Creamy butternut cheese sauce with shell noodles made from quinoa, topped with a crunchy panko crumbs + herbs layer. Finally, a vegan macaroni and cheese that I love (since it is nutritional yeast free!). I know, so many people love using nutritional yeast in vegan cheese recipes - and swear by it - but I am always at a loss because I cannot seem to get my taste buds to agree with its flavor. So until then, I will make this version happily. A healthy, vegan, and gluten free dish that made my macaroni-and-cheese-dreaming day. You do not have to bake it if you prefer it straight out of the pot. This version just gives it a crunchy top layer that I love. Also, if you prefer super cheesy macaroni, consider making 1.5x the sauce recipe I make below. If you do not have time to roast a butternut squash, the canned version is fine too - just use 1 cup canned instead.
1 small butternut squash
8 ounces quinoa pasta shells or your favorite pasta
1 tablespoon Earth Balance vegan butter
1 cup plain almond milk
1 tablespoon arrowroot starch
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4-1/2 teaspoon chili flakes
1/3 cup panko crumbs
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Begin by preheating the oven to 375 F. Slice your butternut squash in half, scoop out the seeds, and brush inside with a little olive oil. Lay a piece of parchment down on a cookie sheet, and sprinkle with fresh thyme sprigs (optional). Place your squash halves cut-side down on the thyme sprigs on the baking sheet. Roast squash for 30-40 minutes, or until the inside is tender and scoop-able. Let the squash cool while you boil a large pot of water and cook your pasta according to the package's instructions.
While pasta is boiling, make your cheese sauce by melting the earth balance in a small saucepan on the stove. Next, add the arrowroot starch and whisk until it forms a paste. Now add in the almond milk and whisk until the paste mixture dissolves. Add the dijon mustard and seasonings, and continue to whisk until it comes to a boil. Remove from heat and let cool a bit. Combine your cheese sauce from the stove with the flesh of the butternut squash (about 1 cup - 1 1/2 cups) in a food processor and process until smooth and creamy. Make additional tweaks to the taste by adding in any additional seasonings you desire.
Preheat your oven to 350 F. Once pasta is done cooking, drain, and toss with the cheese sauce. Scoop macaroni and cheese into a non-stick 8x8 inch baking pan. Mix the panko crumbs and seasonings together and sprinkle over the top of the macaroni. Bake covered with foil for 20 minutes, then remove the foil and bake an additional 10 minutes. Let it sit and cool for 10 minutes before serving. I served mine alongside some steamed green beans that I drizzled with lemon juice and sprinkled with a little sea salt.