Monday, March 28, 2011
Meatless Mondays: Macaroni and Four Cheeses
This Macaroni and Four Cheeses recipe was one of the very first Ellie Krieger dishes to ever catch my eye. I watched her make it on her show several years ago. She takes the classic, delicious, but insanely unhealthy mac and cheese and converts it to something much easier on the waistline. The secret ingredient here is frozen winter squash. Its bright, yellow-orange color is similar to that of Cheddar cheese, and its texture is virtually undetectable in the dish because the squash is pureed before it is frozen. A blend of Cheddar, Monterey Jack, ricotta, and Parmesan cheeses are added to the mix (the Parmesan is actually added to the bread crumb topping, rather than to the rest of the cheeses) to create a dish that is still plenty cheesy, but much, much lower in calories and fat.
Despite my fascination with the dish, the first time I ever saw it I thought, "Well, there's no way I'm ever going to make that!" For one thing, back then I had never tried squash. The idea of blending it into the mac and cheese was just scary. Besides this, the reviews on Food Network's website for this one are very polarized. People seem to feel very strongly about this one; they either really love it or really hate it. So add that fact to my skepticism about it, and I put this one to the back of my mind.
But times, they have changed. These days, I am much more willing to try things than I was a few years ago, or even just a year ago. I've eaten squash, and lived to tell about it. I'm still constantly trying to find ways to healthify dishes that my family enjoys. Mac and cheese ranks among my five year-old's very favorite dishes, so I thought I would try to put one over on him and give this one a shot. I made it even more nutritious by throwing in a couple different veggies, fresh spinach and broccoli, for added heft and bulk. I think this may have been a mistake, at least where my son was concerned. There was no hiding the big, green vegetables from him; they were right out there in the open! So he decided he didn't like this mac and cheese, simply based on appearances. Oh, well. We can't win them all, especially with picky kids.
As for the adults in the house, you can place us in the camp of huge fans of this meal! I only used one box of the frozen squash (Ellie uses two) because I was a bit wary, but I'm sure I could have gotten away with two. I really didn't notice its flavor too much, and as far as lowfat mac and cheese go, this one is pretty generous. You get plenty of cheesiness per serving, as well as the homey, yummy bread crumb topping we all expect from scratch-made mac and cheese. Color me converted!
Macaroni and Four Cheeses
adapted from Foodnetwork.com
makes 8 servings
1 pound elbow macaroni
1 (12-ounce) box frozen pureed winter squash (Ellie uses 2 boxes, 10 ounces each)
2 cups 2% milk
4 oz. extra-sharp Cheddar cheese, grated (about 1 1/3 cups)
2 oz. Monterey Jack cheese, grated (about 2/3 cup)
1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. powdered mustard
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
1-2 cups cooked broccoli florets, cut into bite-size pieces
3-4 cups fresh spinach, wilted
2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp. unseasoned bread crumbs
1 tsp. olive oil
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Coat a 9x13-inch baking pan with cooking spray. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the macaroni and cook until tender but firm, about 5 to 8 minutes. Drain and transfer to a large bowl.
2. Meanwhile, place the frozen squash and the milk into a large saucepan and cook over a low heat, stirring occasionally and breaking up the squash with a spoon until defrosted. Turn the heat up to medium and cook until the mixture is almost simmering, stirring occasionally. Remove the pan from the heat and add the Cheddar, Jack cheese, ricotta cheese, salt, mustard, and cayenne pepper.
3. Stir the cooked broccoli and spinach into the pasta, then pour the cheese mixture over the pasta and vegetables. Stir to combine, then transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish.
4. Combine the Parmesan, bread crumbs, and oil in a small bowl. Sprinkle the mixture over the top of the macaroni and cheese. Bake for 20 minutes. Switch the oven to the broil setting and broil the macaroni and cheese for 3 minutes, until the top is crisp and nicely browned.