Charlie loves cheese.
By love, I mean throw himself at the fridge every time we open it in hopes of getting cheese. I mean pathetically whimpering as he begs at my feet while I cook for cheese. Not that we deprive him – he’s such a spoiled only puppy that we give him bites of cheese at least once a week.
I don’t think, though, that Charlie has ever actually tasted cheese. He just greedily inhales it out of sheer excitement, and then begs for more until we put it away or finish eating. That’s one of the things about puggles – they have the food obsessives of pugs with the noses of beagles. We never eat a cheesy meal without Charlie sitting at our feet, gazing lustfully at whatever cheesy dish we are eating. And sometimes jumping on our laps. That’s life with a puggle.
This cheesy acorn squash pasta was no exception. Charlie sat next to me and stared at my bowl the entire time with a soft whimper as I ate. What was worse was when I photographed this meal – he hid under the table and tried to jump up and grab it whenever I turned my back. Oh, puggle.
Charlie never got any of the cheesy acorn squash pasta – it was too mouth-watering good to share with a puggle (well, plus it had shallots and garlic, which are not friendly foods for dogs). Ryan and I both were super tempted to have seconds, but then saving the leftovers made lunch time the next day awesome. I need to double (or more so, stop halving) the recipes more often.
This recipe involves acorn squash puree, which is actually quite simple to make. You can use one of two methods. You can peel and chop up the squash, add it with about a quarter cup of water to a pan over medium heat, cover, and steam for 10-12 minutes. Then you either mash the chopped pieces until smooth or toss into the food processor and let that do the work for you. Alternatively – and I prefer this method because acorn squashes are practically impossible to peel when uncooked – you can roast the squash (cut in half and the seeds scooped out) in the oven at 375* for 45 minutes. Then you scoop the squash from the peel (which will now remove easily) and puree in the food processor (or again mashed if you don’t have a food processor).
Trust me, the creamy texture and cheesy taste of this pasta is worth the little extra effort of roasting/steaming and pureeing the acorn squash. There may be leftover squash puree after you make this recipe – you should save it and use it in pancakes, oats, or baked goods, because it tastes so good and lends great texture to both sweet and savory foods. I’m obsessed. I roasted up two whole acorn squashes for the puree I made and I wish I had more. We put it in this pasta, in oats, and in pancakes (which will be up on the blog later this week!), and then I stared at the fridge in a very Charlie-esque manner when it ran out.
One of the main reasons to use the acorn squash puree in this pasta is that it adds a lot of creaminess for not a lot of calories. Does this taste the same as super cheesy traditional mac and cheese? No, but it’s a great healthy alternative and is still really delicious. It also adds vegetables to the pasta – yay for fiber and extra vitamins and minerals! Since I’m really big on eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, I also added roasted cauliflower to this recipe. You can even roast the cauliflower (or any other desired vegetables if you aren’t oddly addicted to cauliflower like I am) in the oven at the same time as you roast the squash.
You could make the dish without cheese and still have it be wonderfully creamy, but we’re by no means remotely anything near vegan over here, so we added cheese. Trust me, the cheese makes it even better. That’s just not Charlie’s general life advice; that’s my specific advice on the recipe. We used a fresh little block of Vermont cheddar for this one – swoon. Vermont cheddar is by far one of my favorite cheeses. Along with goat cheese. And feta. And Parmesan. And mozzarella. And Muenster.
Wait, what were we talking about? I got distracted thinking about cheese. Oh, that’s right – this cheesy acorn squash pasta.
You can also make this dish completely meatless, if vegetarian is your thing or you’re celebrating Meatless Monday. Since it’s not Lent yet, we added a bit of meat – bacon, to be specific. Oh, and the bacon elevates this dish from amazing to let’s make this every single week until acorn squash is out of season. I’m serious. I know bacon isn’t the healthiest thing, but it’s not the worse. It’s all about balance anyway – the pasta is whole wheat and this dish is full of vegetables, so I can add cheese and bacon. That’s basic kitchen math.
- 2 cups of cauliflower, chopped into bite-size pieces
- 2 cups of dry whole wheat penne pasta
- 1 clove of garlic, minced
- 1 shallot, minced
- 1/2 tablespoon butter
- 1/4 cup low-sodium chicken broth
- 1 1/4 cup pureed acorn squash
- 1 cup grated Vermont Cheddar
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- 1/2 tsp paprika
- Ground black pepper
- 4 slices of bacon
- 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
- Preheat the oven to 375*F. Chop the cauliflower and toss with olive oil. Place on roasting sheet and cook for 20-25 minutes. Meanwhile, start boiling water for the pasta. When the water is ready, add the pasta and cook according to the package directions.
- Cook the bacon as desired, leaving it a bit soft - it will crisp up more in the oven.
- While the pasta and bacon are cooking, heat the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Once the butter is sizzling, add the garlic and the shallot and cook for three minutes. Be careful not to burn the garlic - it will make the dish taste bad.
- Add the chicken stock and acorn squash to the saucepan. Cook until the sauce is creamy, not clumpy. Add the Vermont Cheddar, and stir in until melted - raise the heat to medium high if necessary. Add with the nutmeg and paprika to the sauce, and season with salt and pepper as desired.
- Combine the cooked pasta, cauliflower, and sauce in a casserole dish. Crumble bacon and mix it into the dish. Top the pasta with the grated Parmesan.
- Bake for 12-15 minutes in the oven. Let cool for five minutes before serving.