Vegan Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese is all about healthy & nourishing comfort food. Creamy & delicious as it should be, this dairy-free pasta is a firm favourite with the kids.
When it comes to comfort food mac and cheese has been on top of my list since my au-pair year in America some 20 years ago!
Going plant based meant I had to say goodbye to this cheese-laden delight for good (which wasn't that hard after all) and embarked on a journey to create my own vegan recipe that would include one of my favourite veggies ever - butternut squash.
I knew my vegan mac and cheese would have to be easy to make, creamy, healthy and one that my kids would be willing to eat. This simple recipe ticks all of these boxes!
Can you make mac and cheese without cheese?
Yes, but don't expect it to taste exactly the same and why would you want it to anyway?
This vegan mac and cheese is delicious in its own right and won't give you that heavy feeling after eating it either.
This dairy-free mac and cheese gets its subtle cheesy flavour from delicious nutritional yeasts!
I must say we don't really eat a lot of commercial vegan cheeses but nutritional yeast makes inexpensive and super healthy substitute that adds heaps of flavour and goodness.
Seasoning is another crucial ingredient and of course creaminess that's provided here not only by butternut squash but also cashew nuts and oat milk.
Ingredients & possible substitutes
Butternut Squash - Our star ingredient! For this particular pasta I usually use smaller specimen, anything between 700g-1kg (1.5-2.2lb) of unpeeled weight.
I usually roast mine as per recipe below, throwing in couple of garlic cloves into the baking tray too, but feel free to steam, boil or even microwave yours.
Raw Cashews - I use raw cashew nuts (not salted or roasted ones) in this sauce for added goodness, protein and creaminess but if you'd like for this pasta to be nut-free, you can simply leave them out and add extra oat milk or substitute it with some silken tofu (non-refrigerated type).
Nutritional Yeast - High in protein and fibre, gluten-free, dried inactive yeast that contributes to that cheesy, savoury flavour, just yum! It is not always available in the supermarkets (here in the UK) but there are lots of online retailers who sell it.
Having said all that, you don't have to use it if you don't have it. Your sauce will still be delicious!
Oat Milk - You can use any plant milk you like here, preferably unsweetened.
Turmeric - With turmeric, a little goes a long way and only half a teaspoon will add both colour and goodness to your mac and cheese.
Garlic Granules, Onion Granules, Smoked Paprika - Flavour, flavour, flavour!
Cornflour - It will thicken the sauce up nicely in that gooey, macaroni cheese kind of way. You can substitute it with potato or tapioca starch but cornflour is what majority of us have in our cupboards.
Miso Paste (optional) - Add it if you've got it as it gives that delicious and salty umami flavour although it is optional.
Mustard (English or Dijon)
Fresh herbs - Thyme, Sage, Parsley. I like to sprinkle some fresh thyme (dried will work as well) over my butternut squash when roasting it and finish off with fresh parsley as garnish.
Pasta - Go for any pasta you like. We use whole wheat pasta most of the time for that extra fibre but it's entirely up to you. Use gluten-free pasta to make this mac and cheese gluten-free.
Pasta Water - Crucial ingredient which will help to loosen butternut squash sauce and make it the right consistency. Make sure to save approximately 250ml/ 1 cup or so.
Optional Extras - I often add some peas, steamed broccoli, spinach or curly kale/ cavolo nero and mix it in with my mac and cheese for some green goodness but you can simply serve your greens on the side.
Is this mac and cheese gluten-free?
The sauce itself if prepared according to recipe below is 100% gluten-free.
Make sure to use gluten-free pasta to make the entire dish gluten-free.
Storing and freezing
Butternut squash mac and cheese can be stored in the fridge and reheated within 4-5 days. It will thicken up as it cools so you might need to add some extra plant milk, water or veggie stock to loosen and make it creamy again.
This dish is also freezer friendly (up to 3 months) but again the sauce will require loosening up upon defrosting and reheating. Also bare in mind that defrosted pasta might not be as "al dente".
If you're planning on making a batch for the freezer, I would recommend either undercooking your pasta a bit or freezing the sauce on its own to be used with freshly cooked pasta instead.
Can I make vegan butternut squash mac and cheese ahead?
You can definitely make this dish ahead. Having said that, I would recommend preparing just the sauce ahead of time and storing it in the fridge until needed.
Pasta is best cooked fresh unless you'd like to freeze the entire dish (see "Storing and Freezing" above).
Can I turn it into baked butternut squash mac and cheese?
Yes you can!
If you like baked pasta dishes this one is super easy to adapt!
To make your vegan baked mac and cheese follow recipe instructions below with two small changes:
- Make sure to undercook your pasta slightly as it will cook some more in the oven.
- You might want to add more saved pasta water to your sauce for baked version. Pasta will soak it up as it bakes.
Spoon mac and cheese into the baking dish and sprinkle over some panko (or regular) breadcrumbs and some vegan cheese (optional) or sprinkle over some homemade vegan parmesan once your baked mac and cheese is out of the oven.
Bake in pre-heated oven at 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4 for 20-25min until golden and bubbly.
- Use high-speed blender if you can to make the sauce for smoothest result especially as you are blending cashews. Having said that, high-speed blenders are actually pretty good at blending nuts even if they haven't been soaked.
- Don't skip soaking cashews even if you've got high-speed blender. It will make them easier to digest. [Source: Healthline.com]
- If you'd like to make baked mac and cheese, make sure you undercook your pasta a bit as it will cook more in the oven. The last thing you want is mushy pasta.
- Don't forget to save pasta water for loosening up your sauce. If you are preparing your sauce separately and not cooking pasta at the same time, simply use water, some veggie stock or your favourite plant milk (unsweetened) for adjusting consistency.
How to make Vegan Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese - Instructions
Ingredient quantities & detailed instructions to be found in recipe card at the bottom of the post.
Roasting butternut squash
Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4.
Prepare butternut squash by peeling it, discarding seeds (or you can roast them) and cutting into small cubes. The smaller the cubes the quicker they will roast.
Transfer prepared squash onto baking tray and drizzle over tablespoon or so of olive oil and sprinkle with some fresh or dried thyme.
Add two peeled garlic cloves to the tray and roast them together with butternut squash. Optional but definitely adds to the flavour.
Pop the tray into preheated oven and roast for approx 20 minutes or until squash is tender.
When squash is roasting put raw cashews into a bowl and pour over some freshly boiled (not boiling) water and let them soak as you prepare all your other ingredients.
After about 10 minutes drain and rinse them well.
Cook your pasta according to the package instructions, drain and return to the pot.
Make sure to save about 250ml (1 cup) of pasta water before draining.
Once butternut squash is ready, put it into high-speed blender or food processor together with cashews and all other sauce ingredients.
Blend until silky smooth, taste and adjust seasoning if required.
Mix butternut squash sauce in with freshly drained pasta adding some saved pasta water to adjust consistency (you don't have to use all the water).
Stir gently over a low heat for a couple of minutes to warm up.
Sprinkle over some freshly chopped parsley and serve!
Have you tried my Vegan Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese?
Please consider giving it ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ rating in recipe card below and share your views or tips in the comments
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Vegan Butternut Squash Mac and Cheese
- 500 g pasta of your choice use gluten-free if required
- 1 butternut squash (approx. 700g-1kg/1.5-2.2lb unpeeled weight) peeled, deseeded and cut into small cubes
- 1 tablespoon olive oil to drizzle over squash for roasting
- 1 teaspoon fresh or dried thyme
- freshly chopped parsley to garnish
- 2 garlic cloves peeled and left whole
- 75 g raw cashews see notes
- 30 g nutritional yeast see notes
- 250 ml oat milk or any other unsweetened plant milk
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ teaspoon garlic granules
- ½ teaspoon onion granules/powder
- 1 tsp smoked paprika
- ½ teaspoon turmeric powder
- 1 tablespoon cornflour see notes
- 1 teaspoon Dijon or English mustard
- 1 tsp miso paste optional, see notes
- juice of ½ or 1 lemon to taste
- salt and pepper to taste
Roasting Butternut Squash
- Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4.
- Prepare butternut squash by peeling it, discarding seeds (or you can roast them) and cutting into small cubes (the smaller the cubes the quicker they will roast).
- Transfer prepared squash onto baking tray and drizzle over tablespoon or so of olive oil and sprinkle with some fresh or dried thyme.
- Add two peeled garlic cloves to the tray and roast them together with butternut squash. Optional but definitely adds to the flavour.
- Pop the tray into preheated oven and roast for approx 20 minutes or until squash is tender.
- When squash is roasting put raw cashews into a bowl and pour over some freshly boiled (not boiling) water and let them soak as you prepare all your other ingredients.
- After about 10 minutes drain and rinse them well.
- Cook your pasta according to the package instructions, drain and return to the pot. Make sure to save about 250ml (1 cup) of pasta water before draining.
- Once butternut squash is ready, put it into high-speed blender or food processor together with drained cashews and all other sauce ingredients.
- Blend until silky smooth, taste and adjust seasoning if required.
- Pour butternut squash sauce over freshly drained pasta adding some saved pasta water to adjust consistency to your liking (you don't have to use all the water). Stir gently over a low heat for a couple of minutes to warm up.
- Sprinkle over some freshly chopped parsley and serve!
- Nutritional information is approximate, per serving based on 6 servings and should be treated as a rough guideline only.
- Make sure to use raw cashews (not salted or roasted ones).
- To make this dish nut-free you can substitute cashews with extra plant milk or same amount of silken tofu.
- Nutritional yeast adds a lot of flavour but if you don't have it, simply leave it out, your pasta will still be delicious but you might need to add a bit more seasoning.
- Cornflour can be substituted with tapioca starch or potato flour.
- I highly recommend adding some miso paste to your sauce for that extra umami flavour but it's optional.
- This dish works really well baked (see "Can I turn it into baked butternut squash mac and cheese?").
- Use high-speed blender if you have one for silky smooth sauce.
- Soak your cashews for easier digestion.
- Undercook your pasta if making baked macaroni and cheese.
- Don't forget to save pasta water for adjusting consistency of your sauce.