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Cheesy Larvae & Charred Skin

Black bean pasta, butternut squash, corn, a slightly spicy cheese sauce, and crispy bacon complement each other in this unique and comforting macaroni & cheese dish.

Plus, black bean rotini add extra protein and more importantly, kind of looks like larvae!

If you’ve never used black bean pasta before, it’s best to cook it on a low boil and cook it a few minutes less than the package instructions; otherwise, it can turn mushy very quickly.

Using frozen butternut squash in this recipe shortens the prep time. However, if you like the added texture and caramelization that comes from roasting, take the time to roast fresh butternut squash; instructions are in the Don’t Freak Out! section.

Veggie or turkey bacon make the best-looking Charred Skin; however, use regular pork bacon if that’s what you prefer!

Cooking spray

12 oz package (about 4 cups) of short black bean pasta like rotini

2 TBS neutral-flavored oil (like grapeseed, canola or vegetable oil)

10 oz bag of frozen butternut squash, defrosted, drained & patted dry

1 cup of frozen corn, defrosted, drained & patted dry

1 medium onion, peeled and finely chopped (about 1 cup)

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and grated or minced

2 TBS unsalted butter

2 TBS flour

2-1/4 cups milk

¾ cup grated Pepper Jack cheese (or 4 deli slices torn into bite-sized pieces)

1-1/2 cups shredded Mexican blend cheese

½ tsp garlic powder

½ tsp sweet paprika

Salt & pepper to taste

Half of a package of turkey or veggie bacon

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Spray a 3-quart casserole dish with cooking spray and set aside.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a healthy pinch of salt, turn the heat down to a slow boil, and add the pasta. Cook the pasta for 6 minutes. Drain the pasta immediately, rinse off the foam with cool water, and drain. Carefully pour the pasta into a large mixing bowl and set aside.

Meanwhile, add 1 TBS of oil to a large nonstick skillet. Turn the heat on medium. Add the butternut squash. Stirring gently and occasionally with a rubber spatula, cook the squash for 5 minutes or until golden brown. Add the corn and a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook for 2 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and set aside.

Heat a large skillet on medium heat. Add the remaining tablespoon of oil. Add the onions and cook for 2 – 3 minutes or until they become translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds making sure it doesn’t burn.

Add the butter. Once the butter is melted, whisk in the flour. Cook for 1 – 2 minutes (this will help remove the raw taste from the flour). Slowly add the milk, whisking the entire time. Bring the sauce to a simmer and cook for 2 – 3 minutes or until slightly thickened.

Remove the sauce from the heat and whisk the cheeses in bit-by-bit until the sauce is smooth. Add the garlic powder, paprika, a pinch of salt, and pepper.

Add the cheese sauce to the cooked pasta and using a rubber spatula, fold it in gently until the pasta is completely covered with the sauce. Add the cooked squash and corn to the macaroni & cheese and fold it in gently with the rubber spatula. Check the seasoning and add more salt and pepper if needed.

Transfer the macaroni & cheese to the casserole dish. Bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Remove the macaroni from the oven and set aside for 5 minutes to cool slightly.

While the macaroni is baking, make the Charred Skin:

Cut the bacon in half through the middle. Cut each half piece of bacon lengthwise into 8 thin strips.

Heat a large skillet on medium-low and add the bacon strips. You can also place the strips in a nonstick skillet and turn the heat on medium-low. Cook the bacon for 6 – 10 minutes, occasionally turning the strips, or until the bacon is dark brown (but not burnt) and crispy. Remove the bacon from the pan and drain on paper towels.

To serve: Dish up the macaroni & cheese and top with as much Charred Skin as you’d like!

Don’t Freak Out!

1) Can’t find black bean pasta? The dark green color of spinach rotini or penne makes a creepy and delicious substitute!

3) Make it vegan. Use vegan margarine and unsweetened coconut milk (use the box rather than the can—it’s more homogenized, cooks beautifully, and doesn’t have the sunscreen taste that some coconut milks have). If you cannot find vegan Pepper Jack or Mexican blend cheeses, substitute 1 cup each of vegan provolone and Cheddar cheeses and 1/8 – ¼ tsp of red pepper flakes instead.

3) With its ragged edges and dried appearance, turkey or beef jerky make an excellent substitute for the Charred Skin. Just pull it apart and sprinkle a few bits over each serving.

4) Roasting butternut squash: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place 2 cups of 1-inch cubes of peeled butternut squash on a sheet pan. Drizzle with olive oil. Add a healthy pinch of salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Using your hands, massage the oil and seasonings into the squash. Spread the squash out into a single layer. Roast for 45 – 55 minutes or until the squash is golden brown and fork tender but not mushy. Remove from the oven and set aside. Fold it into the pasta and proceed from the recipe as written. If you’re using roasted butternut squash, there’s no need to heat it in a skillet; just quickly heat the corn in a nonstick skillet with a little bit of oil and add to the pasta.

5) Make it completely gluten-free. Omit the flour. Instead of cooking the onions in 1 tablespoon of oil, cook them in the butter until they are translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the milk and reduce the heat to medium-low. Simmer for a few minutes, stirring occasionally. Make sure that the milk doesn’t boil rapidly. As the milk simmers, it will reduce and become slightly thickened. You can turn off the heat and whisk in the cheeses and proceed with the recipe as written.

If you want a thicker sauce, add 1 tsp of arrowroot starch dissolved in cold milk. Whisk in the arrowroot and simmer for 1 – 2 minutes more. Turn off the heat and add the cheeses according to the recipe instructions.

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