 400F.

Place squash halves on a baking sheet and drizzle them with 1 tablespoon EVOO, salt and pepper. Place them cut side down and transfer to the oven. Roast until tender, about an hour. Remove from oven and cool.
Once cool enough to handle, scoop the flesh out of the squash and transfer it to a food processor. Process until smooth.

Place a pot of water over high heat for the pasta. Once at a boil, add some salt and the pasta, and cook to al dente according to package directions. Drain the cooked pasta and return it to the pot it was cooked in.
While the pasta water is heating up, place a small skillet over medium-high heat with the butter. Once melted, add the flour and cook about a minute. Whisk in the milk and cook until the liquids come up to a bubble and the sauce thickens, 2-3 minutes. Add the squash puree, nutmeg, cinnamon and sage, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Add the sauce to the pot with the cooked pasta and chicken and toss to coat. Turn everything out into a baking dish and sprinkle the top with both cheeses. Transfer to the oven and bake until the cheese is brown and bubbly, 10-15 minutes.

  • I can't remember how I cooked my chicken, whether it was poached (boiled), baked, or grilled, but as long as it's cooked- this can of course be done ahead of time, utilize leftovers, etc.  We used about 1/2 lb. boneless skinless breast, but any boneless skinless meat will work.
  • You can also do the butternut squash ahead of time and keep it in the fridge until needed.  That would allow this to be a quicker, weeknight meal.
  • As with a lot of pasta dishes, this one is best the day it's made, but it's still good as leftovers.

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