Smoked "Gouda" Mac & Cheese with Spinach & Butternut Squash
Ever had smoked cheese in a gooey bubbly baked concoction that arrests your breath and makes you sigh with contentment as the silken sauce dazzles your taste buds? No? GOOD! Now, you can experience the intense flavors and pure awesomeness for the first time with this recipe with no cheese! Ha, vegan trickery abounds in this full meal that takes effort but is nothing short from miraculous.
The cheese is from a decadent cashew cream sauce swirled with roasted garlic. The smoked is from the butternut squash itself that is wrapped in billows of pecan tree smoke for ~2 hours, then gets a caramelization in the oven for a final sweetness. The noodles are ensconced with these fall flavors and then twirled with beautifully green and textured spinach. Finally, the bake gets topped with bakery style hearty wheat slices and crisped in the oven until golden, bubbled and finished to absolute perfection.
Yes, this is a love note. To food, to finding a creative outlet while pursuing my passions for sustainability. As with my other smoked foods recipes there is no Sustainability Spotlight other than to note smoking is not sustainable and to show you that no one is perfect in anything they believe or do. We try every day to make little decisions; little offsets for those things we do that are not "great" with things that are powerful and can lead to greatness. We are all on a path for sustainability. There are dalliances that we will indulge along the way. Just don't lose the path altogether and become lost again in the woods of convenience, and we should all be fine in the end.
Note to you reader: As with all smoked recipes, this is one is involved. However, it's very much worth it in the end and the "active" time as always is low. Remember, this makes a huge batch so the efforts you can reap for several meals after you first make it. Also, there is no requirement to "finish" this recipe with the topping and the bake time in the oven. If you are looking for one less dish / step / effort, you will find it in the optional bake time. Ready? Okay, let's go!
Smoked Butternut Squash:
1 large butternut squash, peeled and cubed into ~1 in pieces
1 tbsp avocado oil
salt & pepper (to taste) - start with 1/4 tsp and 1/8 tsp
2 tbsp brown sugar
1/2 large onion (caramelized - see Directions below)
12-15 roasted garlic cloves (I usually do a big batch roast & save in a ball jar in my fridge)
1 cup raw cashews (unsalted) - soaked for ~2 hours or overnight if you do not have a Vitamix
2 cups filtered water
2 tbsp white miso paste
1/2 cup nutritional yeast flakes
1 tbsp maple syrup
2 tsp salt
2 tbsp avocado oil
1 tbsp cider vinegar
1 lb small pasta (of your choice)
1 large handful of baby spinach (chopped)
2-3 slices wheat bakery-style bread (torn)
1 tbsp avocado oil
dash black pepper
Heat your smoker to ~250 degrees F using wood of your choice (we used pecan); when the smoke runs clear (white), get your butternut squash prepared.
Mix all ingredients in Smoked Butternut Squash above in a medium bowl; toss to evenly coat. Spread squash in an even layer in a grill pan (holes in the bottom to allow smoke to penetrate from the bottom) and slide into your smoker. Smoke squash for ~2 hours between 250-300 degrees F. Remove squash (it is NOT fully cooked at this stage) and set aside.
Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees F on roast setting (if you have it). Once up to temperature, you can roast your squash directly on the grill pan (WARNING! This will make your oven have a smoked "flavor" for a while. I didn't want that, so I transferred by squash to a silpat lined jelly roll pan and roasted). Roast your squash for ~30 minutes or until browned (caramelized) and softened enough to be easily pierced by a fork.
While your squash is roasting, boil your noodles according to package directions. Drain (save your water for cooling & watering house plants!) but reserving 1/4 cup of the pasta water with the noodles.
While your pasta is boiling, add all ingredients in "Gouda Sauce" above into a high-speed blender and blend on high for ~1 minute (Vitamix; ~4-5 minutes for other brands) until silky smooth.
Once your noodles are done boiling, and drained with the reserved water, add the sauce and mix until fully incorporated. Next, stir in your spinach and the smoked & roasted butternut squash.
Now, you COULD end here and serve; OR you can take it up one more notch and do the following bake. Fair warning, if you do this portion, it's glorious, but leftovers will not have the same texture as the first day.:
Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees F
Add bread to a small food processor and pulse to crumble. Add the 1 tbsp avocado oil to the drizzle notch in the lid of your processor and process as the oil slowly enters the processor bowl until oil and bread are fully incorporated.
Pour noodle mixture into a large casserole dish (I used an oval, but geometric equivalent is about 9x13) and spread evenly.
Sprinkle pasta with your bread crumbs and the black pepper. Slide the dish into the oven and bake for ~20 minutes (Broil on High for last ~3 minute to "golden" your crumbs).
Serve hot and bubbly from the oven & enjoy (immensely)!
Leftovers can be warmed back up in bowls with 1-2 tbsp of filtered water to make it "creamier" again. As with all baked pasta, the pasta continues to absorb the liquids in the dish after enjoying the first time so the bake can be a bit "dry" later. As such, this dish is not a great make ahead option - if you are serving this to others, serve right away for the most WOW.
With love & hope for a better future for all of us - Jamie