Around the same time I made these avocado brownies (okay, okay, the same DAY), I also had a deep hankering for some baked macaroni and cheese. Something salty, a little spicy, a lot cheesy. Oh, but how to justify having both brownies and a bucket of pepper jack all in one day? And for that matter, back to back?!
Well, you can't, and quite frankly, I'm not really into justification, anyway. Moderation is key here, but I'm always open for the opportunity to healthify a recipe, if the changes are a. still good, b. retain or, better yet, add flavor and c. actually fulfill the original craving that started all these shenanigans. You can't crave a hunk of Brioche and satisfy that urge with a fat-free cracker. Case and point.
So, I put on my thinking cap and snapped on my recipe-building belt and did some digging. While scouring online recipes and a stack of vegetarian/vegan cookbooks, I found that many first instincts to making macaroni and cheese healthier is to either add vegetables or go for low-fat or (shudder) nonfat cheese. Statement: nonfat cheese is a sin. If you eat it, we can't be friends. Harsh, maybe, but rules are rules. With this fact in mind, vegetables it is! I will add all the vegetables in the world to my organic whole wheat rigatoni and FULL FAT cheese.
What else? Running to the store not being an option, I scoured some more for ways to amp up the creaminess, retain the healthy, all with what I already had in my fridge. Ricotta, nope. Cottage cheese? Nope and .. nah. Oh! But what I DO have is some Greek yogurt. That will do quite nicely, won't it.
YES, indeed it will. As for vegetables, I decided on a creamy white head of cauliflower, garlic, spinach and sautéed onions. So, now that I've given almost everything away, here's what you'll need:
Nonstick cooking spray
Dash of salt
4 ounces of whole wheat macaroni
1 small onion
2 cloves of garlic
Pinch of red pepper flakes
1 1/2 cup shredded cheese of choice (PEPPER. JACK.)
1/3 cup Greek yogurt
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 head cauliflower, thinly sliced
2 cups baby spinach
To start, preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Meanwhile, cook your pasta according to the instructions. (I also included my thinly chopped cauliflower in the same pot, so it would soften.) Drain and return to pot. While your pasta is cooking, chop your other veggies. A neat trick alá Jamie Oliver is to choose your chop based on the pasta shape you're using. For example, long and thin for rigatoni and short and squat for elbows. It creates a nicer presentation overall, so he says. Let's face it, he's right.
I chose to caramelize my onions slightly, with the garlic, in order to avoid that too-harsh bite that raw onions can occasionally give. I also pre-cooked my spinach, lightly in olive oil, to ensure proper wilting.
After all your vegetables are prepped and cooked, toss everything together in your pasta pot. Sprinkle in your shredded cheese and stir in the yogurt. Next, distribute evenly into a casserole or baking dish, sprinkling the top with your Parmesan cheese. Bake until the Parmesan is browned (you might also consider including bread crumbs here), about 10 minutes.
This most definitely, for sure hit the spot. Was it saucy, yellow American-cheddar macaroni, Velvetta-style? No; better. Way better, and damn good.