Baked Mac N’ Cheese With Ricotta, Roasted Butternut Squash, and Brown Butter-Sage Bechamel

I cook sometimes.

Well, a lot, actually.

Today there was some snow around, so I figured it was as good a time as any to break out the comfort food. Baked macaroni and cheese is a huge New England comfort food staple, so obviously being a good little Boston wifey it’s become one of my comfort food staples. Usually, I make it with about half cauliflower and half pasta (well, maybe slightly heavier on the pasta) to cut calories and add vitamins, and also because it’s tasty as hell. But Target didn’t appear to have frozen cauliflower today, and since I am a great follower of the Only Stop at One Stop When You Shop With Children Rule, I didn’t pick some up elsewhere.

I also happened to happen upon two forgotten butternut squashes (Squash? Squashes? That sounds awfully ungrammatical…) in my pantry’s produce bin yesterday, so I had in mind that I should cook them before they were forgotten again. I roasted them simply, with olive oil, sea salt, and pepper, then peeled them and stuck them in the fridge.

Here is the quasi-recipe (making stuff up as I go along sort of precludes exact recipes, but mac n’ cheese is endlessly forgiving, I promise!) for the rest:

1.5 boxes pasta of your choice, cooked al dente (I used whole-wheat smallish shells)
1/2 stick butter
1 onion, diced
2-3 cloves garlic, diced or smashed (to taste)
4 tbsp flour
3.5-4 cups milk
Sage to taste, fresh or ground
1 tsp paprika
2 oz swiss cheese
2 oz + 1 bag shredded sharp cheddar
1/2 cup parmesan
1 cup ricotta
Roasted butternut squash to taste (about 1 squash), in smallish chunks

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and cook pasta al dente. While the pasta is cooking, cook the butter it over med-high heat till foamy. Add the onion and garlic and sauté till nice and brown. While that’s happening, add your sage–I recommend a generous portion–I snipped a few tbsp of fresh and later added more ground. When the onions and garlic are soft and lightly browned, add the flour and cook to make a roux–I kept mine going till it was brown and rich-smelling. Add the milk (I’d say I used maybe 3.5 or 4 cups? I sort of eyeballed it…) and whisk it together to mix. Turn the heat down to med and keep whisking. Add the 2 oz cheddar, swiss, and parmesan cheese, as well sea salt and pepper to taste and about 1 tsp of paprika. Keep whisking over the heat till it thickens. When the béchamel has thickened, mix it the cooked pasta. Add 1 bag (I think about 2 cups?) shredded sharp cheddar cheese, about a cup of ricotta (I dropped it in by spoonfuls so some would mix in but some would stay ricotta-y), and however much roasted butternut squash in hunks or chunks (I used probably about 1 squash’s worth?). Mix the whole sucker together and put in a well-greased 9 x 13-ish pan. Sprinkle more cheese on top if you like (who doesn’t like more cheese?), bake at 400 for about a 1/2 hour.

Feeds one family of four containing 1 mac n’ cheese-
adoring man, 1 unable-to-stop-picking-out-extra-noodles woman, 1 won’t-touch-it preschooler, and 1 eats-some toddler for at least 2 nights, probably more if you serve it with bread and salad instead of just peas.

YUM. I’m thinking of adding or subbing in some gouda next time.

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