Kabocha Squash Mac 'n' Cheese with Pork Rind Crust

Who doesn't love mac 'n' cheese? My version is satisfyingly familiar but elegant enough that you won't have to share it with your kids. If you don't like pork rinds, you can substitute bread crumbs for the topping. But if you have any sense of what is good in this world, you'll never reach for bread crumbs to make a crunchy topping again. I know there's a lot of pork rinds in this book (as in my life), but I figure, hey, if you find something you like, you should stick with it. Serve this with fried chicken, or at any meal where you want lots of sides.

Excerpted from Smoke and Pickles by Edward Lee (Artisan Books). Copyright 2013. Photograph by Grant Cornett.
TOTAL TIME: 1 hr 40 min
Prep: 25 min
Inactive Prep: --
Cook: 1 hr 15 min
 
YIELD: 8 to 10 servings as a side dish
LEVEL: Easy

ingredients

  • 1 small kabocha squash (about 1 1/2 pounds)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 12 ounces elbow macaroni
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 3 ounces sharp Cheddar cheese, grated
  • 3 ounces Colby cheese, grated
  • 3 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese, grated
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
  • 5 tablespoons crushed pork rinds (see note)
  • 2 teaspoons black sesame seeds
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Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter a 4-inch-deep 9-by-12-inch baking dish or casserole.

2. Peel and halve the squash. Scrape out the seeds and membranes and cut into rough 1-inch cubes. Place them on a baking sheet, toss with the olive oil, and season with a little salt and pepper. Spread them out on the baking sheet and bake for about 25 minutes, or until the squash is fork-tender.

3. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the elbow macaroni and cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until cooked but still with a slight resistance to it. Drain the macaroni in a colander and cool under cold running water. Set aside.

4. Transfer the cooked squash to a blender, add the milk, chicken stock, three cheeses, and the butter, and blend on high to a smooth puree. Add 2 teaspoons salt, 3/4 teaspoon pepper, and the nutmeg and pulse to mix. Transfer the squash puree to a bowl, add the elbow macaroni, and mix thoroughly.

5. Transfer the mixture to the buttered baking dish. Sprinkle the pork rinds and sesame seeds over the top. Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes.

6. Remove the foil, and continue baking until the mac 'n' cheese is lightly browned and crisp on top, another 25 to 30 minutes.

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