I can't believe it's good for me Mac & Cheese
Ok, I'm from the planet Earth...translation: I Love Mac & Cheese.
I'm also over 30, not a marathon runner, and a bit hypochondriacal about arteries slowing down over time etc...translation: I try not to eat Mac & Cheese frequently.
Me and Aar love to eat good stuff. Food that tastes amazeballs and that also makes us feel good. Not a "diet"...not calorie counting...no rules whatsoever. Just being conscious of whats going in. Lot's of veggies and fruit, leaner proteins, less sugar, less salt...and lot's of herbs and spices. And everything tastes waaaaay better than the stuff that I say "sticks to your bones". We also don't seem to have as many mood lulls. Eating consciously throughout the day gives us way fewer rollercoaster moments.
But I still love Mac & Cheese. And when I came across a couple recipes for healthier versions I was all ears...or eyes...since I was reading them.
Here's what I love about eating consciously and recipes like this one. You do not simply take the bad away...you also add good. So this Mac & Cheese has all the gooey goodness, minus the sludge and drudge, plus some veggie goodness. No butter, no heavy cream...it's got low fat sharp cheddar, broccoli, and a bunch of Butternut Squash that adds fab flavor and creaminess. And the butternut squash is easy to prep and so so worth it. Trust me!
And since butternut squash is a bit sweet this recipe balances that out with the sharp cheddar, some mustard, and cayenne. You will love this guilt free, healthy version of a classic comfort food. Promise.
What you will need:
1 small butternut squash ( we used 1 1/2 cups pureed )
1- 1/2 cups steamed broccoli florets
3 cups whole wheat pasta cooked al dente (we used rotini)
5 tablespoons grated Pecorino Romano cheese (divided: 3 tablespoons for topping and 2 tablespoons for mac 'n' cheese)
1/3 cup panko bread crumbs
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
2 1/4 cups fat-free milk (we used plain almond milk)
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons light cream cheese (cut into chunks)
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
2-3 teaspoons garlic finely chopped
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 3/4 cups shredded low-fat sharp cheddar
You'll be pureeing the butternut squash, so first you need to get it cubed. To do this cut off the top and bottom, about a 1/4 inch from each end.
Then stand it up on the flat end and use a peeler to skin it. (When done with this step you can find a little top hat and cane and do a little puppet skit called "Mr. Peanut gets a spray tan.")
Once it's peeled, cut it in half.
Then scoop out the seeds and stringy stuff with a spoon.
Then cut into 1/2 inch cubes.
In a large sauce pan, bring about 2 1/2 inches of water to a boil, add your cubed squash, and return to a boil, then lower to a simmer and cook for about 15 mins until tender.
Drain your squash, put cubes into a food processor, and puree till smooth. Put 1 1/2 cups puree to the side for this recipe and you can freeze the rest for a future recipe.
Cut your broccoli florets. Then wash, and steam them.
For the deeelish crusty top...In a small bowl combine your panko, olive oil, and two tablespoons of Pecorino Romano. Using a fork or your fingers combine. Put to the side and think about how toasty, golden, and crusty it will be atop your magnificent dish. This is a good time to prepare your casserole dish (we used a 2 quart). Spray the dish and preheat your broiler, put the rack in the center slot of your oven.
Cook your pasta, drain, and set aside.
Get your sauce ingredients ready. The shredded cheddar, the cubed cream cheese, the garlic, the mustard, the spices.
Then using the same pot you used for your pasta, whisk together the milk and flour until smooth.
Now add the cubed cream cheese. Whisk over medium heat until the mixture comes to a boil, just about 5 minutes. Whisk in your salt, mustard, garlic, nutmeg and cayenne. Reduce the heat to a simmer, whisking periodically as it thickens, for about 2 minutes.
Remove the pot from the heat, then stir in the sharp cheddar, Pecorino Romano, and squash. Stir until cheeses melt.
Then stir in your pasta and cooked broccoli florets.
Now, pour it into the prepared baking dish and top it off with your panko mixture. Broil for about 5 mins or til your topping is a nice golden brown and your cheese is bubbling.
Let it sit for about 5 mins before serving. This dish is just fantastic! We both went in for seconds...and had some for lunch the next day as well! It reheats great! We'd even say we liked it better the next day, mac & cheese is probably always better the next day.
After me and Aar cook a meal, we sit down, eat for a bit, and then we ask each other if there should be any changes to the recipe...things we'd add or take away. With this one we'd stick to the script...though one thought we had was about the cheddar. We went with a healthier low fat version...but being big cheese fans we could totally see amping up the flavor by shredding up some extra sharp Tillamook cheese. Your call entirely...it's deeelish as is.
Ok, hope you guys enjoy! Be sure to let me know!
xo, Jenny...and Aaron
*adapted from A cup of mascarpone.