One of the things I love about cooking is that inspiration can come from almost anywhere. Recently, I saw a recipe in PureWow that touted a grown up Mac ‘n Cheese made with minimal dairy adapted from a version served by super-chef Jason Neroni, at his LA hotspot, Superba Snack Bar. Neroni used butternut squash to give the orange color most of us associate with the Kraft staple from our youth. I had just gotten done reading about the heart-healthy benefits of the Mediterrean diet and decided that his recipe, intriguing as it was, could use a facelift to make it more heart healthy.
Instead of the chicken sausage, I used one of my favorite vegan sausages, Field Roast Smoked Apple Sage Sausage. I axed the brown butter and substituted a fruity olive oil. I upped the quotient of lemon, and used the juice of a whole Meyer lemon, which gave it more sweetness. In search of a more interesting pasta than “macaroni or rigatoni,” I decided to use radiatore, one of my family’s favorite pasta shapes. We love that it looks like little radiators and supplies lots of nooks and crevices so that the sauce really clings. (And who uses 3/4 lb. of pasta? Most of my pasta comes in one pound boxes, so a whole pound seemed more logical.) The sauce was in need of thinning, so I used a combination of organic vegetable stock, white wine, and pasta cooking water. I ditched the rosemary, and to make it vegan, eliminated the blue cheese, and used toasted organic walnuts for my topping. (Although if you eat diary, a creamy blue like Saga or Gorgonzola latte, would be lovely in this dish, and is listed as an optional ingredient.)
This recipe was a big hit with my hubby and will definitely be in my next book. In the meantime, since I get frequent requests for more vegan recipes, please enjoy my Butternut Vegan “Mac ‘n Cheese”.
- 1 medium butternut squash
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, plus a bit extra for sautéing the sausage
- 1 Meyer lemon, juiced
- 1 16-ounce pkg. Field Roast Smoked Apple Sage Sausage
- ¼ cup dry white wine
- Organic vegetable stock for thinning the sauce
- 1 lb. radiatore
- Sea salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- ½ cup crumbled blue cheese (optional)
- ½ cup toasted walnuts, crumbled
- Cut the squash in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. Wrap each squash half in aluminum foil and roast in a 400 degree oven for about 45-50 minutes. Take the squash out and test to make sure that it is completely done. If the flesh isn't completely cooked, rewrap it in the aluminum foil and put it back in for another 10 minutes or so. When fully cooked, take the squash halves out, unwrap them and let cool about 10-15 minutes.
- While the squash is cooling, fill a large pasta pot with water (about 6 quarts), cover it and put it on to boil. Remove the casings from the sausage, quarter lengthwise, and then cut or crumble into small pieces. Sauté the sausage pieces in a little olive oil over medium heat for about 3-4 minutes. Add the wine and scrape up all the sausage bits. Cook over low heat for a minute or two until the wine is reduced by half. Cover and set aside.
- By now, your squash should be cool. Scrape the squash flesh into the bowl of a food processor, leaving the squash skin behind. Add olive oil and the Meyer lemon juice and buzz until smooth. Add a little vegetable stock if you think it needs a bit more thinning.
- When the water in the pasta pot is boiling, add 1-2 tablespoons of salt, and then your radiatore. Cook until al dente about 5-6 minutes, or according to package directions. Reserve a cup of pasta water, and then drain the pasta in a colander.
- While your pasta is cooking, gently toast your walnuts in a small skillet over low heat until fragrant. Let cool slightly and break into small pieces.
- Put your sausage back on over low heat and add your butternut squash sauce. Let it cook 2-3 minutes. Check the consistency and decide if you need to add a bit of pasta water to thin it. Add the cooked radiator to your sauce and toss. Since it’s impossible to know exactly how much squash puree you started with (since every squash is slightly different in size and I don’t know how much cooked squash you scraped out), your consistency may be great or you may want to thin it with a little more pasta water. Taste and adjust seasoning with a little sea salt and a lot of freshly ground pepper.
- Serve in warmed pasta bowls. If you eat dairy and want to add the blue cheese, crumble a bit on top of each bowl and then add the toasted walnuts. But if you’re a vegan, forget about the cheese and just add the toasted walnuts. Either way, serve immediately and enjoy!