In the Martin & Sylvia's Nature School story “Camouflage,” brother and sister’s favorite game — no matter the time of day or time in the year — is a game where you blend into your surroundings and try not to be seen. Martin is usually the master of this game, but when Sylvia learns a trick at Nature School, she becomes “The Invisible Girl.”
As it so happens, butternut squash — which is in season this time of year and so very good for you — has a trick that's quite similar to Sylvia's. Because of its golden color and creamy texture, butternut squash is very skilled at camouflaging itself as cheese sauce for macaroni and cheese.
Let's call it “The Invisible Vegetable.”
It's not a perfectly seamless switch. The squash sauce is just a bit sweeter than a real cheese sauce would be, particularly when you add a few cups of smoky caramelized onions to boost the flavor. But if your kids really love mac and cheese, it's probably close enough to satisfy them and sneak an extra veggie into their bellies at the same time.
Below, I've also added broccoli to our mac and “cheese,” but if there's another vegetable or add-in that your family likes better, feel free to swap. And because I haven't yet found a camouflage that will get my kiddos to like spicy food, the grown-ups at our house always dash a bit of chipotle pepper sauce into our individual bowls to give this macaroni an added kick.
Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups onion slices (about ½ a large onion)
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 pound macaroni
1 medium butternut squash
3 cups chicken stock
2 cups cheddar cheese
1 pound broccoli florets (fresh or frozen)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Chipotle pepper hot sauce (optional, for serving)
The onions and garlic will take the longest here, so start with them. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a large skillet and add the sliced onion and minced garlic in a single layer (as much as possible). Keeping the heat on medium-low and stirring often, allow the mixture to slowly caramelize over about 30 minutes. The onions will brown a little, but if they start browning fast or turning crispy, turn down the heat even lower.
Once the onions are on their way, bring a large, salted pot of water to boil. Cook the macaroni according to package directions.
At the same time, prepare the butternut squash by peeling it, seeding it, and cutting it into 1-inch chunks. Put the squash chunks in a large saucepan and cover them with chicken stock. Bring the chicken stock to boil and cook until the squash is able to be easily pierced with a fork, which should take about 10 minutes once the stock starts boiling. Drain the squash, reserving the chicken stock.
Once the onions are done, remove them from the pan. Add the broccoli to the same pan — no need to dirty a new one — along with about a cup of water. Turn the heat up to medium, cover, and let the broccoli steam while you assemble the rest of the ingredients.
Put the butternut squash and onions back into the saucepan you cooked the squash in. Using an immersion blender, puree the squash and onions together, adding back in as much chicken stock as is necessary to make the mixture the consistency of cheese sauce. Add the cheddar cheese. Give the mixture a few more good pulses to incorporate it well.
Now, pour the sauce over the top of the macaroni. When the broccoli is done to your liking, add it to the pot, too. Mix everything together well. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Sprinkle a little extra cheese or hot sauce on top for serving and enjoy!
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About the Author
The Sparkle Kitchen Series is created by Meryl Carver-Allmond.
Meryl lives in a hundred-year-old house near the prairie with her sweet husband, two preschoolers, one puppy, one gecko, and about ten chickens. While she's been writing since she could pick up a pen, in recent years she's discovered the joy of photography, too. She feels lucky to be able to combine those skills, along with a third passion — showing people that cooking for themselves can be healthy and fun — in her Sparkle Kitchen posts.