This vegan butternut squash mac and cheese is a creamy pasta bake with 'hidden' squash, topped with crispy breadcrumbs. The ultimate comfort food!
There's something about butternut squash.... more than any other vegetable I can think of, it becomes so incredibly velvety and creamy when cooked, making just about the best creamy vegan soups and sauces.
And of course when roasted it is beautifully sweet, mashed it makes a superb shepherds' pie topping, and thickly sliced, marinated and par-cooked beforehand, is totally more-ish on the BBQ.
This is a proper, grown-ups mac and cheese - plenty of creamy sauce, a crispy topping and a sprinkle of vegan parmesan to finish. I prefer to use a short rigatoni, (giant macaroni, if you like), but the small stuff works brilliantly too.
⏱ Speedy Shortcut
I'll admit that sometimes I lack motivation for faffing with the thick skin of a butternut squash, trying not to lose a finger whilst chopping it, and those seeds that just stick to everything they touch.
When I started planning this recipe, I was really looking for a very low-effort but maximum-flavour way of cooking a butternut mac & cheese.
Then I discovered the most useful cheat ingredient that seems to be springing up in lots of supermarkets at the moment - frozen butternut squash chunks. Hooray!
They are just perfect in dishes like this when they will be blitzed to a purée.
I find the texture a bit watery if you're roasting them, (depending on how you plan to use them), but they are perfect to use in a soup or sauce, and I think this saved me about 6-8 minutes of prep.
The price (at Aldi) wasn't far off what I would pay for a fresh squash. What's not to like?
📝 What you need
Macaroni or similar pasta shape - in fact I tend to use rigatoni or similar as I prefer a chunkier pasta, but it is entirely up to you.
Butternut squash I've written about my super-duper time saving idea above, to use frozen butternut squash chunks here. But of course it is absolutely fine to use fresh butternut squash instead. In fact any type of squash or pumpkin would work well here, depending on the season and what you can get hold of.
Dairy-free milk I always use an unsweetened oat milk to make savoury sauces as I find it has the mildest flavour and makes a creamy sauce. Whichever plant milk you choose, do make sure that it is unsweetened, or the sauce becomes far too sweet with the addition of the squash.
Onion gives a savoury base to the sauce - soften it gently, you don't need it to colour or go crispy in the pan.
Garlic If you're in a hurry I recommend using ready-chopped garlic from a jar or tube, but of course fresh garlic cloves, peeled and crushed, are excellent if you have the time.
Vegan cheese OR nutritional yeast flakes I give an either/or option here as vegans tend to have quite a strong opinion for or against which is best to use in a cheesy sauce! I usually choose to use vegan cheese but nutritional yeast goes give a deep, savoury flavour with a hit of vitamin B12 too so that's all good if you prefer it.
Paprika adds a smokey note to the sauce. Sometimes I use a little cayenne pepper instead, but not in the same quantity - half a teaspoon would be plenty!
Lemon sounds like a strange addition to a cheesy sauce but actually works so well - it tastes even more cheesy rather than lemony - give it a try!
Breadcrumbs make a lovely crispy topping for your mac and cheese. I keep a zip-lock bag in the freezer for crusts of bread, then just toast and blitz them to crumbs whenever I need one. Making breadcrumbs from a fresh slice of bread is perfectly fine too, as is buying ready-made breadcrumbs if that's all you have time for!
Vegan 'parmesan' This is optional but adds a lovely cheesy crisp to the topping. My favourite is Violife's Prosociano is really good and available at most supermarkets.
I've also found that this vegan butternut squash mac and cheese freezes really well - I portion it up into individual foil trays and it is really good to keep as a standby for those days when you don't have the time or energy to cook.
Just defrost before cooking, or transfer to a microwaveable dish, cover and cook for 5-6 minutes, then finish under the grill to get that lovely crispy crust.
👩🏽🍳 Variations on your mac and cheese
There are so many variations you can make to this basic recipe. How about:
- Add some chopped jalapeños from a jar to add a spicy kick?
- Stir some chopped sun-dried tomatoes through the sauce before baking?
- Boil some Tenderstem broccoli along with the pasta (add it half way through cooking time), then stir through the pasta and sauce, so you can eat your greens in the same dish?
- Stir 2 tbsp vegan pesto through the sauce for a herby twist? (Shop-bought or make your own from my pesto recipe).
🔪 What else can I make with Butternut Squash?
Butternut Squash is such a versatile vegetable, perfect as a side dish or the star of the show. How about trying:
- Slow Cooker Butternut Dahl for a winter-warmer weeknight meal? Frozen butternut pieces would work really well in this one too.
- Stuffed Butternut Squash Roast as a centrepiece for a roast dinner, with all the trimmings?
- Chickpea and Butternut Squash Curry for a flavour-packed spicy supper?
What is your favourite butternut squash dish? Let me know in the comments below!
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Vegan Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese
For the Sauce:
- 300 g frozen butternut squash chunks (or fresh butternut squash)
- 2 tbsp rapeseed or olive oil
- 1 onion
- 1 tsp garlic purée / ready-chopped garlic
- 2 tbsp plain flour
- 2 tsp paprika
- 500 ml dairy-free milk unsweetened - I like to use oat milk
- 50 g vegan cheese or 2 tbsp nutritional yeast flakes
- 3 tsp mustard (check it is vegan)
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ lemon
For the pasta bake:
- 300 g macaroni (or similar pasta shape)
- 3 tbsp breadcrumbs
- 2 tbsp vegan parmesan (optional)
- Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil and add the butternut squash chunks. Cook for 6-8 minutes until soft, then remove with a slotted spoon, (saving the water to boil the pasta in later).
- Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large frying pan. Finely chop the onion and add to the pan, followed by the garlic. Cook gently for 3-4 minutes until soft, then stir through the flour and paprika and cook for a further minute.
- Stir the milk into the frying pan, adding a little at a time and stirring as you go. Add the butternut squash chunks and cook for a further 2 minutes.
- Add the pasta to the saucepan of water and boil for 8-10 minutes until soft.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C / 350°F / Gas Mark 4.
- Add the vegan cheese or nutritional yeast, mustard, salt and juice of half the lemon to the frying pan, then tip everything into a blender (or use a hand-blender in the pan), and blitz to a very smooth sauce.
- When the pasta is cooked, drain it and return to the saucepan, then tip in the sauce and stir through to fully coat the pasta.
- Tip the pasta into a large ovenproof dish, scatter with the breadcrumbs and vegan cheese then bake for 10-12 minutes until crispy and golden brown.