There are certain junk foods I’m OK with giving up, but mac and cheese is just never going to be one of those. Mac and cheese was a staple of my childhood–a special treat we got when we had a babysitter (along with grape soda). I’ve grown up a bit since then, and no longer frequent noodles from boxes or flourescently colored sodas, but I still do love some cheesy noodles. So I decided to make a version that was both more grown up and a little healthier. Perfect for adults, kids, and adult kids like me.
Homemade mac and cheese is definitely an undertaking and does take some time and effort commitment, but the result is so much better. Plus, you can make a big batch that will feed a crowd and have leftovers to spare.
Nutritional highlights: This recipe has some amazing swaps that majorly cuts down the calories and ups the nutritional factor. The easiest swap- whole wheat noodles to add fiber. The second, more sneaky, swap- some of the cheese and cream that would usually be in a mac and cheese sauce is replaced by pureed butternut squash, which maintains the creaminess without all the fat. While we’re talking sauce, this one only uses low fat milk instead of cream or whole milk in typical recipes. Finally, who said mac and cheese had to just be mac and cheese. Why not throw in some veggies. This one has roasted butternut squash, mushrooms, and kale to increase the nutrients a ton and fill you up with a lower noodle ratio.
And here’s a picture of the mac at my “grown-up comfort food” dinner party. Was definitely the highlight!
Grown-up Mac & Cheese with Butternut Squash, Kale, and Mushrooms
Makes about 10 servings
4 cups cubed peeled butternut squash (either from 1 large squash or save yourself a lot of time with the pre peeled and cut kinds that a lot of stores have these days!)
16 oz Cremini (baby portobello) mushrooms, sliced
1 small bunch kale, chopped (about 4 cups)
1 1/2 cups fat-free, lower-sodium chicken or vegetable broth)
1 1/2 cups fat-free or low fat milk (can also sub unsweetened non-dairy milks)
4-5 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 shallots, peeled and minced
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded cheese, plus and extra handful for the topping (I chose Trader Joe’s Shredded Swiss and Gruyère blend)
1/4 cup (1 ounce) finely grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided
1 pound whole wheat macaroni or other small noodle
Olive oil, salt, pepper
1/4 cup whole wheat bread crumbs
Optional: red pepper flakes, dried thyme, and garlic powder for the topping
1. Preheat oven to 425°. Dice squash into small cubes (1/4-1/2 inch) and slice the mushrooms. Spread the veggies onto two baking sheets, toss with olive oil or oil spray, salt and pepper to taste. Roast in the oven, tossing vegetables half way through, for about 20 minutes or until squash is soft and mushrooms are brown. The mushrooms may be done a bit sooner than the squash.
2. Boil the macaroni in a large pot according to directions, but for one less minute than the directions indicate. Drain and set aside.
3. Meanwhile, begin making your sauce. In a large pot, heat one tablespoon olive oil over medium-high and add the minced garlic and shallots. Cook for about 3-5 minutes until onions begin to brown. Add the broth and milk, and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. When squash is done roasting, add all but 1 cup to the sauce. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for about 10 minutes. Season sauce with salt and pepper. Remove from heat.
3. To blend the sauce, you can either transfer to a blender or use and immersion blender. I wanted mine a little chunky so I just mashed it in the pot with a potato masher. Once the mixture is smooth, stir in the shredded cheese and half of the Parmesan. Taste and add additional salt and pepper if needed.
4. Add cooked macaroni, roasted mushrooms, remaining 1 cup squash, and chopped kale into the sauce. Mix until evenly coated and transfer it to a sprayed baking dish.
5. Combine the bread crumbs, remaining parmesan, a small handful of the shredded cheese, and any seasonings you like (I threw in a little thyme, garlic powder, and red pepper flakes along with plenty of salt and pepper). Sprinkle the mixture evenly over your mac and cheese.
6. Bake at 375° for 25 minutes or until bubbly. Serve immediately and enjoy!
I’m not going to lie this is a a lot of work, but SO good.
And while we’re doing recipe throw backs…here’s the little girl I was telling you about that loved her mac and cheese. And here’s that moment when you realize you might have peaked at age 3…oh well. Happy Throw Back Sunday!