A little while back, I was asked by a client to develop a mac and cheese recipe that uses butternut squash as a base for the vegan cheese sauce. As soon as I started brainstorming the recipe, I knew I wanted to use shell pasta for nostalgia and the fact that the sauce clings beautifully to it (some people love elbow macaroni with their mac and cheese, but I am a shells girl – always have been, always will be). Once I settled on the other ingredients and set to work, I had just finished lunch and wasn’t particularly hungry, but there’s something literally irresistible about stirring cooked pasta into a creamy cheese sauce and before I knew it, I was reaching for the nearest bowl to serve myself a big ol’ helping for second lunch.
Now, there are a lot of reasons to love this recipe. It’s family friendly (toddler and husband approved!), guilt free (use gluten free shells if you really wanna be virtuous), and tastes shockingly similar to the stuff we all grew up on from the blue box, in the best way (which, as a side note, my Mom used to hilariously call “Macaroni and Chemicals”). Since it’s fall right now, butternut squash should be abundant at many farmer’s markets, so check there first if you want the freshest and best tasting cheese sauce! Otherwise, supermarket squash will certainly do. I think you’re going to love this recipe – it would be a great thing to serve as a post-Trick-or-Treat meal to little ones, or even as a crowd-pleasing addition to your Thanksgiving table. I literally could not get enough once I took my first bite, and looked forward to leftovers all week long – I hope you feel the same way!
- 2 cups roasted cubed peeled butternut squash
- 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- ½ cup cashews, soaked and drained
- 1 cup water
- 2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
- ¼ cup nutritional yeast
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 ½ tsp salt
- 1 tsp ground dry mustard
- ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
- 1 lb small shell pasta
- 2-3 Tbsp reserved pasta cooking water
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
- To roast squash, peel, de-seed, and cube butternut squash. Place 2 cups of cubed (1 ½”) squash on lined baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and place in preheated oven and roast for 25 minutes, turning halfway. Cooked squash should be slightly golden and fork tender. Remove from oven and let cool slightly.
- While squash cooks, place a large pot of well-salted water over high heat to boil. Add shell pasta and cook according to package directions, being sure to reserve 2-3 Tbsp of cooking water before straining.
- In a high-speed blender, add roasted butternut squash, cashews, water, lemon juice, nutritional yeast, garlic, salt, ground dry mustard, nutmeg, and reserved pasta cooking water. Blend on high until completely smooth, about 2 minutes.
- Place cooked pasta back in pot and gently fold in butternut squash cheese sauce until all of the pasta is completely coated. Serve immediately.