Did you know that January 20th was National Cheese Lover’s Day? Isn’t that lovely?
To commemorate this happy holiday, the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board launched a Macaroni & Cheese Blog which will feature a new macaroni & cheese recipe every day for thirty days. There goes that New Year’s resolution (unless your resolution was to be happier in life).
I’ve always been partial to using gruyere and parmigiano for mac ‘n’ cheese, but the good people at Wisconsin Milk convinced me to give American a try. They sent me some aged Marieke Gouda and Stravecchio Parmesan from Sartori Reserve…and I was promptly inspired.
Without a question, the ultimate comfort food is macaroni and cheese. Gooey, cheesy, warm, and indulgent. The inspiration on this twist on the classic mac n’ cheese comes from one of my favorite pasta dishes, Tortelli di Zucca (large ravioli-like pasta stuffed with a pumpkin filling).
I first sampled this taste of heaven during my year abroad living in Italy. On a visit to the charming Renaissance city of Mantova (Mantua), I was introduced to the town’s signature dish of handmade ravioli stuffed with a velvety smooth puree of pumpkin, crushed almondy Amaretti cookies, and a hint of spices. The al dente pillows of precious filled pasta were bathed in a luxurious sauce of brown butter and a shower of parmigiano.
That meal has haunted me for 6 years. And it has coaxed me into creating this Italian-American fusion of ultimate comfort, Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese with Sage and Gingersnap-Pecan Crust.
Butternut squash is one of my favorite ingredients to work with during the fall and winter because it just exudes a sweet, hearty, warmth. When it’s roasted, all the sugars caramelize and the flavor of the squash is intensified. Pair it with the other star ingredient in this dish, the aged Gouda, and we have ourselves a sweet-and-savory homerun!
The technique to making this dish is pretty standard as far as mac and cheese goes. After sautéing the onions and sage, a roux is made with flour, chicken stock, and milk. Then the squash is added to the mix and smashed in a bit to fully incorporate.
Once the sauce is made, it is added to the macaroni (since we can’t all be as blessed as the Mantuans with their homemade pasta at a finger’s snap).
After that, comes the magic of toppings. I loved how the nutty spice of the Amaretti cookies played with the flavor of the pumpkin in the Tortelli di Zucca. In this mac and cheese, that sweet, unexpected crunch translates as gingersnaps. I also threw in a handful of chopped pecans too because I love how their faintly maple flavor goes with sweet potatoes, and I thought…butternut squash? Sweet potato? Pretty similar, no? (At the very least, both orange.)
I may not be able to jet-set to Italy whenever I get the craving for some tortelli lovin’, but that doesn’t mean I can’t get my fix of pumpkin and spice and everything nice! Surprise your guests with this dish this winter. The presentation is beautiful and homey, and one bite will have them coming for more.
Recipe Source: LickMySpoon.com.
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