Ah, mac and cheese. I could sing thy praises for a lifetime. You are the chunky knit sweater of foods. Your warm, chewy, cheesy goodness is like a warm hug for my insides, and you have always been there to provide sustenance after many a drunken night.
I shall never tire of you, but alas, your excessive caloric composition prevents me from enjoying you as often as I desire.
Oh, but what’s this now? A vegan butternut squash mac and cheese? With an autumnally appropriate, dairy-free sauce? And a crispy, golden panko-sage topping?
I’m so into it.
Ok, weird ode to mac and cheese over. But seriously, this vegan butternut squash mac and cheese is currently floating around in my top three favorite macaroni preparations of all time (trailing by a hair behind caprese mac and lobster mac).
Once you try it I suspect it will sit high up on your list, too. A rich, silky sauce comprised of pureed butternut squash and a base of cashew béchamel- which is my new favorite thing to use in like, everything– is tossed with pasta, topped with an aromatic panko and crispy sage breadcrumb topping (swoon) and baked to perfection.
Why this recipe for Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese works:
- It is every bit as creamy and comforting as classic Mac and Cheese, minus the dairy (or the scary orange food coloring).
- The vegan bechamel sauce gets its signature “cheesy” flavor from a combination of soaked and pureed cashews, nutritional yeast and vegan butter.
- The crispy fried sage and panko breadcrumb topping adds a crunchy element and takes this fall-inspired Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese to the next level.
Cook’s Tips for making Vegan Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese:
- You will have to soak the cashews for at least 1 hour if using hot water. If using cold water, you can soak them for up to 24 hours in your fridge.
- When cooking the pasta, pick a roomy pot that gives it enough space to move. Make sure to add plenty of water to the pot and don’t skimp on the salt. The pasta water should taste as salty as seawater.
- To achieve perfectly cooked “al dente” pasta, start checking the pasta’s doneness about 2 minutes before the time listed on the pasta packaging is up.
Variations on this Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese recipe:
- If you are allergic to cashews or cannot find them where you live, I recommend you use macadamia nuts.
- Add a tablespoon of sun-dried tomato pesto to the bechamel sauce for a Mediterranean touch.
- To add more sweetness to your butternut squash bechamel sauce, you can roast the butternut squash instead of steaming it.
Side note: how adorable are these snowflake-shaped pasta I found? I couldn’t resist- they’re a seasonal find at Trader Joe’s, if you want to go pick some up!
Can I make this vegan bechamel sauce with a different nut?
Absolutely. You can make nut bechamel using almonds or macadamias. Macadamia Nuts would be the best substitution as they add a lot of richness and texture to the sauce. If you opt for almonds, skin-on almonds are fine, but blanched almonds are best if you prefer a white sauce. Note that each nut will impart a slightly different flavor to your butternut squash bechamel sauce.
What is nutritional yeast and why is it an essential ingredient for vegan cheese sauces?
Nutritional yeast, not to be confused with brewer’s yeast, is a popular food additive made from a single-celled organism, which is grown on molasses and then harvested, washed, and dried. No worries, no animals are harmed in this process because yeasts are members of the fungi family (think mushrooms), not animals.
Nutritional yeast is packed with nutrition; it’s low in fat, gluten-free and contains no added sugars or preservatives. But most people don’t even know about those benefits and simply use it for its flavor.
Nutritional yeast has a strong flavor that can be best described as nutty, cheesy, or creamy, which makes it very popular as an ingredient in cheese substitutes, like this vegan bechamel sauce. It is the ingredient that turns our cashew sauce into a cashew cheese sauce, which is really crucial to a Mac and Cheese recipe, so I highly recommend you do not skip it.
Thanks for reading Le Petit Eats! To keep up with my kitchen adventures, follow me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest. And if you make this Vegan Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese, please share it using the hashtag #LePetitEats!
Vegan Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese
This Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese features a silky vegan butternut squash cashew cheese sauce and a crispy sage panko topping.
- 2 cups cubed butternut squash
- 1 pound dried pasta
For the panko sage breadcrumb topping:
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 clove garlic smashed
- 8-10 sage leaves
- 1/4 cup panko breadcrumbs
- salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
For the cashew bechamel:
- 1/4 cup cashews soaked in hot water for 1 hour and drained
- 1 1/2 cups unsweetened cashew milk
- 2 tablespoons Earth Balance vegan butter or other vegan butter substitute
- 2 tablespoon flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
- 2-3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- 1 clove garlic grated
- salt to taste
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place squash in a steamer basket set over boiling water and cover. Cook for about 15-20 minutes or until easily pierced with a fork. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly, then transfer to a food processor and blend until completely smooth.
- Boil pasta in a pot of salted water until al dente. Drain and set aside.
For the panko sage breadcrumb topping:
Heat olive oil in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Add sage and smashed garlic, cooking until sage is crisp on both sides, about 1-2 minutes. Remove sage leaves and drain on paper towels.
Add panko to skillet and stir to combine. Cook until breadcrumbs are golden and toasted, about 3 minutes. Season with salt, then combine sage leaves mix with toasted breadcrumbs. Set aside.
For the cashew bechamel sauce:
To make the cashew béchamel, blend cashews and 1/2 cup of cashew milk in a food processor or high-speed blender until completely smooth.
Melt vegan butter in a medium saucepan and add the flour. Cook over medium heat, stirring often until flour is cooked and mixture has turned golden brown, about 3 minutes.
Gradually whisk in the remaining cup of cashew milk, followed by blended cashew mixture, nutmeg, nutritional yeast and garlic. Stir to combine, and cook until mixture has thickened, about 6-8 minutes. Season with salt.
- Remove bechamel from heat and fold in butternut squash puree until completely incorporated. Add pasta to pot and combine with sauce. Spoon into greased individual ramekins or a 9x9 inch baking dish. Sprinkle generously with breadcrumb mixture and bake for about 20 minutes.