Spaghetti squash strands take the place of noodles in this variation of mac ‘n cheese. Cooked squash is mixed with a spicy white sauce and baked. You can add in any number of cooked veggies here, from green beans to roots to greens if you want to add color and more substance to the dish, though it’s very good on its own.

1 spaghetti squash, enough for 5 – 6 c of squash strands
2 – 3 c cooked vegetables, chopped if necessary, optional
2 c milk or milk alternative
2 – 3 fresh hot peppers, stemmed, ribs removed if you like, seeded, and chopped
2 T butter or oil, plus extra for greasing baking vessel
3 T flour
salt and black pepper, to taste
2 – 3 c shredded or grated cheese
1/2 c toasted bread crumbs or wheat germ, optional

1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Cut squash in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds and fibrous strands. Put cut side down on a rimmed baking sheet. Pour in some water to cover the bottom of the baking sheet. Roast for 40 minutes or so, until a knife easily pierces the skin of the squash. Remove from oven (keep oven on), turn halves over and allow to cool. When cool enough to handle, scrape out the flesh with a fork and transfer to a large bowl. If you’re using extra, cooked vegetables, add them here and toss to combine.

2. Meanwhile, warm milk and hot peppers in a saucepan over medium-low heat, until bubbles begin to form along the edge of the milk. Remove from heat and let sit for 15 minutes or so. Strain out hot peppers if you like, or leave in for a spicy dish (if leaving peppers in, you might want to use a lesser amount of peppers).

3. In another sauce pan or skillet, melt the 2 T of butter. Stir in the flour, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes, until the flour takes on a cooked smell (like a piecrust). Slowly whisk in the hot pepper-infused milk and continue whisking until the flour is incorporated and there are no lumps. Stir in cheese. Reduce  heat and cook, stirring frequently, until the mixture has thickened some and the cheese has melted.

4. Pour milk sauce over squash and stir to combine. Butter a suitable baking vessel. Transfer the squash mixture to this vessel. Smooth over the top. Sprinkle with bread crumbs, if using. Bake for about 30 minutes, until bubbling and a browned on top. Allow to sit for about 5 minutes before serving.