To me, mac and cheese is probably one of the best comfort foods on the planet. If I was stranded on an island this is the food which I would like to be stranded with. I don't know how I am going to get mac and cheese on a stranded island, but hey a girl can have her stranded island food dreams right ? But right now I am making my mac and cheese dreams a reality with this spicy Butternut Mac and Cheese with Garlic Croutons. It is seriously out of this world delicious, but real... oh you know what I mean.
I am totally in love with this recipe. The macaroni is folded into a spicy and creamy butternut sauce and topped with crunchy garlic croutons and parmesan. The taste and texture are simply amazing. Perfectly comforting dinner on a cold evening.
Butternut has that delicious sweet taste on its own, so it is simply cooked in a mixture of milk and water. I avoided cooking it with any stock or broth and by adding a bit of crushed chilli flakes, created that sweet spicy taste to the macaroni. Change things a bit by topping with croutons instead of breadcrumbs creating a great crunchy texture and delicious garlic taste.
Making the Spicy Butternut Mac and Cheese
Like I mentioned earlier, the butternut is simply cooked until tender in a mixture of water and milk. No stock or broth is used, because I think that the taste of butternut is absolutely great on its own. It is then blended with a bit of cream if you like to get that smooth texture. Grated cheese and chilli flakes are sprinkled into the butternut. The macaroni which is boiled with a bit of chopped kale is folded into this creamy, spicy butternut sauce. Topped with crunchy garlic herb croutons and parmesan .... get ready to dive in because dinner is ready !
Making the Garlic Croutons
These smell soooo good while cooking and because it has garlic and herbs it is even better. My advise is double this recipe of croutons because you might just eat all of these after it is cooked and there might just not be enough to top the macaroni. Just saying ?
You will need about 4 slices of bread cut up into 3cm / 2 inch cubes. It’s a good idea to leave the crust on the bread, because it will give the croutons some extra crunch. Drizzle or roll the bread cubes in the seasoned oil until evenly coated. Spread the coated cubes of bread onto a baking sheet and bake at 180°C for about 10-15 minutes. The bread cubes can also be tossed around in a frying pan on medium heat, if you do not want to use the oven. Just ensure that you move them around in the pan every few minutes, so that they do not burn. Remove the croutons from the stove arrange on the prepared butternut mac and cheese.
Please note that using kale is totally optional, I just love the taste and it really gives this dish a great contrasting colour. Kale cooks very quickly so it is added into the boiling macaroni during the last 5 minutes of cooking.
Okay this is the version of mac and cheese I would prefer/ like /dream to have with me when I am stranded on an island. But for now, I am not dreaming I am on my way to raid the fridge for the leftovers...before anybody else gets to it.
Spicy Butternut Mac and Cheese with Garlic Croutons
FOR THE BUTTERNUT SAUCE
- 415 g / 3 cups peeled and cubed butternut squash
- 310 ml / 1¼ cups water
- 250 ml milk / 1 cup milk
- 2 teaspoons minced or finely chopped garlic
- 1 teaspoon or less chilli powder depending on how spicy you prefer
- ¼ cup cream or milk to use when blending the butternut
- 1 cup grated cheese I used cheddar
- 450 g pasta any shape or variety is fine to use
- About 4 leaves of chopped kale optional
- salt and pepper to taste
FOR THE GARLIC CROUTONS
- 3 or 4 slices of bread cut into 3cm / 2 inch cubes do not remove the crust
- 30 ml / 2 Tablespoons oil
- 30 g margarine
- 2 cloves of garlic crushed
- 1 teaspoon dried mixed herbs
- ½ teaspoon crushed dried chilli flakes
FOR THE BUTTERNUT SAUCE
- Combine the butternut, water, milk, and garlic and chilli powder ( if using )in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium and until the butternut is tender. This should take about 15 minutes. Allow to cool before pouring into a blender with some milk or cream and blend until smooth.
- Pour into a pot and add grated cheese and dried chilli flakes ( if using) Set aside
- Boil the pasta according to the package instructions. Cook the pasta just until al dente, the pasta should not be too soft, it should be cooked but be still a little firm.
- When the macaroni has just 5 minutes left to cook, toss in the chopped kale ( if using)
- Strain out the water from the macaroni and kale and fold into the prepared butternut sauce. Top with garlic croutons and parmesan if you prefer.
FOR THE GARLIC CROUTONS
- Simmer oil, butter or margarine, garlic, dried mixed herbs and crushed chillies in a pan. Allow this to simmer just until the butter or margarine has melted.
- Remove from the heat and allow the flavours to infuse while you chop up your bread.
- Cut bread into 3 inch cubes. Drizzle the oil or roll the bread cubes in the oil until evenly coated.
- You can either bake the seasoned bread cubes at 180°C in the oven for 15 minutes or fry them in a pan, on the stove for 15 minutes, just until they are crunchy.Remove the croutons from the heat arrange on the macaroni with grated parmesan if you prefer.