kind of healthy mac and cheese

It seems that the more I commit myself to this mostly vegetarian lifestyle, the more I indiscriminately crave cheese in all its forms.  After loading up my shopping cart with mounds of leafy greens and apples, I linger in the cheese section, picking up every chunk and holding it up to my nose for a deep sniff of nuttiness, fruitiness, or just plain funk.  Then, I dream up ways that I can incorporate the cheese into my new hippie-dippie lifestyle - perhaps a salad with grilled vegetables and goat cheese, or an open-faced portobello sandwich with melted Gruyere?  And finally, when I'm alone at home, I hold myself back from filling a casserole dish with nothing but handfuls of cheese that will melt, blister, and crisp at the edges, begging to be scraped out with a spoon.  
This mac and cheese meets me somewhere in the middle.  Is it a winning combination of cheese and pasta?  You bet.  It certainly isn't one of those cauliflower fake-outs, which inevitably leaves me sad and unfulfilled.  Instead of being a nutritional black hole, this mac and cheese redeems itself with the healthy addition of butternut squash instead of a traditional butter-and-flour-laden béchamel.  The squash lends a slightly sweet, vegetal quality that offsets the richness of the cheese; with a sprinkling of fresh parsley, a plate of this mac and cheese tastes almost light.  

A not-to-be-understimated bonus of using butternut squash is its vibrant color; it's almost embarrassing how mentally comforting it is to eat mac and cheese that shockingly yellow. 

kind of healthy mac and cheese  recipe from Cooking Light
serves 8 
3 cups cubed peeled butternut squash (about 1 1-pound squash)
1 1/4 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 cups fat-free milk
2 garlic cloves
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons fat-free Greek yogurt 
1 1/4 cups shredded Gruyère cheese*
1 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese*
1/4 cup finely grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 pound uncooked pasta (I used whole-wheat elbows)
Cooking spray
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
fresh parsley for garnish

Combine squash, broth, milk, and garlic in a medium pot; bring to boil over medium-high heat.  Reduce heat to medium, and simmer until squash is tender when pierced with a fork, about 25 minutes.  

Pour milk and squash mixture into a blender.  Add salt, pepper, and Greek yogurt.  VERY IMPORTANT: secure the blender lid on the blender, but remove the center plastic piece of the blender lid.  This allows steam to escape; if you don't do this, your blender will explode, spewing very hot (but delicious) liquid all over you and your walls.  Place a clean towel over the blender lid, and blend until smooth.  Pour the mixture into a large bowl and stir in the Gruyère, Pecorino Romano, and 2 tablespoons of the Parm.  Stir until the cheese has melted.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  

Cook pasta for 2 minutes less than the package directions.  Drain well, and then add it to the squash mixture, stirring to combine.  Coat a baking dish with cooking spray, and spread mixture evenly into it.

Heat olive oil in a medium pan over medium heat.  Add panko, and cook, tossing occasionally, until golden brown.  Remove from heat and stir in remaining 2 tablespoons of Parm.  Sprinkle evenly over the pasta, and lightly coat the top with cooking spray.

Bake for about 25 minutes.  Sprinkle with parsley and take to the face.

* Use whatever cheese in whatever proportions you like or have on hand - just don't skimp on it!


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