Penne and Cheese with Pureed Winter Squash

This is a story about what happened when two of my favorite foods that I had never imagined together, ended up in the happiest of marriages. Squash and Cheese. Holy Cow. Sarah mentioned a recipe for Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese that she was going to find and forward to me. I couldn’t wait and started digging. What we have here is a riff on a Cooking Light recipe. I changed the cheese combo in order to stick to the list, went with winter squash instead of butternut, and switched out some other stuff along the way. The original  recipe called for a 9 x 13 pan, but I went for a a deep casserole dish, just because I though it would look better. Either would be fine. No doubt, the motivation for the original creators of  the pureed squash addition was a desire to cut the fat and calorie content of macaroni and cheese, but as for me and my house, we so no reason to ever go back to the old-school, one-dimensional, cheese-only version.  And a final note on bread crumbs: For the past 20 plus years, my refrigerator has not been without a cylinder of dried bread crumbs–often both plain and Italian. It was only recently that I learned, probably from the wise and wonderful Ina Garten, that stale or toasted bread, zapped in a food processor for about 30 seconds, makes for a fabulous bread crumb, and when you are using great bread, there is no comparison to the stuff out of the cylinder that sits on the shelf for months.

Ingredients

  • One medium-to-large winter squash. Peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 1 1/4 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 1/4 cups fat-free milk
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3 Tbsp. plain, fat-free Greek Yogurt
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded monterey jack cheese
  • 4 oz. cream cheese cut into small cubes
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 Tbsp. shredded parmesan
  • 2 slices whole grain bread
  • 1 Tbsp. butter
  • 1 pound penne

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 375.
  • Combine squash, vegetable stock and garlic in a saucepan. Bring stock to a boil and reduce to a simmer for about 25 minutes or until squash is very tender.
  • Remove cooked squash from heat. Let cool for a few minutes.  Puree in batches in a food processor or blender, along with the milk and yogurt to help cool the hot squash.
  • Pour pureed squash  into to a large mixing bowl.  Add salt and pepper.
  • Add two quarts of water to a large pot over high heat. When water starts to boil, add penne and cook according to package directions.
  • Combine monterey jack, cream cheese and 1/2 cup of parmesan with the pureed squash. Stir until cheese is thoroughly combined and melted.
  • Drain pasta, combine with squash/cheese mixture.
  • Coat a 9 x 13 glass baking dish or deep casserole dish with non-stick spray. Pour pasta and sauce into prepared dish.
  • Lightly toast two slices of whole grain bread. Tear up toasted or stale bread and combine with 2 Tbsp of  shredded parmesan and 1 Tbsp of butter.
  • Pulse a few times until bread turns to crumbs and butter is evenly distributed.
  • Sprinkle breadcrumb mixture over pasta.
  • Bake at 375 for 25 minutes.