This healthier Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese recipe is made with lots of good-for-you squash, it’s easy to make in just 30 minutes, and it’s SO cozy and creamy and delicious.
Happy first day of autumn, everyone! I thought it only appropriate to celebrate with a warm pot of healthy-ish, seasonal, cozy comfort food…
…this butternut squash mac and cheese! ♡
I’ve been tinkering around with this recipe all month and think that I finally got it just right. First off, I’m happy to report that there is an entire pound of butternut squash hiding in here, with its subtle nutty sweetness that perfectly balances the rest of the savory, creamy sauce. I’ve also lightened up the sauce a bit by using milk instead of cream and using a small-but-mighty handful of flavor-packed sharp cheddar cheese, all of which still somehow magically yields the most luxurious, silky, creamy butternut cheddar sauce. If you happen to have some fresh sage on hand, I also highly recommend taking the extra 2 minutes to fry up some crispy sage leaves to add to the mix. Or of course, as always, you’re more than welcome to add any other extra veggies (maybe broccoli or mushrooms), proteins (chicken, bacon, sausage), herbs (rosemary, thyme) or nuts (walnuts, pepitas) that sound good too.
That said, we totally just served this plain with a side salad and some roasted broccoli and absolutely loved it. That butternut squash cheese sauce is endlessly rich and comforting. (And also a great way to use up some leftover butternut squash, be it raw, canned, or roasted!) If you happen to have some mac-and-cheese-loving kiddos in the house too, I am certain this recipe would also be a great way to sneak some extra squash onto their plates.
Let’s make some butternut squash mac and cheese!
Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese Ingredients:
To make this easy butternut squash macaroni and cheese recipe, you will need the following:
Pasta: Whatever type (semolina, whole-wheat, gluten-free, etc.) and shape (shells, noodles, ziti, etc.) of pasta you prefer.
Butter (or oil): Which we will use to sauté the garlic and sage.
Garlic: I used 3 cloves in the recipe, but feel free to add more if you like a really garlicky pasta.
Butternut squash: You can either make this recipe with raw butternut squash (peeled, seeeded and diced into small cubes), already-roasted butternut squash (cubes or puree), or canned butternut squash. See notes below.
Veggie stock: Or chicken stock, whichever you have on hand.
Milk: I used and recommend whole milk for this recipe. That said, you’re welcome to use lighter cow’s milk or half-and-half instead. Or you could also sub in a plain plant-based milk, such as almond milk or oat milk.
Good-quality sharp cheddar cheese: Since this recipe only uses a small amount of cheese, I highly recommend investing in the good stuff to really make it count! I used an extra-sharp white cheddar cheese, which I loved. But any good cheddar cheese will be great. And as always when making a melted cheese sauce, I recommend purchasing a block of cheese and then grating it yourself. This will help it to melt well and not get clumpy.
Salt and pepper: Always. ;)
Fresh sage leaves (optional): If you can pick up some fresh sage leaves, I highly recommend giving them a quick sauté with the garlic until they’re nice and crispy. Then you will have a bit of extra sage flavor in the sauce, plus a fun crispy topping. (That said, if you don’t have any, the recipe will still be delicious without the sage.)
Full ingredient amounts/instructions included in the recipe below.
How To Make Mac and Cheese:
To make this mac and cheese, we will…
Cook the pasta. Heat a pot of generously-salted water until boiling. Then for optimum timing, I recommend adding in the pasta after you have pureed the squash (see below). Be sure to also reserve a cup of the starchy pasta water for later.
Fry the sage (optional). Sauté the sage leaves in melted butter for a minute or two until crispy. Then transfer the sage to a separate plate and reserve for later.
Cook the sauce. Sauté the garlic in the remaining butter. Then add in the butternut squash and vegetable stock, bring the mixture to a simmer, reduce heat, cover and cook until the squash is tender. Transfer the mixture to a blender and stir in the milk. Then very carefully (I recommend slightly opening the cap on the blender lid so that excess steam can escape) pulse the mixture until smooth. Return the pureed mixture to the sauté pan, and stir in the cheddar cheese until melted. Taste and season with S&P.
Put it all together. Once the pasta is drained, return it to the stockpot, pour in the sauce and give it all a good toss until combined. If the sauce seems to thick, just stir in some of that reserved starchy pasta water.
Serve. Serve warm, garnished with the crispy sage leaves.
This recipe is really meant to just be a base recipe — it’s the perfect blank canvas for adding in anything else that sounds good! For example, you could…
Add a protein: Cooked chicken, ground beef, steak, sausage or bacon would all be delicious mixed into this butternut mac and cheese recipe too.
Add extra veggies: Cooked broccoli, cauliflower, peas, asparagus, mushrooms, onions, or bell peppers would all be delicious added in.
Add extra herbs: Fresh rosemary, thyme or bay leaves would also be delicious simmered with this cheese sauce.
Add extra seasonings: A touch of Dijon mustard, old bay seasoning, or nutmeg are also additional seasoning options.
Add nuts or seeds: Toasted walnuts, pecans, pistachios, almonds, pepitas or pine nuts would be delicious sprinkled on top.
Use a different kind of cheese: Feel free to experiment with different cheeses in this recipe. A good gruyere or smoked gouda would be delicious with the butternut squash. Or I always also love adding some Parmesan to my mac and cheese if I happen to have some on hand.
Make it gluten-free: The sauce is naturally gluten-free, so just be sure that you use certified GF pasta.
This healthier Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese recipe is made with lots of good-for-you squash, it’s easy to make in just 30 minutes, and it’s SO cozy and creamy and delicious. See notes above for possible ingredient add-ins.
fine sea salt and freshly-cracked black pepper, to taste
Bring a large pot of generously-salted water to a boil.
Meanwhile, heat the butter in a separate large sauté pan until melted. Add the sage leaves (if using) and sauté for 1-2 minutes until crispy. Transfer the sage leaves to a separate plate and set aside.
Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute, stirring occasionally. Then add in the butternut squash and vegetable stock and stir to combine. Continue cooking until the stock reaches a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the squash is tender and mashes easily with a fork.
Transfer the squash mixture to a blender. Add in the milk and give the mixture a quick stir. Then very carefully (I recommend slightly opening the cap on the blender lid, so that excess steam can escape) pulse the mixture until smooth.
Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook according to package instructions until al dente. Reserve 1 cup of the starchy pasta water for later. Then drain the pasta.
While the pasta is cooking, return the butternut squash mixture back to the sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add in the shredded cheddar cheese, and stir until it has melted into the sauce.
Taste and season the sauce with salt and pepper as needed. (I used about 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper.)
Then once the pasta is drained, return it to the stockpot. Pour the butternut cheese sauce on top of the pasta, and toss to combine. If the sauce is too thick, add in some of the hot starchy pasta water to thin it out.
Serve warm, garnished with the crispy sage leaves if desired.
*Butternut squash options: The recipe above is written for raw butternut squash. But if you happen to have pre-cooked butternut squash or canned butternut squash on hand, you can use it to save yourself some time! You will need 1 pound of cooked squash, which is about 2 cups mashed cooked squash or one (15-ounce) can of butternut squash. Just stir it into the garlicky butter, skip the step where you cook it for 10 minutes, and transfer the butternut mixture straight to the blender and continue on with the recipe as written.
*Shredding the cheese: I highly recommend purchasing a block of cheese and then shredded it yourself. This will help the cheese to melt well. (Pre-shredded cheeses are often made with an added coating that can cause clumping when added to a sauce.)