Jace in the garden & Butternut Mac'N'Cheese {Recipe}

  In rural Maine, pretty much everyone and their mom has a garden. It's quite a change from the urban Los Angeles landscape I'm used to, and after three years here in the frozen north I'm still getting used to seeing vegetables growing everywhere. Even here in our rental half-home our landlords have a small veggie garden in the backyard every summer/fall. It usually consists of some basics, tomatoes, green and yellow beans, cucumbers, and of course...squash! This year Jace couldn't get enough of walking around the square garden patch, pointing at each and every vegetable and babbling at each one some made-up name he'd given it. At this point in the season most of the veggie plants have dried-up, leaving only a few small squash (and a TON of green tomatoes) behind in the patches of dirt. Jace even started calling the squash "skwa," couldn't have made me more proud!

Look! I found a "skwa"!

Can I touch it?

I found another one! Look closely!

  I look forward to the day when we have our own home, with a small vegetable garden in the back yard that Jace and I can tend to daily. Green beans, onions, leeks...so many to choose from! It's so much easier to eat healthy when you're not constantly shoveling out money for fresh produce, and even more so that you don't have to drive to the store to get it! Plus, when you garden for your family you know exactly what's going into the fruits and vegetables they eat. Score!

So...what can you make with this vegetable bounty? How about a home-cooked classic, with a twist!

Butternut Mac'N'Cheese
(recipe source: A Veggie Venture)
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 2-1/2 hours
Makes about 4 cups

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 small onion, chopped small
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup whole milk
16 ounces cheddar cheese or any good melting cheese
4-16 ounces elbow macaroni (depending on how "squashy" you want it)
1 two-pound butternut squash
Preheat oven to 400F. Cut squash in half, lengthwise and rub cut side with olive oil. Place cut-side down on a baking sheet and roast for 60 - 75 minutes or until completely cooked and soft. Scoop out flesh while still warm and break apart with a spoon. Timing-wise, finish the squash roughly the same time the pasta and the sauce is cooked so that it's still warm.

NOTE: For a 'less squashy' and more 'mac 'n' cheese' version, use half the roasted squash in this dish, reserving the other half for something else.

Cook macaroni in salted water. Let drain well. Timing-wise, finish the pasta and the sauce about the same time.

In a saucepan, melt the butter on MEDIUM heat til shimmery. Stir in the onion as it's prepped, then the nutmeg and white pepper, cook til onions soften. Stir in the flour and mix well. A tablespoon at a time, add the milk, incorporating each tablespoon well before adding another. (If you add it all at once, or without working in each time, there's risk of ending up with a lumpy sauce.) Stirring often, let the sauce come almost to the boiling point, it will thicken slightly. Add the cheese and let melt, adjusting temperature so that the sauce won't boil. (It's not a disaster if it does, since it's going into the casserole, but it'll look curdled.)

COMBINE In a large bowl, break the squash apart, mashing it really well, with a wooden spoon. Stir in the hot, drained pasta and combine well, distributing the squash throughout. Stir in the sauce and combine well. Transfer to a greased baking dish. If you like, sprinkle the top with pimenton or paprika. If making ahead, let cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate.

BAKE Return dish to room temperature. Bake at 350F for 30 minutes til hot and bubbly throughout. To add color to the top, place under the broiler for 2 - 3 minutes, watching carefully so not to burn. When covered with foil, holds its temperature for a good 30 minutes.

 What a great way to sneak veggies into your kid's favorite dishes! Because of the orangey-color of the butternut squash it is barely noticeable from a visible standpoint. I love that you can tweak the amount of cheese/noodles/squash in this recipe to suit your family's tastes. Enjoy!

Do you have a garden in your own home? Do you share a garden with local families?