Macaroni Pie, First Try

Every vegan has their beloved mac & cheeze recipe that they go to after a bad day at work, a pang of nostalgia, or a strong hankering f...

Every vegan has their beloved mac & cheeze recipe that they go to after a bad day at work, a pang of nostalgia, or a strong hankering for creamy noodles. I know I do. I have probably tried about 25 different recipes for vegan mac & cheeze since going vegan, perhaps more. Some did the trick better than others, but it took forever to find one that I specifically craved. Whether or not this tastes like real mac & cheese, I don't even remember. I just know that it hits the nail on the head when an ex-mac-&-cheese-lover is having a moment of weakness. I grew up on kraft mac and cheese, and not so much baked southern-style mac and cheese, and definitely prefer a creamy, soupier and cheezier mac than a dry, baked casserole with a crust. Like I said, I've tried a lot of different recipes, and applaud everyone for getting in their kitchen and trying to recreate their favorite comfort food and share it with the world so that other vegans like me can have a go-to mac & cheeze at our fingertips. My recipe is sort of a combination of all my favorites out there. I feel like I can't truly claim responsibility for whole recipe since I've had so much help along the way. So, Thanks Everybody!
 Now, I've got a solid recipe and I make it all the time. So after recently finding myself with a large leftover pot of mac & cheeze, I sort of looked at it for a while, tilted my head sideways, and wandered over to my thinking stool and sat with my temple resting against my fist propped by my elbow on my knee.. you know, the thinking pose; the one you get in to access the creative part of your brain. A very distant memory crossed my thoughts of a girl scouts potluck we had when I was in brownies (that's when you're between 7 and 9). Everyone was supposed to bring a family recipe or a recipe from our family's heritage. So of course my mom and I brought kielbasa, this is obviously many years ago, because we're polish, and my best friend had her mom make lasagna because she was italian, and my other friend probably brought schnitzel and another rice and beans, and so on and so forth. Anyways, one scout brought macaroni pie. I was so intrigued by it, since I had never seen or heard of such a thing. I forget if it actually had a crust, or if it was just elbow pasta with tomato sauce, put into a casserole or pie dish and baked. But the idea of merging two dishes, macaroni and pie, excited me so. A long search of google images just yielded dishes of spaghetti jammed into a dish, covered in shredded mozzarella cheese and baked. Now I'm sure if I brought a dish like that to my next potluck, its praise, if any, would surely not get me to hollywood. I thought, maybe I could put a spin on all this spaghetti business and make a mac & cheeze pie.

I pondered over making a savory pie crust, but really ached over the idea of that much starch in one dish. I am aiming for ultra american, but that might be a little too american for even me. I took inspiration from a timbale, which uses eggplant slices as it's crust, and used steamed chard leaves. Collards would obviously work great here too. I really love to chop up some soy dogs and mix them into my mac, like I did as a little kid. I grilled my dogs first and then chopped them up and threw them into the mix. The results, pretty similar to straight up mac & cheeze, but in a nicer presentation, and also portion controlled slices. A jazzy new way to bring your favorite comfort food to a potluck! 

Macaroni Pie, version 1

*For gluten-free variation, use a gluten-free pasta like shells or elbows. Instead of using flour, use chickpea flour in place of all-purpose flour.

1 lb macaroni pasta
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup flour
1/2 cup nooch
1/2 cup cashews
2 1/2 to 3 cups butternut squash, peeled and cubed
1 tablespoon worcestershire
3/4 cup water or veggie broth
2-3 cloves garlic
2 heaping tablespoons white miso
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 tablespoons tahini
1 tablespoon dijon or spicy brown mustard
the juice of 1 lemon
2 cups unsweetened almond milk
1 teaspoon old bay
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
salt and pepper

1 large bunch swiss or rainbow chard, or collard greens
1 handful plain breadcrumbs
3 tablespoons olive oil, for drizzling

Bring a large pot of water to boil for pasta.
Add pasta and cook according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
You can use canned butternut squash, and save yourself the roasting, but I prefer to roast my own, because it's a little thinner and a bright vibrant orange, instead of a dull, grayed out can of squash. Plus you can find it year-round. So peel your squash, cut it in half, scoop out your seeds, and chop it into cubes and roast in on 400ºF for about 30 minutes or until super soft. If you get lazy you can skip the cubing step and just slice it in half and scoop the seeds and place the cut squash halves cut-side down on a baking tray. But then you have to wait for the squash to cool to peel. So I say, Cube em!
In a blender, add cashews, water and garlic. Blend at high speed for 2-3 minites, until a creamy paste is achieved. Scoop this mixture out and set aside. Puree the roasted butternut squash cubes separately after scooping out cashew mixture, set aside.
In a heavy-bottomed skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Now take a wire whisk and slowly whisk in the flour. This will turn into a clumpy mass, at which point you may switch to a wooden spoon. Stir it around for about 2-3 minutes, until you smell a toasty scent, that means the flour and oil are nicely toasted and combined. Get your whisk again and scoop in the cashew cream. Whisk this into the mass of flour and oil to create a thick paste. Add the miso, tahini, tomato paste and lemon juice, and spicy mustard and whisk until well -combined. Now, slowly whisk in the almond milk, until desired thickness is acheived. You want a relatively loose sauce, not a paste. It will seem soupy at first, but just keep stiring until the mixture absorbs the flour and forms a creamy cheese-like sauce. Now stir in the nooch, old bay, turmeric, dry mustard, worcestershire sauce and lower the heat. Now stir in the butternut squash mixture. It will make the sauce a silky luxurious texture. Taste the mixture and add salt and pepper accordingly. 
Turn off the heat and dump pasta into sauce. Using a spatula, fold the noodles into the sauce so that each noodle is well-coated.
I have dreams about this.
Preheat the oven to 400ºF.
Steam leaves of chard or collard greens for about 6 minutes, or until soft. Lay them out on a cutting board and pat dry. Lay them flat in a springform pan, draping it over the sides of the pan. Overlap the leaves so that the entire bottom is covered and some leaves overlap along the outside edges. 
Scoop in your mac mixture and smooth out the top using a spatula. Fold the edges of the chard that hang off the pan up over the mac and cheeze so that the chard forms a border around the top of the pie.
Now evenly sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the mac and drizzle with olive oil. Bake for about 35 minutes or until the crumbs have browned. If they haven't browned, pop it under the broiler for 2 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes before slicing.

*If you don't have the worcestershire sauce, now is a perfect opportunity to use one of the many bottles of specialty soy sauces you bought to make some fancy thai dish, but are now left with a cabinet full of open soy sauce bottles. To me, this recipe screams to the open bottle of thai golden mountain sauce burning a whole in my fridge or cabinet. If you have neither, just add some extra salt. 
If you don't have old bay, you can leave it out. If you feel dangerous, add a teaspoon or so you're favorite spice blend, like a persian 7-spice or an ethiopian berbere.
*If you want to relive my childhood, you can add some tofu dogs!  Grill or toast in the oven 2-3 non-gmo soy organic hot dogs, my fav is tofurky, for about 5 minutes. Slice into bite-sized pieces and stir into the mac when done. 

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