This Copycat Trader Joe’s Recipe Will Make You the Most Popular Guest at Friendsgiving (2024)

Deciding what to bring to Friendsgiving is a serious endeavor. You don’t want to be labeled as the friend who can’t cook or didn’t put in much effort, but despite your best intentions, it’s still far too easy to leave making your dish for the last minute. Whipping up mashed potatoes from scratch, baking a homemade pie, or roasting an entire turkey takes a certain amount of time and effort you may not be able to give. Luckily, there’s a crowd pleaser that allows you to spend less than an hour in the kitchen and is the epitome of fall comfort: a copycat version of the Trader Joe’s frozen butternut squash mac and cheese.

The recipe was created by food blogger and Brooklyn-based cook Justine Doiron (aka @justine_snacks on Instagram) and consists of roasted butternut squash, three cheeses, and a plethora of warm, Thanksgiving-perfect herbs and spices. The Reel Doiron posted walking through how to make the dish has accumulated more than 70,000 likes, and she wrote on her website that it’s “by far the closest thing to the Trader Joe’s version.”

Trader Joe’s describes its butternut squash mac and cheese as made with “mezzi rigatoni pasta—short, thick, ridged tubes that hold sauces with gusto” which is then “blended with an opulent sauce made with three cheeses (cheddar, gouda, and parmesan), a classic béchamel sauce, the perfect amount of butternut squash pureé, and a sprinkling of seasonal spices like nutmeg and sage. This is comfort food, with vegetables built right in!”

While you can always fall back on the store-bought dish, making it yourself is also a delicious (and shockingly simple) option.

I took it upon myself to test out the homemade version from Doiron before committing to making it my chosen Friendsgiving dish, and while I’ve never tried the one from TJ’s, I can confidently say that this copycat was one of the best mac and cheeses I’ve ever had—and super easy to make.

This Copycat Trader Joe’s Recipe Will Make You the Most Popular Guest at Friendsgiving (1)

Where Did Friendsgiving Come from, and Why Do We Celebrate It?

To start, you’ll cut a butternut squash in half, then cut the halves in half and scoop out the seeds. Roast them face down on a baking sheet in the oven for 20 minutes (I also added a drizzle of olive oil and pepper). While the squash is cooking, grate your cheese: The recipe calls for parmesan, gouda, and white cheddar, which I replaced with sharp cheddar. After the squash is done, make the sauce by putting it in a blender along with milk and spices like rosemary, thyme, nutmeg, sage, smoked paprika, and more. It took me a few minutes to get everything smooth, and I definitely recommend cutting the squash into smaller pieces before blending. If I were to change one thing, I would add a little more milk to thin it out and increase the creaminess.

Next, you’ll pour your sauce into a large pot or pan and let it cook down while boiling your noodles. The recipe calls for rigatoni, which is what I opted for, but any sort of cylindrical pasta does the job (like ziti, penne, or fusilli). Once it’s cooked al dente, drain and save about a cup of pasta water—more than you think you need—and set that aside. After adding the noodles to the sauce, throw in a splash of pasta water followed by one of your cheeses. Repeat this process until all your cheese is incorporated and the sauce is at a consistency you like—I added more pasta water than the recipe recommended to help the sauce better adhere to the noodles. Once it comes together, plate it and top it off with a splash of chili oil and red pepper flakes. Obviously you can skip this step, but I found it added an extra level of flavor that was a little unexpected and fun.

Doiron writes on her blog that using butternut squash isn’t a requirement—you can try out different kinds of squash, like acorn or honeynut, or even sweet potato. As for the cheeses, Doiron’s recipe calls for gouda, parmesan, and cheddar, but feel free to try out whatever cheese you want (as long as it’s melty). You can freeze your final product for up to six months, and it lasts in the fridge for five to seven days.

How to Make Rich and Creamy Macaroni and Cheese From Scratch

On the Instagram Reel tutorial Doiron posted, some commenters offered up their own spin on the recipe, like substituting the squash with canned pumpkin. Another suggested using soaked cashews, nutritional yeast, and smoked paprika to make the cheese vegan. Others who tried it out for themselves gave feedback: “I made this for a dinner party and it was a HIT!!” one of the comments reads.

Speaking from personal experience, this mac and cheese is top tier. It’s flavorful, cozy, a little spicy, and a little sweet. Plus, you’re getting a serving of veggies! It would make a great main course or side dish for any fall-themed occasion, but especially a get-together like Friendsgiving. It’s easy to transport, serve, and share—and who could be anything but satisfied when offered mac and cheese?

This Copycat Trader Joe’s Recipe Will Make You the Most Popular Guest at Friendsgiving (2024)


What does Trader Joe's butternut squash mac and cheese taste like? ›

The sauce is very thick and cheesy, and the sweet flavor of butternut squash is particularly pronounced and made even more autumnal-tasting with the addition of thyme, sage, and nutmeg. Made with mezzi rigatoni, a smaller and shorter version of classic rigatoni, the pasta-to-sauce ratio is just right.

Which tastes better butternut or acorn squash? ›

Acorn squash is milder in taste and slightly more fibrous in texture than butternut squash: Its sweet, nutty flavor is additionally muted by the watery character of its flesh. Still, most recipes that call for acorn squash can be made with another members of the squash family, such as Hubbard or butternut.

Does butternut squash taste like buttercup squash? ›

To make things even more confusing, they actually taste pretty similar: both are often described as having a sweet, nutty taste that goes well with soups (although butternut squash is just slightly sweeter). So, how else are they different, and why does butternut squash seem to be much more commonly seen?

Is butternut squash healthy? ›

Butternut squash is rich in important vitamins, minerals, and disease-fighting antioxidants. This low-calorie, fiber-rich winter squash may help you lose weight and protect against conditions like cancer, heart disease, and mental decline.

Can you eat the skin of roasted butternut squash? ›

You can eat the skin, so there's no need to peel it. Simply halve it, scoop out the seeds and chop it into chunks, then roast it and add it to a warm winter salad or throw it into curries, stews or soups. You can also roast the seeds and eat them as a snack or sprinkled over a finished dish.

Is Trader Joe's butternut mac and cheese good? ›

The Conclusion. Trader Joe's has quite a few offerings in the frozen pasta category, but this is definitely one of their better ones, albeit unconventional. Surprisingly the butternut squash enhances the taste of this dish while giving it a nutty, slightly sweet flavor.

How to spice up Trader Joes mac and cheese? ›

Ideas for Jazzing Up Trader Joe's 2-Ingredient Mac & Cheese

Stir in dijon mustard: This is a secret ingredient to unlock mac and cheese magic! Acidity in mustard compliments the rich flavor and creamy texture of this cheese spread, adding a tangy bite and rounding out a perfect balance of flavor.

How would you describe the taste of butternut squash? ›

Sweet, moist and nutty tasting, the flavor of butternut squash is a bit like sweet potatoes—or, some say, butterscotch. Because it's so dense, you get more servings per fruit than you might with other squash varieties. The rind is edible (once cooked), but it's more commonly peeled away.

What does butternut squash taste similar to? ›

Butternut squash (Cucurbita moschata), known in Australia and New Zealand as butternut pumpkin or gramma, is a type of winter squash that grows on a vine. It has a sweet, nutty taste similar to that of a pumpkin. It has tan-yellow skin and orange fleshy pulp with a compartment of seeds in the blossom end.


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