Yesterday I went on a journey to return some borrowed furniture to my ex-boyfriend's mother. Alex was home for a few days before his own graduation; it was only the third time I had seen him since we broke up almost a year ago. I went with some trepedation. I expected a protectively angry mom, possibly brandishing a rolling pin with violent intent. I expected a distant Alex, not yet ready for a renewed friendship. But what I found was that same comfortable feeling of belonging - the desire to sink back into a place where I once felt so at home. I remembered that Alex, in our 2 and a half year relationship, was my best friend and that connection never fades, really. I also remembered, clearly, sadly, how our quickly diverging life paths kept and will keep us apart. Sometimes, though, a surprising happiness is harder to understand than an expected depression; I drove home feeling like someone had socked me in the gut.
It was long, draining day - a day that needed a miraculously force to alter the negative emotional course the furniture return had inspired. Adrienne and Grace brought the cheap red wine; Becca and I made the only thing one can make on that kind of a day: a magnificent baked macaroni and cheese with roasted butternut squash. It certainly did alter my emotions - in fact, it changed all of our days into a blur of gooey comforting warmth, raucously laughing friends and a happyily shared passion for cheese.
We roasted a butternut squash, chopped and drizzled with melted butter, nutmeg, salt and pepper until it was tender, almost falling apart. We made a roux, added milk and simmered it on the stove top, bubbling thickly. Also we threw in some mustard, gobs of cheddar cheese, chicken stock, salt, pepper, nutmeg. It all went into a bowl with barely al dente pasta tubes and our small perky orange chunks of squash, sloshing around so goopily as I stirred I couldn't help but jump up and down with excitement. And I'm not really a jumpy person. We poured it into our designated macaroni and cheese dish and topped it with a panko-cheese topping. Under the broiler for a few minutes, it came out oozing a rich, pungent smell of tangy cheese and warm pasta, with a crispy golden brown (accidentally close-to-singed) top crust.
We dug in, clasping our warm bowls, our wine glasses, curled up on the arm chairs and couch of the living room (the kitchen chairs were gone, the source of my sad morning journey) and contentedly we ate. The squash added a homey textural and colorful addition, a mild sweetness that contrasted nicely with the cheddar, played nicely off the nutmeg. The crunch of the crust brought it all together perfectly.
At the end of the night, my spirits had improved immensely. I still hadn't finished my art history paper (see Saturday's entry). But I no longer felt like I had been emotionally socked in the gut - my proverbial gut was feeling pretty damn good, thanks to wine, cheese, and the obligatory chocolate of course (a plate piled high with cookies, never a bad thing).
Butternut Squash Macaroni and Cheese
inspired by the Food Network Kitchens
one small butternut squash, peeled, seeded, chopped into 1 inch cubes
2 tbs. melted butter
salt, pepper, nutmeg to taste
1 pound elbow macaroni
1/4 c. unsalted butter
1/2 c. flour
4 c. milk
1 tbs. mustard
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
1 pound shredded medium sharp Cheddar (about 4 c.)
1 3/4 cup chicken stock
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 cup panko
- Preheat oven to 400. Drizzle butter over the squash and season with salt, pepper, nutmeg. Roast for 45 minutes or until very tender.
- Position a rack about 6 to 8-inches, from the broiler and preheat.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil, salt it generously, and add the elbow pasta and cook until tender but still slightly more firm than al dente (about 5 minutes). Drain the pasta in a colander set in the sink; don't rinse.
- Meanwhile, melt 1/4 cup butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Scatter the flour over the butter and mix with a wooden spoon into a paste. Continue stirring until the paste puffs slightly and lightens in color, about 1 minute. Off the heat gradually whisk the milk into the paste. Return to medium-high heat and whisk until thickened, then simmer, stirring occasionally until the sauce has the consistency of heavy cream, about 8 to 10 minutes. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Whisk in mustard. On the lowest heat setting, whisk 3 cups of the cheese into the sauce alternating with chicken stock.
- Toss the hot pasta with the cheese sauce and the roasted squash in a large bowl to coat evenly. Transfer to an oven proof dish.
- Mix the panko breads crumbs, melted butter, and remaining 1 cup cheddar together; scatter over the macaroni.
- Place macaroni and cheese under the broiler and cook until hot and bubbly and the breadcrumbs are brown and toasty, about 2 to 4 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes and serve.