This past year was the first time I'd continued my weekly CSA farm share after the bountiful Summer season. I was
stuck with sent home with various winter squash each week for quite a while, and was desperate for ideas. We tried some just cut open and roasted (yummy but tiresome night after night!) I tried something fancy with curry and apples (a total bust.) And I even tried making "fries" out of some Delicata squash. But no matter what I did, Z didn't like it! [Well, to be fair, she did like the Delicata fries the first time.] What to do?
So I started smuggling it into her beloved macaroni and cheese! Ha!
Now, don't let me mislead you here. Your kids will not mistake this for a certain blue and yellow boxed brand. But for my dye-free kiddo who was getting used to the different flavors, colors, and textures of the all-natural brands like Trader Joe's and Annie's Homegrown, she never suspected a thing!
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Sneaky Squash Macaroni and Cheese
- Small butternut squash or other winter squash (approximately 1 lb,) peeled, seeded, and cut into 1" cubes
- 2.5 cups nonfat on non-dairy milk (you can sub veggie or chicken stock for 1 cup of the milk)
- 3/4 tsp salt
- black pepper, to taste
- 6 ounces sharp or extra-sharp cheddar cheese, finely grated (makes around 1.5 cups)
- 4 Tbsp grated Parmesan cheese (around 1 ounce - or just sub another 1/4 c sharp cheddar)
- 1 lb uncooked elbow macaroni (I used Trader Joe's gluten-free brown rice pasta - 100% whole grains!)
- (Optional) 1 boxed macaroni and cheese [preferably NOT dye-filled Kraft, but you're the parent, and I'm not judging.]
- Paprika and more grated Parmesan to garnish (optional. Just makes it look all fancy and snooty!)
- Combine squash and milk in a medium saucepan. On medium-high heat, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally. (Warning - if you cover, it froths up and attempts to boil over like nobody's business! But speeds up the process. You decide.)
- After about 20-30 minutes, when squash is tender when pierced with a fork, remove from heat and mash contents. You can use a fork, a silicone scraper, an egg whisk, immersion blender; whatever. Stir in salt and cheese (plus pepper and boxed cheese powder packet, if using,) and stir until cheese is melted completely.
- Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add noodles (both loose and from box, if using) and cook according to package directions. Drain and transfer to a large bowl or serving dish.
- Stir in squash mixture.
- Garnish (if trying to impress actual adults,) and serve! My kids highly recommend crumbling on coconut bacon. Very similar taste with none of the guilt! I was fine with paprika and Parmesan, although something green and herb-y might be nice. Providing I didn't have to mince it myself...
Variations:You may choose to make smaller box-sized batches instead, in which case only cook 1 cup of noodles each time, and add 3 to 4 ounces of sauce mixture (1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp up to 1/2 cup.) Feel free to store a cup of noodles in a previously emptied box to fool them each time. *wink*
If you choose to use the sauce to augment a box each time, go ahead and add the powder packet to the sauce, but just use 1/4 cup of the sauce mixture and add 2 Tbsp milk for the powder.
If you choose to use the sauce one serving at a time, the extra sauce should be good for 7 days in the fridge (if you refrigerate within 2 hours of cooking it,) or you can freeze for 4-6 months. Use air-tight lidded containers or freezer bags and store in 2-ounce portions if using a box each time, or 3-4 ounce portions otherwise. You can reduce waste a bit by putting each portion in a lighter zip-seal snack or sandwich baggie, pressing out all the air before sealing, then storing all of those in a freezer bag.
If you freeze, reheat slowly, stirring well, and you can add a little milk and corn starch (or other starchy flour - or the powder packet from the boxed stuff!) if the texture looks too grainy.
In a pinch, instead of all the rigamarole with cooking the squash, you can sub in something like NurturMe's organic powdered squash baby food, or even the jarred purees found at the grocery store. Just add one jar or packet to the boxed cheese sauce with up to 1/4 cup additional shredded cheese, if needed. (You might also want to add another 1-2 Tbsp liquid if using the powdered squash. Use your best judgement.)
Or if skipping the box, cook 1 cup of noodles and heat up 1/3 cup of cheese plus 1/4 c milk and mix with the baby food.