If you read my last post, you know it was Thanksgiving here in Canada this past weekend. As a result, pretty much the entire country is currently hungover and full. I for one shouldn’t have had that second (third) turkey mole enchilada. Probably could’ve done without that third (fourth) glass of wine or the bourbon(s) I had with dessert. Anyway, water under the bridge. It’s the Tuesday after Thanksgiving and it’s a new me, well it is until I get distracted by something buttery. We can’t be good all the time, so what’s the point in trying, right? What we can do is try to limit the damage and today’s Buttercup Cheesy Shells is a prime example of this culinary compromise.
Now, if you read this blog on regular basis, it should be blazingly obvious that I’m a bit of snob. But unlike most snobs, I’m aware of snobbishness and have no qualms about checking my snap judgments in the face of undeniable awesomeness. If you’re looking for evidence of this, check out these collard wraps and this avocado frosting. As with the collard wraps and the avocado frosting, I dismissed the Pinterest takeover of butternut cheese sauces as ridiculous. If you want cheese sauce, eat some damn cheese sauce. If you think it’s too fattening, eat an apple or something. Once again, my not-so-dainty assessment of the situation led me to miss out on what I’m now certain were some truly bitchin’ sauces. But no more!
Yes, I’ve seen the light. I have eaten a few squash enhanced Mac & Cheese numbers and they’re good. I mean, not quite as good as the real deal, but you get the picture. You do feel a lot better physically after eating a squash cheese pasta than the real McCoy. Less like you need to roll on the floor, groan and subsequently succumb to a cheese coma. You also don’t find yourself signing up for a marathon you won’t be able to complete in an effort to force yourself to undo what you’ve just done. These are both huge bonuses in my book. Who needs the psychological trauma of Mac & Cheese?
Ugh! Who am I kidding? I do. Full cheese, full cream, full-fat mac & cheese is otherworldly good but, let’s face it, you can’t always heed the craving when it hits. If, for example, an extreme craving overtakes you immediately following a weekend with far too much pie, what could one possibly do? One could make a batch of these Buttercup Cheesy Shells, that’s what one could do.
Now, these Buttercup Cheesy Shells are not devoid of joy. There is still a fair amount of cheese, and there is, of course, glorious pasta, but it has significantly less cream and significantly more vitamins. In other words, there is enough of the delicious to soothe your craving for Mac & Cheese and enough good to keep your diet somewhat balanced. Basically, these Buttercup Cheesy Shells make it possible for you to give into your cravings more often.
On top of their somewhat virtuous nature, these Buttercup Cheesy Shells are delicious and not in a “close enough” stand-in kind of way. They are genuinely good enough to warrant a craving of their own. Especially when they’re finished with a sprinkling of garlic butter breadcrumbs and refreshing pea shoots. Truly a knockout meal in-and-of-itself. And in the haze of poor turkey-related decisions, exactly what you need.
If you happen to be amongst the majority of my readers and live in the States, there’s no reason not to make these Buttercup Cheesy Shells. The weather is starting to dip, winter squash is coming into its own, and you have a double-header’s worth of turkey coming at you very soon. Not trying to freak you out, just something to ponder.
- 1/2 buttercup squash, cut into wedges
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 teaspoons salt, divided
- 3 cloves garlic, divided
- 2 1/2 cup 2% milk, divided
- 2 pieces multigrain bread, toasted
- 1 tablespoon butter, cubed
- 2 cups dried small shells pasta
- 1 cup aged cheddar, shredded
- 1/2 cup Parmesan, shredded
- 113 g (4 oz) St Andre cheese, cubed
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- Pea shoots for sprinkling
- Preheat the oven to 425F.
- Place the squash in a large bowl and add the olive oil and 1 teaspoon of the salt. Toss to coat.
- Arrange the squash wedges on a baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes or until tender. Set aside to cool.
- While the squash is cooling, break the toast into bite-sized pieces and place them in a large food processor. Add 1 clove of the garlic and blitz. With the food processor is running, add the butter one cube at a time.
- Transfer the crumbs to a baking sheet and spread them out in an even layer.
- Place the crumbs under the broiler and broil until deep golden in color, about 3-5 minutes.
- Place the crumbs back in the food processor and blitz once more. Set aside.
- When cool enough to handle, remove the skin from the squash using a knife.
- Place the squash, the remaining cloves of the garlic and a pinch of salt in a large food processor. Turn the food processor to the lowest setting and stream in 1 cup of the milk. Blitz until a smooth, thick puree forms.
- Transfer the finished puree to a bowl and set aside.
- Fill a large pot with water and place over high heat. Bring to a boil and generously salt the water. Add the pasta shells and cook according to the package's directions.
- While the pasta is cooking, transfer the buttercup puree to a large, deep skillet. Whisk in the remaining salt and milk and bring to simmer.
- When bubbles break the surface, stir in the cheese. Keep stirring until the cheese is completely melted. Next, stir in the Dijon mustard and reduce the heat to a very gentle simmer.
- Once the pasta is cooked, add the shells to the sauce and stir to combine.
- Sprinkle breadcrumbs over the pasta followed by the pea shoots and serve immediately.