Gorgonzola Macaroni and Cheese with Butternut Squash and Pickled Pears

20190303_185940I’m just going to come out and say it – this is the best recipe I’ve invented so far (and one of the better ones I’ve ever cooked). I’m so pleased with myself! I usually make macaroni and cheese to cover a lot of bases; it cleans out my fridge of leftover cheese bits and vegetables, which reduces food waste and is good for my wallet. It’s also comfort food and can serve a crowd. For all these reasons I’ve made a lot of mac and cheese over the years, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be special! Here the combination of the salty-funky blue cheese, the sour pears, and the crunchy corn flakes really blew my mind. If you don’t believe me, you’d better try it yourself!

The details:

Jump to recipe

Thought process:

I based this recipe on my mom’s for baked mac and cheese, which I believe she got off the back of the macaroni pasta box. It’s very simple, and that’s what makes it so great as a foundation for innovation; if you stay CONFINED within the realm of macaroni and cheese you won’t be led astray.

Cheese – In the past making mac and cheese, I have used almost every possible cheese. The classic is 100% cheddar. Cheddar is a great choice for mac and cheese because it’s creamy and gooey but also strongly flavored. This is in contrast to parmesan, which has a great flavor but will not produce the gooey texture you desire in a mac and cheese. That doesn’t mean you can’t use parmesan, it just means you have to combine it with other gooey cheeses. I have used fontina and gruyere for this purpose and they work very well. Ricotta, goat cheese, and even cream cheese are very melty but not very gooey, so they create a nice creamy sauce. Blue cheese and feta cheese don’t melt very much at all, so they will provide great pockets of concentrated flavor in the final dish. As long as at least one of your cheeses is gooey or creamy, you can combine pretty much any number of cheeses for a great effect. In fact, I frequently turn to mac and cheese to use up the odds and ends of my cheese drawer!

Mix-ins – Classic mac and cheese is great, but it is decidedly lacking in nutritional value. This is where mix-ins play a role. The foundation of mac and cheese can support a ton of different vegetables, which also makes it great for cleaning out the fridge. I used butternut squash here, but you could use other hard vegetables, such as sweet potatoes, pumpkin, and parsnips, or broccoli, cauliflower, kale, spinach, or tomatoes. Just make sure that the vegetable is either very tender (like spinach) or is already cooked before mixing into the pasta (as I did with the squash). The time in the oven is likely not going to be enough to fully cook a hard vegetable, and it would be hugely disappointing to bite down onto raw potato.

Taking it to the next level – This is the purpose of this blog, after all. Balance is one of my tenets, and the Flavor Bible reminded me that it should be sought in both flavor and texture. Since macaroni and cheese is a largely mushy texture, the addition of crunch is very noticeable. It’s best to add that crunch on the top, so it doesn’t get water-logged or wilted by the heat of the dish. I chose corn flakes cereal, but you could try fried shallots or chopped nuts. To add an unusual flavor component, I consulted the Flavor Bible, which informed me that pears go really well with blue cheese. Since the whole dish is so rich and fatty, I thought pickling those pears would be the perfect way to highlight their contribution.

Below, the recipe:

Blue Cheese Macaroni and Cheese with Butternut Squash and Pickled Pears
Makes 6 servings

For the pickled pears (based on this recipe):

  • 2 Bosc pears
  • Peel of 1/2 orange
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 8 black peppercorns
  • 3 allspice berries
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/2 cinnamon stick
  • 100 g (1/3 cup) granulated sugar
  1. Put everything except the pears in a small saucepan and stir over med-low heat until the sugar has dissolved
  2. Peel, core, and quarter the pears then add to the pan and simmer for 15 min until the pears are just tender
  3. Remove the pears to a pint Mason jar
  4. Increase the heat under the remaining syrup and boil for 10 minutes, until reduced
  5. Pour the hot syrup over the pears and store in the fridge

For the baked macaroni and cheese:

  • 1 pound pasta, boiled for 3 minutes and drained. I used ziti rigate
  • 2 pounds butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp coriander
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1/4 tsp allspice
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp + 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground black pepper, divided
  • 1/2 cup + 1 Tbsp butter

  • 6 T flour

    20190303_180451

  • 1/4 tsp dry mustard

  • 4 cups whole milk

  • 1 cup crumbled gorgonzola or blue cheese

  • 1/2 cup shredded manchego cheese
  • 1 cup shredded fontina cheese
  • 1/2 cup sharp yellow cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup cornflakes, coarsely crushed
  • 1/2 Tbsp fresh thyme
  • 2 Bosc pears, pickled at least 4 hours then drained and sliced thinly20190303_145015
  1. Preheat the oven to 450°F
  2. Toss the squash with the oil, cloves, ginger, cinnamon, coriander, nutmeg, allspice, cumin, 1 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp pepper
  3. Spread the squash on a foil-lined baking pan in a single even layer, and bake for 45 min stirring occasionally, until browned but not too soft
  4. In the meantime, melt the 1 Tbsp butter in a small skillet and mix in the cornflakes and thyme just to warm
  5. In a medium saucepan, melt the remaining butter, then whisk in the flour, mustard, 1/4 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper to make a roux (see my tips and tricks for more details about roux)
  6. Cook until smooth and bubbly, then gradually add the milk
  7. Cook and stir over medium heat until the mix boils then simmer 1 min, stirring constantly
  8. Gradually mix in the cheeses and stir over low heat until cheese is melted
  9. Add to pasta, mix together lightly
  10. When the squash is ready, reduce the oven to 350°F
  11. Carefully fold the squash into the macaroni and cheese, being careful not to get the spice mix everywhere or completely pulverize the squash
  12. Pour into a greased 9×13 pan and bake 30 min until brown and bubbly
  13. Sprinkle the cornflakes mixture over the top and broil 5 min or until browned – don’t let this burn!
  14. Before serving, fan pear slices over top

Rating:

5/5 stars.

5 stars

This has warm and comforting winter/holiday flavors with the butternut squash and the spice mix. It edges towards very sweet and fatty, but the funk of the blue cheese and the acid of the pickled pear cut through that and are real stars of the dish. The thyme retains a very clear, bright flavor because it’s added at the end and the crunch of the cornflakes and pears balances the softness of the rest of the ingredients.

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