Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Mac and Cheese Makeover

I love macaroni and cheese. I'm not referring to the boxed stuff with powdered "cheese food", but the wonderful layers of pasta baked in a creamy, dairy wonderland. It can be heavy, rich and filled with overly-refined flour from the roux and pasta. It's tasty, but since I have a tough time eating a single bite and walking away, I've made a few adaptations over the years that point it in a healthier direction.

In addition to whole grain pasta and lighter cheeses, I also add plenty of vegetables to further lighten the dish. It's still not exactly what I'd necessarily consider a health food, but definitely a lighter version of the original. The fat that remains in the dish helps with satiety, but also contains far less saturated fat and cholesterol. I've included the nutrition information below, as compared to the same serving size of more traditional baked mac & cheese. Keep in mind that this is for a 3" square side dish serving. If you raise it to a main dish portion, the differences in fat and calories of the more traditional method are especially scary to me.

Mac & cheese made over (left) vs. a more traditional mac & cheese (right)

Rather than adding the goat cheese to the cheese sauce, dotting with the cheese in layers gives you wonderful bursts of flavor throughout the dish. For the vegetables I used a mixture of zucchini and yellow squash, but you could use the same amount of other vegetables, such as broccoli or turnip. Layering in some spinach would add even more nutritional boost.

Goat Cheese and Summer Squash Macaroni and Cheese (yields 9 side dish or 4 main course servings)
  • 8 oz. (dry) whole grain penne or elbow macaroni
  • 1 1/2 c. nonfat or low fat Greek yogurt
  • 6 oz. reduced fat cheddar, grated and divided (I use a sharp white cheddar made from 1% milk)
  • approx. 3 Tbl. liquid (milk of choice, vegetable stock or whey from making goat cheese-- the whey is especially flavorful)
  • 2 tsp. olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed or finely minced
  • 2 c. summer squash, chopped (approx. 1 large or 3 medium)
  • 1 tsp. dry mustard
  • 1 pinch cayenne (optional)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 2 sprigs thyme, leaves removed from stem (optional)
  • 4 oz. goat cheese
  • 1/3 c. whole wheat panko bread crumbs
1) Cook pasta according to package directions, reducing the time by approx. 3 minutes
2) In a large, hot skillet, add olive oil & sautee onions until just glossy, then add garlic and squash. Cook until the squash is just softened and set aside
3) In a medium saucepan, heat yogurt over a *low flame & add 3/4 of the cheddar, whisking until the cheese is melted and incorporated. Add mustard. Use liquid to thin until you have a smooth cheese sauce that still coats the back of a spoon (and the pasta).

4) Stir pasta and zucchini into sauce to coat and season with thyme, cayenne, salt & pepper
5) Pour half of the pasta mixture into a greased 9x9 baking pan & dot first layer with half of the goat cheese
6) Add the rest of the pasta and dot with remaining goat cheese
7) Sprinkle the rest of the cheddar on top
8) Top with panko

9) Bake in a 375 F oven for approx. 20 minutes or until cheese on top is melted and panko is well toasted

Let rest for 15-20 minutes before serving.

* A low flame is especially important if you're using nonfat yogurt, as it easily breaks over high heat.


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