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I love a good mac and cheese recipe. Really, it sounds yummy anytime of the year! I try not to make it though. You know, to try and stay all svelte and whatnot. But, when fall rolls around, I want all of the cozy things – fuzzy socks, pajamas, coffee, blankies, warm fires, Hallmark Movies, a good mac and cheese recipe… you get the idea. This past summer, Nathan and I planted two itty bitty little squash seeds which, to our surprise, turned into an abundance of butternut squash this fall. We had over 20 HUGE squash – 9 pounders! The size of a large baby. So, what to do with the squash? Well, I’m glad you asked! Read on for my spicy butternut squash mac and cheese recipe with Palisade Salsa.
A Little Background on the Palisade Salsa
Now, you know that we can’t just do an average, boring butternut squash mac and cheese recipe right? We don’t to average or boring around here. I had some Anita’s Palisade Five Amigos Fire Roasted Pepper Salsa sitting in the pantry from earlier this summer when we had visited the farmer’s market in Palisade, Colorado (speaking of which, you MUST check this out if you are ever in that area!). WARNING: This stuff is SPICY. But I highly recommend ordering some of their salsas because they are SO GOOD! Palisade has a very unique climate which allows them to grow some super yummy fruits and veggies there. Anyway, I thought this salsa would be a great addition to our butternut squash mac and cheese recipe! This is how we do it here in Colorado. We add all of the spicy things to our dishes. I mean, have you heard of Colorado Green Chilies? Sorry New Mexico. I may be biased but, I think ours are better.
How to Make Spicy Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese
This mac and cheese was kind of an experimental endeavor for me. I made it. My husband tried it. Said, “hmmm it’s good, but…”. Ugh. I know what that means. So, back to the drawing board. We added the Palisade salsa and, ta – da! It turned into this southwestern type of dish is really delicious, and still cozy enough for a fall supper!
Here are a few tips and pointers that I learned while whipping up this dish:
- I would use a 2 – 3 pound squash for this recipe. Or, to make it waaaaay easier on yourself, about 4 cups of frozen squash! We clearly have a squash issue around here so I decided to go with the whole squash method.
- If you are going the fresh squash route, I would highly recommend roasting the squash first before peeling and cubing. One, it makes it much easier to cut and two, it gives such a great, roasty flavor to compliment the spicy salsa!
- We added bacon to ours but you could certainly add chicken as well, or go meatless! This would make a nice side dish as well.
- You can also make this not spicy or less spicy by omitting the salsa or using a different kind if you prefer. Use what you like, or check out some of the other Anita’s Salsas. I would recommend the Habanero Salsa for medium heat or the Queso Blanco for a mac and cheese with “mucho queso” (translated – EXTREMELY CHEESY Mac and Cheese. Yum.).
Alright, enough jabber. If you’re in the mood for comfort food tonight, give this recipe a try!
Spicy Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese with Palisade Salsa
For the Roasted Squash
- 1 2-3 lb butternut squash (or 4 cups frozen butternut squash)
- 1 cup chicken stock or vegetable stock
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp pepper
For the Mac and Cheese
- 1 lb macaroni or other pasta shells
- 6 strips bacon (or other meat if you prefer)
- 2 tbsp flour
- 2 cups milk (use whatever kind you prefer)
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp pepper
- 4 oz cream cheese
- 3 cups white cheddar (or other cheese of liking)
- 1/2 cup Anita's Fire Roasted Salsa (or other salsa of liking)
- 1 cup breadcrumbs (if you prefer a crunchy topping)
Roasting the Squash
- Preheat oven to 400°. Cut squash in half, lengthwise and scoop out the seeds. You can either discard or roast the seeds
- Line baking sheet with parchment paper and place squash halves facing up on the baking sheet
- Brush on olive oil and season with salt and pepper
- Roast for 20 – 30 minutes, or until fork tender
- Remove from oven and cool
- Once cooled, remove outer rind with either a vegetable peeler or very sharp knife. Once rind is removed, cut squash into 1 inch cubes
- Transfer squash to a blender or food processor, along with the 1 cup of stock. Puree until smooth (you should have about 2 and 1/2 cups of pureed squash). Set aside puree.
For the Mac and Cheese
- In a large pot, boil 1 pound of macaroni or other pasta until al dente. Drain and run cold water over the pasta to stop the cooking process (the pasta will cook more when we add it to the oven to broil). Set aside
- Set oven to "broil". Lightly grease a 9×13 inch baking dish. Set aside
- Take your 6 strips of bacon and chop into bite sized pieces. In a large pot, add the bacon and cook until crispy
- Remove bacon pieces and set aside to drain on a plate with a paper towel. Reserve bacon grease in the pot. Add 2 tbsp of flour to the pot and whisk until light tan (see alternative instructions in "Notes" section if you are not using bacon)
- Add in milk, salt, and pepper and whisk until thick enough to coat the whisk (about 4 minutes)
- Add the pureed squash and cream cheese to the pot. Stir for about 2 minutes until all ingredients are combined. Add in 2 cups of the white cheddar. Stir until melted.
- To your pot, add in the pasta and 1/2 cup of salsa. Stir until well combined.
- Transfer mac and cheese to a 9×13 inch baking pan. Sprinkle top with 1 cup of remaining white cheddar cheese and breadcrumbs if desired.
- Broil for 3-5 minutes, or until cheese is melted and the breadcrumbs are golden brown. Serve alongside a nice, green salad for a well balanced meal!
- For Bacon-less Mac and Cheese: You will need to add 2 tbsp of butter to a large pan and melt over medium heat. Add in 2 tbsp of flour and whisk until light tan. Proceed with remainder of recipe