I have fond memories of bright orange mac & cheese out of the box from childhood and this afternoon, I came home tired and starving after a long morning. I was in need of something hearty and comforting. So of course, I searched the pantry for a random box of mac & cheese. I got excited when I pulled out a box of Quinoa, thinking that it might be Kraft, but alas no box of processed cheese. So I decided to be resourceful and actually make my own from scratch. It was so quick and easy – I made it in practically the same time it would have taken to make it from a box. Plus, it was healthier, nothing processed or artificial, and the heartiness of whole wheat pasta.
“Healthy” & Hearty Mac & Cheese
Adapted from Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything Vegetarian
2 ½ cups of milk (low-fat is fine)
2 bay leaves
1 pound elbow, shell, ziti, or rotini (I prefer to use whole wheat pasta)
4 tablespoons of butter
3 tablespoons of all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups grated cheese, such as sharp cheddar, gouda, provolone
½ cup of grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground pepper
Dash of Nutmeg
Dash of Garlic
Dana’s Ingredient Notes:
-To reduce the fat of the recipe, cut the butter in half and if you do that then reduce the flour. Also do a mix of low-fat cheese with your regular full fat cheese.
-For the best flavor, the key with the cheese is to have a variety. It can be expensive if you go to the grocery store and buy 7 different types of cheese but you can also be intentional and hand-pick a good mix. For a quick meal, just use up all the random (not moldy) cheese that is hanging out in your fridge.
-If you had some pancetta in the house, it might not be a bad idea to sauté it and throw it in for a saltier, more Italian flavored dish. Mix it with the pasta and cheese sauce before going in the oven.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it.
- Cook the milk with the bay leaves in a small saucepan over med-low heat. When small bubbles appear along the sides, about 5 mins later, turn off the heat and let stand.
- Cook the pasta to the point where it is almost done but you would still think it needed another minute to become tender. It’s important not to overcook the pasta. Drain it, and put it in a large bowl or casserole dish.
- In a small saucepan over med-low heat, melt 3 tablespoons of the butter; when it is foamy, add the flour and cook, stirring, until the mixture browns, about 5 mins. Remove the bay leaves from the milk and add about ¼ cup of milk to the hot flour mixture, stirring with a wire whisk all the while. As soon as the mixture becomes smooth, add a little more milk and continue to do so until the milk is used up and the mixture is thick and smooth. Add the cheddar, salt and pepper, nutmeg, and garlic.
- Pour the sauce over the noodles, and toss in the Parmesan, and freshly grating a little more over the top. Bake until bubbling and all the cheese is melted, about 10 – 15 mins. Be careful it does not dry out in the oven. Serve piping hot.