Mac & cheese is one of those foods that generally comes to mind when we think of unhealthy comfort foods. But does it really have to be unhealthy? The basic ingredients are actually pretty wholesome – pasta, cheese, and milk are good for you in moderation. So my goal is to find a great mac & cheese recipe that is satisfying but can actually be a guilt-free part of my family’s diet. I’ve already shared with you my version of Ellie Krieger’s Mac & Cheese with squash, but I recently had the thought that the dish could taste great with broccoli.
Apparently I’m not the first to think of that idea because I was able to find plenty of recipes to work from! I ended up choosing one originally from Cooking Light as a base, but then I tweaked and simplified since there were a lot of steps and the reviews weren’t that great! Major changes include using whole wheat pasta, a cheddar/romano mix instead of fontina/asiago (I mean really, mac & cheese without cheddar??), and skipping the onion and garlic (which sounded like too much work). I also processed the broccoli into small pieces instead of florets and skipped the crushed red pepper to make it more munchkin-friendly.
Hubby and I were very pleased with the result! Just like the squash version, this is definitely wholesome – no pasta swimming in a bowl of melted cheese like you’d get at a restaurant, but there was plenty of cheese, the texture was good, and I thought the broccoli was a nice addition! It was a bit droopy when we first cut it (as you can see in the second picture), but actually firmed up and reheated nicely from the fridge, so I’m thinking if we’d had the patience to let it sit for a few minutes before cutting we could have actually cut it into squares. Hubby’s only complaint was that I made it as a main course and he thought it would be better as a side, but next time I’m going to try to work some chicken in so that this can really be a one dish meal. Unfortunately the munchkin didn’t love it, but then again, despite loving both pasta and cheese, she has not managed to like any mac & cheese I’ve given her (even a homemade version without veggies, and yes, even Kraft!). But despite my finicky toddler, this recipe is definitely a keeper, and hopefully she’ll come around one day 🙂
Broccoli Mac & Cheese
adapted from Cooking Light
1 pound broccoli
4 cups whole wheat elbow pasta (about 12 ounces)
3 3/4 cups 1% milk, divided
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups shredded cheddar cheese (about 6 ounces)
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons grated romano cheese, divided
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Dash of ground nutmeg
1/2 cup breadcrumbs (fresh or dry, whole wheat or at least without hydrogenated oils if possible)
1 tablespoon olive oil
Preheat oven to 400°, and spray a 9×13 baking dish with oil. Put a large pot of water on the stove to boil.
While the water comes to a boil, chop broccoli into chunks and then process to very small pieces in a food processor.
If you have time, here’s some other prep work:
1) whisk together flour and 3/4 cup of milk
2) shred cheese (if necessary)
3) make topping by mixing bread crumbs, 2 tablespoons romano, and olive oil in a small bowl
When the water comes to a boil, add pasta, and then add broccoli 1-2 minutes before the end of the cooking time. Drain both when the pasta is very al dente, and set aside.
Add milk/flour mixture and remaining 3 cups of milk to the pot and place over medium-high heat. Bring milk to a boil, whisking regularly (this is another opportunity for prep work in between whisking). Once it comes to a boil, whisk constantly for 1 minute or until thickened.
Turn off heat and stir in cheddar and 1/4 cup romano, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add pasta and broccoli to milk mixture, tossing gently to coat. Pour into prepared baking dish and top with bread crumb mixture. Bake at 400° for 18 minutes or until the top is brown and cheese is bubbling. If you have the patience, let sit for a few minutes before cutting.
Makes 8 servings