Butternut Squash Pancetta Mac and Cheese

This butternut squash mac and cheese throws a curveball at the tongue, teasing the sweet button on taste buds that were prepared for savory.

Vertical image of a large spoonful of a casserole with crumb topping in a white ceramic dish, with text on the top and bottom of the image.

I think the best part of cooking is seeing the impact of that first taste on someone else’s face, watching it light up and witnessing that budding smile. Particularly when you’ve pulled in an unexpected ingredient or two as is the case with this recipe, it’s as if you can see the wheels in your dining companion’s brain turning as they chew.

The bright squash puree is the golden ticket in this recipe that leads your dinner guests to wonder…

What’s that flavor I can’t quite put my finger on?

Vertical close-up image of a bowlful of macaroni and cheese on a colorful napkin.

The unique addition of butternut squash puree partners with milk and mild shredded cheddar, known for its beautiful melting quality, in the sauce for this baked macaroni.

With the subtly sweet notes from the squash, a little heat and spice for contrast adds depth. Tingly cayenne pepper and pungent ground mustard do the trick in this dish.

Salty and sweet is one of my favorite flavor profiles, but instead of your typical crumbled bacon topper, which brings a bold bouquet of smoke, pancetta was selected for this recipe instead. It still has that intensely porky profile, but with a more mellow flavor that doesn’t overpower the sauce. And there’s no need to melt butter into your breadcrumbs when you’ve got rendered pork fat for your panko!

Vertical top-down image of a white ceramic dish filled with a pasta bake topped with seasoned breadcrumbs with a metal spoon.

Panko breadcrumbs are already celebrated for being light, crispy, and airy, so you know this topping is going to be tasty.

To quickly recap all the magic we’ve poured into this mac, so far we’ve got a little sweet, a hint of salt, some savory, and a touch of crunch.

Quite a ridiculously delicious roundup if I do say so myself!

Choosing which type of pasta to use is up to personal preference, but some believe it can make or break a dish. Cavatappi is courageously curvy and has no problem cloaking itself in this silky sauce. It’s my carb of choice for this recipe – but it doesn’t necessarily have to be yours.

Vertical top-down image of a small bowlful of mac and cheese next to an orange-colored puree.

Feel free to grab another variety of short tubular pasta with ridges like fusilli, rotini, or gemelli.

No matter the noodle, I guarantee your guests will only need to take one bite of this fall-inspired comfort food casserole to realize it’s something special.

And if those smiles turn into happy tears, well, I’ll take full responsibility for that.

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Horizontal image of a large white dish filled with a pasta and cheese bake.

Butternut Squash Pancetta Mac and Cheese

  • Author: Fanny Slater
  • Total Time: 1 hour
  • Yield: 6-8 servings 1x


This deeply flavorful, fall-inspired pancetta mac and cheese calls on rich butternut squash and cheddar for a sweet and savory combo.


  • 1 pound (16 ounces) cavatappi pasta
  • 1 tablespoon olive or canola oil
  • 1 1/8 cups (6 ounces) pancetta diced in 1/4-inch cubes
  • 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1 1/2 cups butternut squash puree
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 2 1/2 cups (10 ounces) shredded mild cheddar cheese
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh chives or parsley, for garnish


  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F and spray a 9-by-13-inch ceramic baking pan or 3-quart casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Cook the cavatappi, stirring occasionally until al dente, about 9-11 minutes. Drain the pasta, transfer to a large bowl, and toss with the oil to prevent sticking. Set the pot aside to use for making the sauce.
  3. While the pasta is cooking, place a large skillet on the stove over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until crispy and golden brown, about 6 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cooked pancetta to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain. 
  4. Place the breadcrumbs in a small bowl. Transfer 1 tablespoon of the fat from the pan to the bowl and stir to combine. Set aside.
  5. Return the empty pot used for cooking the pasta to the stove. Add the butternut squash puree and the milk. Whisk until combined over medium heat, and bring the sauce to a simmer. Continue to simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally and adjusting the heat level as needed. 
  6. Turn off the heat. Stir in the salt, black pepper, ground mustard, and cayenne pepper. Add the cheese about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring between additions to combine thoroughly and ensure that it melts. Season to taste with additional salt.
  7. Add the pasta and half of the pancetta, and stir until well-coated. Transfer to the prepared baking dish. Top with the panko breadcrumbs and remaining pancetta.
  8. Bake until golden-brown on top and bubbling around the edges, about 20-25 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside to rest for about 5 minutes before garnishing with the chives and serving.
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 40 minutes
  • Category: Mac and Cheese
  • Method: Baking
  • Cuisine: Comfort Food

Keywords: mac and cheese, butternut squash, casserole, pancetta

Cooking By the Numbers…

Step 1 – Gather, Measure, and Prep Ingredients

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Lightly coat a 9-by-13-inch ceramic baking pan or 3-quart casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray.

Horizontal image of assorted prepped and measured ingredients in bowls next to a green towel and empty ceramic dish.

Prepare the butternut squash puree if you haven’t done so already. Measure out the 2 cups you need for this recipe.

Measure the pasta, salt, black pepper ground mustard, and cayenne pepper. Measure the panko breadcrumbs and place them in a small mixing bowl.

Measure the oil and milk.

Get out your box grater and grate the cheddar if you need to.

Dice the pancetta into 1/4-inch cubes if it wasn’t purchased this way. Though smoky pork has its place in a variety of recipes, be sure to purchase a variety that has not been smoked for this dish.

Step 2 – Cook the Pasta and Pancetta

Over high heat, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the cavatappi and cook according to package directions until al dente, stirring occasionally. Mine cooked in about 9 minutes.

Horizontal image of a green colander with cooked cavatappi.

Drain the pasta in a colander. Transfer to a large bowl, and toss the noodles with the oil to prevent them from sticking. Set the pot aside for making the sauce in the next step.

Horizontal image of cooking cubes of pancetta in a cast iron skillet.

Meanwhile, cook the pancetta. Set a paper-towel lined plate next to the stove. Add the pancetta cubes to a large skillet placed over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally until the cubes are crispy, for about 6 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked pancetta to the prepared plate to absorb some of the fat.

There will be a decent amount of rendered fat left in the pan. Measure out 1 tablespoon and add it to the bowl of panko breadcrumbs. Using a spoon or spatula, stir to coat the crumbs. Set aside.

Horizontal image of using rendered pork fat to mix into breadcrumbs, next to a plateful of draining pancetta cubes.

Strain and reserve the remaining fat for another use like cooking veggies or making a vinaigrette, or discard it after it has solidified at room temperature.

Step 3 – Make the Sauce

Place the pot back on the stove over medium heat. Add the butternut squash puree and the milk, and whisk until thoroughly combined. Continue whisking occasionally until the sauce begins to bubble gently.

Horizontal image of mixing shredded cheddar in a pot of sauce.

Stirring occasionally, simmer for 5 minutes, adjusting the heat level as needed. Turn off the heat, but keep the pot on the burner. Stir in the salt, pepper, ground mustard, and cayenne.

Fold in the cheese about 1/2 cup at a time, making sure to stir well between each addition to ensure that the previous portion has melted into the sauce.

Horizontal image of mixing a creamy orange sauce with a blue spatula.

If the sauce becomes so thick that you have a hard time stirring it, you can add some warmed milk to thin it out. Heat about 1/2 cup milk in the microwave using a heatproof bowl or in a small saucepot over low heat. Place the pot back on low heat and stir it into the sauce a tablespoon at a time, until smooth and pourable.

Season to taste with additional salt if necessary.

Step 4 – Mix the Pasta with the Sauce and Assemble

Take the pot off the stove and stir in the pasta and half of the pancetta. Make sure the pasta is thoroughly coated in the sauce.

Horizontal image of an unbaked cavatappi casserole.

Transfer the contents of the pot to the prepared baking dish.

Horizontal image of an unbaked cavatappi casserole topped with breadcrumbs.

Evenly sprinkle the top of the mac and cheese with the panko breadcrumbs and the remaining pancetta.

Step 5 – Bake, Rest, and Serve

Bake for about 20 to 25 minutes, until the breadcrumbs on top are a deep golden-brown color and the casserole is bubbling around the edges.

Horizontal image of a large white dish filled with a pasta and cheese bake.

While the mac and cheese is baking, mince the chives for garnish.

If the top isn’t as golden as you’d like, you can broil the mac and cheese on high for about 30 seconds to 1 minute before taking it out of the oven. Just keep a close eye on it because the topping will burn easily.

Remove the pan from the oven and allow the casserole to rest for about 5 minutes so it sets. Garnish with the chives before serving.

Store any leftover mac and cheese in an airtight container in the fridge for 3 to 5 days or freeze for up to 3 months.

But What If I Can’t Find Butternut Squash?

The sweet flavor and smooth texture of the butternut squash puree is excellent in this recipe. But there’s good news! If you can’t find this variety at your local grocery store, there are a few other options in the winter squash category that will work nicely as a stand-in.

Horizontal image of a small bowlful next to a large white casserole dish of macaroni and cheese.

Canned pumpkin puree is obviously an easy swap, and it’s available year-round. Just be sure to select a variety that’s made with 100% pumpkin, not spiced pumpkin pie filling. You can also make your own pumpkin puree from scratch.

Acorn, delicata, or buttercup squash could also be roasted and whipped to perfection to use interchangeably in the puree.

Any of these will result in a silky, luxurious blend that adds substance and creaminess to the sauce and boosts the macaroni’s bright golden hue.

Do you like the oniony bite of freshly chopped chives on top or will you opt for parsley? Let us know what you’ll pair with this cheesy casserole in the comments below! And don’t forget to give this recipe a five-star rating if you loved it.

Wondering what else you can do with winter squash? Try these recipes next that also showcase the seasonal fruit:

Photos by Fanny Slater, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published by Chelsea Miller on November 10, 2014. Last updated on September 20, 2022.

Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.

About Fanny Slater

Fanny Slater is a home-taught food enthusiast based in Wilmington, North Carolina who won the “Rachael Ray Show” Great American Cookbook Competition in 2014, and published her cookbook “Orange, Lavender & Figs” in 2016. Fanny is a food and beverage writer, recipe developer, and social media influencer. She was a co-host on the Food Network series “Kitchen Sink,” was featured on Cooking Channel’s longtime popular series “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” and continues to appear regularly on the “Rachael Ray Show.”

24 thoughts on “Butternut Squash Pancetta Mac and Cheese”

  1. What a great way to add nutrition to a traditional comfort food. I am always looking for creative ways to sneak veggies for picky eaters. Butternut squash is high in beta carotene (Vitamin A), and a good source of fiber. The best part is, the smoothness and color blend in so well with mac and cheese that nobody will notice!

  2. Whoa, this looks amazing. I’m going to make it tonight! Dinner decision is done. These are all of my favorite foods rolled into one. I already have squash, just need some pancetta. Thanks for the recipe!

  3. Ah thank you so much for this recipe! I looks so delicious and I am so excited to try it! I have been searching for quite some time for the perfect mac and cheese recipe because I find them all to be either too dry or too cheesy. I added more cheese to my normal recipe hoping it would moisten things up a bit but it was too much. This is perfect I love squash and I think it would be so good in a mac and cheese, and the perfect ingredient to add a little but of texture. Thanks again!

  4. What an astounding looking final product you have cooked up there. I can’t stress enough how much it tells me it is delectable, delicious and tasty and what’s impressive too is that it doesn’t take much time to prepare. Mac and cheese, when it is especially cheesy, has always been appealing to me. Squash is such a bonus and butternut and pancetta might be new to me, but I’m certainly willing to try it as part of the recipe. Thanks for sharing this!

  5. Oh, wow, I never considered adding squash puree to mac n cheese. I like this recipe. It’s an easy way to make mac n cheese a healthier meal. And kids won’t know any better hahaha 😀

  6. The presentation is way too enticing, luckily the weekend is a stone throw away…recipe read, re-read, noted down and kept to be unleashed on Saturday,this with a glass or two of wine; red of course, if not possible, apple juice will do the magic then :)…oh…i can’t wait {eyes tightly shut and fists clenched}

  7. Butternut squash has to be my most favorite vegetable ever. Usually I eat it microwaved, fried or in soups, but I never thought of adding it to pasta. I’m sure it will be delicious!

  8. Any variation to standard mac and cheese is always welcome in my kitchen! I love the stuff and am always experimenting with adding different ingredients to it. I especially like the thought of getting an extra portion of veg into my meal too so thanks very much for the recipe!

  9. This looks really good. Since I don’t eat pork I would substitute the pan ce tta with maybe some turkey bacon or something, but other than that, I can definitely see myself making this dish.
    I have loved all kinds of sq uash dishes, ever since I was a child, so for that reason, this is a dish that I can’t wait to make just so I can taste it.
    This is the only recipe that I can recall of so far that uses cavatappi noodles. I have yet to use that type of pasta, so looking forward to trying that as part of the dish as well.

  10. Any type of max & cheese I see is delicious, and this proves it. I love that I can tell that it is cheesy, but not too cheesy. This is also a great way to implement vegetables into the mix, without getting in the way of the main flavor. Thanks for sharing!

  11. I read the title of this & I started to drool. I love the incorporation of butternut squash. I would also probably add some green peas to the mix as well. Adding veggies for me is less of a punishment & more of a flavour gift. I love the idea.

  12. Calling this dish comforting is a little bit of an understatement, don’t you think? If I were to make this dish I’m sure my family and I will fill our stomachs to the brim with this stuff until we lapse into a dreamless, food coma. Butternut squash is an absolute favorite of mine.

  13. This mac and cheese seriously looks amazing! My daughter is crazy over mac and cheese and wants it everyday for dinner and I have been looking for recipes to switch it up and make it a little healthier for her so that way I don’t mind her eating it so often and this recipe is perfect! I cant get her to eat squash on its own but I bet she will eat it no problem mixed with her mac and cheese, thanks so much for this recipe!

  14. This sounds lovely! Butternuts are so delicious, and between that and the pancetta, this recipe has me drooling for a plate full. This is going on my ‘must make’ list, and I can’t wait to try it out, and share it with the family. I have no doubt they will be quite pleased with the end product. They are mac and cheese enthusiasts, and since we all have an affinity for squash and pumpkin, I know this recipe will be a keeper.

  15. I never saw this combination. Looks really good. I might do a vegetarian cashew replacement for the cheese. My pal is going to love this dish I’m going to have to pass it on. Kids will love this one and at least the squash adds more nutrition to it.

  16. Oh, my goodness. I would eat a dish of that right this minute. I’m hungry, but I’m also craving some good old comfort food. I am staying away from carbs for the most part, but this looks so good, I might even cheat for it. I also love the added veggies. I could eat veggies with everything, or *in* everything, as the case may be.

    I’m definitely going to have to test this one out, probably after Thanksgiving. I think I’ll be doing more than enough “cheating” over the next few days, so I’ll put this on hold. Still, yum!

  17. My family loves mac and cheese. I have been searching for a way to make it a little bit healthier. I know there is not much you can do with noodles and cheese to make them healthier, but this recipe has given me some new ideas. Thanks for the article!

  18. This is a great recipe, thank you. I made this last week, but added broccoli, this is another great way to incorporate vegetables in this dish. The pancetta is a great replacement for the ham, I think I would also like to try chorizo in this recipe.

  19. Wow. This sounds amazing! We are always trying to spruce up our mac and cheese for family cookouts, not to mention the holidays! I will have to give this one a shot! I also am reading the comments and I see someone added broccoli to their recipe. My daughter LOVES broccoli, so if I can get that in the meal, it would be a for sure shoe in. However, she is 6, and what 6 year old isn’t a fan of mac and cheese? Thank you for sharing this recipe! I will be sharing this on facebook so my older sister can have the recipe as well. Thank you!

  20. This mac ‘n cheese looks amazing! I’ve never thought about adding butternut squash or any kind of squash to mac ‘n cheese before, but if you can add other veggies to it….why not butternut squash. Occasionally I add vanilla and a little cinnamon to my mac ‘n cheese, I can only imagine what those wonderful flavors meshed with the butternut squash would create. Time to go and experiment in the kitchen!!

  21. Pretty sneaky! I love how you throw in the butternut squash into the recipe. Pureeing in was a pretty neat idea. It is indeed a very good way to make the recipe healthy and the kids won’t even know it. This recipe is definitely a winner, especially it’s not too complicated to make.

  22. The first thing that came to mind while reading through the recipe and seeing all the pictures was: “Oh wow, YUM!!” It’s fall here in South Africa at the moment and I have a big bag full of butternut that I didn’t really know what to do with. And then I found this! This will definitely be on the menu tonight! And the best thing about this is that I have all the ingredients right here and don’t have to go to the shop, to top it off…who doesn’t love mac ‘n cheese!! It’s a definite favorite in our house!

    • I tried this the other night, and what a hit! Hubby’s words were “Please, please make this again?!” And the best thing about this is, I got some veggies in my little girl without a fight! Next time I’m going to try this by replacing the butternut with some other veggies, first one on the list…Broccoli.

  23. This recipe looks amazing.
    My kids absolutely love macaroni and cheese and this recipe adding squash to it gives it some variety.
    I will make it and see if my kids like it. If not then I will eat it all 🙂


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