This Vegan Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese is SURE to surprise you. I know it surprised me! I NEVER thought something with cheese in the name could be made so damn delicious without using cheese at all!
Who doesn’t love mac and cheese? I mean seriously – it is the ultimate comfort food. Warm and oh so cheesy cheesy… But of course most mac and cheese recipes are loaded with calories. I have been wanting to try and make a healthy mac and cheese recipe for quite some time now – but whenever I have tried to research other recipes, I have been overwhelmed by the number of recipe variations available! There are so many ways that you can try and make mac and cheese healthier – decrease the amount of dairy, use a lower fat content dairy, remove dairy altogether, add vegetables, use a pasta alternative, the list goes on! Some recipes suggest to use less cheese or reduced fat dairy products. Others suggest to replace the pasta with noodle alternatives. Of course there are also vegan recipes out there that eliminate the use of dairy altogether!
I wanted to try a few variations – but you have to be careful when doing this sort of thing. Its almost like a science experiment (nerd alert) – you have to have a certain number of constant variables in order to be able to test the changing variable. For example, if you change the dairy fat content, add vegetables, and change the pasta – you may not which aspects of the recipe were good or bad!
I knew I wanted to use butternut squash, that was for sure.
And I knew I wanted to try a vegan version. I’ve read all about people using cashews to make vegan cream sauce – what a strange but cool idea! I had to try it.
So – I made two batches of pasta simultaneously: both used butternut squash, onions, and a few other additional ingredients. However, one batch was dairy based with some low-fat milk and shredded cheese. The other, VEGAN! No cheese or dairy of any kind – instead, cashews!
I also tested out two different types of pasta – Banza Chickpea Pasta and Trader Joe’s Brown Rice pasta. I have been hearing loads about these pastas from all my food blogger friends – they are both gluten free and supposedly delicious.
I tasted both sauce with both pastas – just because I was curious about all the hype! And here’s what I found:
Both sauces were DELICIOUS! Seriously, so tasty – I will be posting the Healthy Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese recipe (with cheese) soon as well. But which was better? Drumroll please?!?!
I ACTUALLY LIKED THE VEGAN BETTER!! I know its crazy right – I am obsessed with cheese. So I think that says a lot. The butternut squash is wonderful – but a lot more subtle than you might expect. Of course this pasta doesn’t taste like Kraft Mac and Cheese but its pretty damn good if I do say so myself.
The onion and vegetable broth give the sauce and incredibly unique flavor – especially the onion. The trick is the caramelization – I learned this from one of my fave food bloggers Lindsay Ostrom at Pinch of Yum. She uses caramelized onion to make her Healthy Mac and Cheese Recipe. Her recipe was actually inspiration for the dairy version of Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese that I used while testing out recipes.
Lastly there is the cashews – you might be wondering, how does that even work? Not going to lie, I’m not totally sure – its magic! What I do know is that you soak the cashews in water first – why? Well, I have read that there are many health benefits – but I just wanted the cashews to blend more smoothly. Soaking them in water first makes them softer and easier to blend. The large fat content in the cashew gives a creamy flavor that perfectly accentuates the butternut squash.
I tried using fresh parsley and sage to garnish – I actually hated how the sage tasted though. I had never had raw sage! It was not my cup of tea – but you’ll notice there is sage used in the photos. You are welcome to use sage if you’d like! But I preferred the taste of parsley instead.
As for the pasta, I LOVED the Trader Joe’s Brown Rice pasta – it was chewy and flavorful, yet not distracting from the flavor of the sauce. Unfortunately, I did not love the Banza Chickpea Pasta – its possible that I overcooked it. But, I’m not sure! It just seemed to be a little bit too mushy for my liking! I very much like an al dente pasta – and this pasta went from undercooked to overcooked very quickly!
All in all – this pasta is a MUST TRY! I cannot wait to continue experimenting with other vegan recipes AND other non-vegan healthy mac and cheese recipes. I am definitely going to post a Healthy Mac and Cheese Recipe soon that does use dairy – but I will wait until it is just PERFECT to share with you all!
This Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese is so rich and creamy you'd never know it is completely DAIRY-FREE! Enjoy as a healthy alternative to the traditional classic!
- 1 cup raw cashews
- 1 lb pasta any kind works!
- 1 tbsp olive oil or ghee
- 24 ounces cubed butternut squash
- 1/2 small yellow onion thinly sliced
- 4 cups vegetable broth
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp pepper
- parsley or sage to garnish
- salt and pepper to taste
- red pepper flakes if desired
Place cashews in a bowl, cover with hot water then set aside to soak.
Cook pasta according to package directions - meanwhile, begin to prepare sauce.
In a large pot, heat olive oil (or ghee) over medium low heat. Add onions to pan then saute (stirring occasionally) until onions begin to caramelize (about 15 minutes). Remove onions from pan and set aside.
Once onions have been removed from pot, bring broth to a boil - add squash. Cook until tender (about 5-7 minutes). Remove 1 1/2 cups of broth from pot, then drain. Transfer squash to food processor (or blender).
Add drained cashews, onions, broth, salt and pepper to food processor. Process until sauce is smooth and creamy.
Place cooked noodles in a large bowl - cover with sauce then toss to combine. Serve as-is or place in a greased 8x8 inch and bake at 350F for about 15 minutes (or until hot). Garnish with fresh parsley or sage.
Storage: For longest lasting storage, refrigerate sauce and cooked pasta separately - sauce will remain fresh up to 4-5 days, pasta for 1-2 days.
Loved this pasta recipe? Try another! Caprese Pasta Salad, Cauliflower Cream Lentil Pasta with Spinach and Mushrooms, Tomato, Basil, and Goat Cheese Pasta with Pine Nuts