Butternut Squash, Gruyère, and Brown Butter Mac & Cheese
Source: Laura Werlin, Mac & Cheese, Please!
This recipe was demonstrated for CUESA’s Market to Table program on November 17, 2012. It originally appeared in Mac & Cheese, Please! (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2012).
Ravioli with butternut squash, brown butter, and sage has become a classic fall pasta combination in many upscale restaurants. So why not take it down-home and fold that delectable flavor combination into a mac & cheese?
1 tablespoon plus ½ teaspoon salt
8 ounces mini farfalle pasta or small elbow macaroni
5 tablespoons salted butter
2 cups fresh coarse breadcrumbs (preferably homemade)
4 ounces Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese, finely grated (about 2 cups)
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage leaves, plus 12 whole leaves
1 pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into ½-inch chunks
1½ cups whole or reduced-fat milk
1½ cups heavy cream
12 ounces Gruyère cheese, coarsely grated (about 4 cups)
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 375˚F. Butter an 8-inch square (1½ quart) baking dish or pan (or six 8-ounce ramekins). Set aside.
2. Fill a 4- to 5-quart pot about three-quarters full with water and add 1 tablespoon of the salt. Bring to a boil and add the pasta. Cook for 4 to 6 minutes, stirring once or twice, until tender but firm, then drain.
3. In a medium skillet, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter. Turn off the heat and add the bread crumbs and 1 cup of the Pecorino Romano. Stir to combine. Transfer to a small bowl and wipe but do not wash the skillet
4. Line a small plate with paper towels. Using the same skillet, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat and cook just until it starts to brown. Add the whole sage leaves and cook until the leaves are crisp and just beginning to darken, about 45 seconds. Remove the pan from the heat. Using tongs, transfer the leaves to the paper towel-lined plate.
5. Using the same pot you used to cook the pasta, combine the squash, milk, cream, the remaining ½ teaspoon salt, and the reserved sage butter. Cover and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally and watching to make sure the cream mixture does not boil. Simmer the squash until it is very soft, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool slightly. Place about half the mixture in a blender or food processor and purée. Put the purée back into the pot and repeat with the remaining squash. Add the Gruyère, the remaining 1 cup Pecorino Romano, the chopped sage, and the cayenne to the puréed squash mixture and stir until the cheese has melted (the heat of the squash mixture should melt it). Add the pasta and stir to combine.
6. Pour into the buttered baking dish, sprinkle with the bread crumb mixture, and place the fried sage leaves in a decorative pattern on top. Place the dish on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes, or until brown and bubbly. Let cool for 15 minutes before serving.
Optional add-in: Cut one 4-ounce piece of pancetta into strips measuring 1-inch long and ¼-inch wide. Place in a skillet over medium-high heat, and cook until the edges are browned and the pancetta is crisp. Using a slotted spoon, add the pancetta to the cheese sauce along with the pasta.
Photo by Maren Caruso.