12 oz Gruyère cheese, coarsely grated (about 4 cups)
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Butter an 8-inch square (1 1/2-quart) baking dish or pan (or six 8-ounce ramekins). Set aside.
Fill a 4- to 5-quart pot about three-quarters full with water and add 1 tablespoon of the salt. Bring to a boil and add the pasta. Cook, stirring once or twice, until tender but firm, 4 to 6 minutes. Drain, and reserve the pot.
In a medium skillet, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter. Turn off the heat and add the breadcrumbs and 1 cup of the pecorino. Stir to combine. Transfer to a small bowl and wipe out but do not wash the skillet.
Line a small plate with paper towels. Using the same skillet, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat and cook just until it's starting to brown. Add the whole sage leaves and cook until the leaves are crisp and just beginning to darken, about 45 seconds. Remove the pan from the heat. Using tongs, transfer the leaves to the paper towel-lined plate and reserve both the leaves and the butter.
Using the same pot you used to cook the pasta, combine the squash, milk, cream, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and the reserved sage butter. Cover and cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally and watching to make sure the cream mixture does not boil. Simmer the squash until it is very soft, 20 to 25 minutes. Cool slightly. Place about half of the mixture in a blender or food processor and purée. Put the purée back into the pot and repeat with the remaining squash.
Add the Gruyère, the remaining pecorino, the chopped sage, and the cayenne to the puréed squash mixture and stir until the cheese has melted (the heat of the squash mixture should melt it). Add the pasta and stir to combine.
Pour into the prepared baking dish, sprinkle with the bread crumb mixture, and place the fried sage leaves in a decorative pattern on top. Place the dish on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes, or until the mixture is brown and bubbly. Let cool for 15 minutes before serving.
4. Light(er) mac & cheese
So, you want to make a mac & cheese that's good for the taste buds and the waistline? Obviously mac & cheese isn't inherently a healthy dish, but there are tricks for adding some more nutritional value and cutting calories.
First off, you can use reduced fat or low-fat cheeses. If you're using such a cheese, it's important to cook the mixture slowly since low-fat and reduced fat cheeses (like a skim milk cheese) clump up more easily. You may need to add a few extra teaspoons of flour if your cheese starts to clump.
Second, you can swap regular pasta for whole grain pasta to add some fiber. And third, try adding in some color! Throw in a bunch of arugula, herbed zucchini or tomatoes roasted with garlic to get some more antioxidants.
5. How to nurse a tryptophan hangover
To me, the ultimate diner breakfast isn't the eggs you find there, it's the potatoes - especially when they're in the form of home fries. In this mac & cheese, those home-fried potatoes get their just due by acting as the crowning glory on the creamy, cheesy pasta underneath. And of course, because this IS a mac & cheese, there's also melted cheese on top of those potatoes too. I don't have to wonder what Dr. Atkins would have said about a potato-on-pasta dish, but this is one splurge worth its weight in carbs.
Breakfast Mac 'n' Cheese
1 Tbsp, plus 1/2 tsp kosher salt, plus more as needed
8 oz small or medium shell pasta
1/4 cup, plus 2 Tbsp olive oil
1 pound small red potatoes, cut into 1/4-inch chunks (do not peel)
Freshly ground pepper
1 small onion (about 4 oz), cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 medium green bell pepper (about 8 oz), cut into 1/2-inch dice