Show me a person that says they don't like Mac & Cheese, and I will show you either (1) a liar or (2) someone who thinks that the stuff that comes from a box is the only way to make it. Now, don't get me wrong. I have eaten my fair share of boxed Mac & Cheese, sometimes directly from the pot and using the big wooden spoon I used to make it. I have no shame.
But this is NOT that Mac & Cheese. This is that Mac & Cheese's sophisticated older cousin - the one who comes to visit during the holidays and has this intriguing "coolness" that boxed Mac & Cheese tries to emulate but always ends up feeling silly.
There are many ways to make a grown up Mac & Cheese, of course. But this is one of my favorites, especially when the weather has started to cool down, but you haven't yet burned out on all things Autumn. It's packed with savory sausage, nutty sweet squash, and a decadent sauce that is creamy and earthy and slightly sweet all at once.
No, this recipe is not low calorie or fat free, but if that's what you're looking for in a Mac & Cheese recipe, then I'm sorry to say you'll never be fully satisfied. This is the kind of recipe that you plan your day around by squeezing in an extra 30 minutes at the gym or by trading that sandwich at lunch for a salad because you know that it's all going to be worth it when you take that first happy bite.
So, let's get cooking, shall we?
Winter Squash and Sausage Mac & Cheese
4 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound Italian-style pork or chicken sausage (casings removed if using links)
1.5 pounds winter squash (butternut or honeynut work best), peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 tablespoon Italian Countryside Spice Blend
1/3 cup flour
1 cup apple cider
2 cups whole milk (you can use 2%, but your sauce won't be as creamy)
8 ounces mild cheddar cheese, grated
8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1 pound rigatoni pasta (or other short pasta)
Preheat oven to 375 F. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until about halfway cooked through. Drain and set aside.
Meanwhile, melt butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion and cook until translucent. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add sausage and cook until browned, using a wooden spoon or spatula to break up the sausage into small pieces as it cooks. Add squash and Italian Countryside Spice Blend and stir to coat. Add flour and cook, stirring frequently, for about 2 minutes, until the raw flour smell is gone. Add the cider and cook, stirring frequently, until it starts to bubble, then add the milk. Cook, stirring frequently, until it begins to thicken and coats the back of your spoon. Add half of the cheese and stir in a figure eight until the cheese is melted.
Add the pasta to the cheese sauce and stir to combine. Pour pasta into a 9x13-inch baking dish and top with remaining cheese. Place baking dish on a baking sheet (to prevent making a mess of your oven) and bake until golden brown and bubbly, about 40 minutes. Allow to cool at least 5 minutes before serving.