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Butternut squash Mac 'n' Cheez with broccoli and tomatoes

Updated: Jan 10, 2022

There must be dozens of ways to make vegan cheese sauce on the internet. And, I've tried several. Most are pretty good but too time-intensive for me. I like things that are simple. That's what appealed to me with this recipe.

It's easy, these days, to find butternut squash - even Kabocha squash - bagged and in freezer sections of today's grocery stores. I keep both in my freezer. But, then I get seduced by those gorgeous fat, long-necked Butternut squash, piled high outside the storefront every autumn. When I can't use all of it, I'll peel it, cut it into chunks, and toss it into the freezer. But, here's the rub: frozen hard/winter squash tends to thaw out not so hard. That also applies to commercial brands. Once thawed, steamed, or otherwise cooked, it can be 'spongey', and I don't find that texture appealing. I'll use the fresh squash for my Buddha Bowl, thank you.

However, it's still worth having the frozen stuff on hand for sauces. It's a perfect yellow/orange avatar for cheese sauce in particular. Once you learn to make the sauce, you'll be drizzling it over steamed broccoli and cauliflower with ease. Even when you're not making a sauce, the frozen stuff is great for smoothies and 'pumpkin' bread.

This sauce is another reason you want to have Nutritional Yeast on hand. It's that flakey stuff that has a remarkable ability to mimic the umami quality of Parmesan cheese - without all the calories and fat of real cheese.

In the photo above, you can see that I've used some leftover big chunks of squash that I'd frozen, the last of a bag of purchased squash, and - waste not! - some frozen cubes of rutabaga that I couldn't bear to toss. I put it all into the steamer basket insert of my 6-qt Instant Pot and set it to High Pressure for 5 minutes. I use the steamer insert to avoid getting the squash (and rutabaga) water-logged.

While I was waiting for the squash to cook in the Instant Pot, I steamed some broccoli stems and florets on the stove. With my induction cooktop, it took about 3 minutes. No kidding. Induction is like the Tesla Roadster of cooktops. I drive a Tesla Model 3. But, have driven the Roadster. Wowza.

When the squash was cooked, I simply put it into my VitaMix blender, with just enough plant-based milk to get things started. As things started to blend, I added more plant milk to get the desired consistency and hefty 'pinches' of Nooch (Nutritional Yeast). Stop and taste. I added granulated onion and garlic powder, some salt, and pepper, paprika, red pepper flakes, thyme. Blend. Stop and taste. Add more plant milk.

You get the idea.

This is the consistency that you're angling for.

I have to confess that I was now finding, ahem, 'reasons' to stop and taste. Yeah. It was just that 'tasty good'.

And, I ended up with more than enough to dress the box of Banza chickpea rotini pasta (boiling in the background) for tonight's dinner. A jar extra will easily last a week in the fridge for another night. Hmmmm. Maybe this is a good reason to buy a nice head of cauliflower?

Finally, I cut up some cherry tomatoes and tossed those with the pasta, sauce, and broccoli.

Here's the recipe:

Roughly 4-5 cups of cut-up frozen butternut (or similar hard squash)

1-2 cups of fresh broccoli, cut into florets and stem chunks

8-10 large cherry tomatoes

1 box of Banza chickpea rotini pasta - cooked according to package directions and drained.

¾ cup Nutritional Yeast (or more as desired to achieve the flavor you like)

About ½ cup plant milk - or more to achieve desired consistency.

OPTIONAL: I added some coarse, multigrain bread crumbs for texture.

Feel free to adjust these spice and herb amounts to your taste:

Salt and pepper to taste

About 1 tsp of paprika

1 tsp of dried thyme

1 tsp each of granulated onion and garlic

1 tsp of red pepper flakes

2 tsp of dried parsley

1 tsp of dried oregano

Cook the squash in an Instant Pot with a steamer insert for 5 minutes on High Pressure. Or, steam it on your stovetop.

Add cooked squash to a high-speed blender, with about a half cup of plant milk to get started. Be ready to add more plant milk as desired. Add spices and herbs. Blend. Taste. Adjust.

Steam broccoli until al dente. Remove and rinse with cold water to halt cooking.

Boil pasta according to package directions. Drain.

Dress the pasta with some sauce and toss. Add the broccoli and tomatoes. Toss. Taste. Season more if needed. Add more sauce if needed.

NOTE: You'll probably want this sauce to be a thinner consistency than it comes out. The pasta will soak up some moisture, leaving it drier than you may like. So, simply thin the sauce out with additional plant milk when you dress the pasta.

On that breadcrumb thing: I keep bags of multigrain stuffing cubes in the pantry, and simply put some into the food processor, and give it a couple of pulses for a larger, more robust breadcrumb.

This button will take you to PayPal where you can securely pop a bit in the 'tip jar'.


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