Simplest Mac & Cheese

I know, I’ve already posted two mac & cheese recipes on this site, but I’m still on a quest for the perfect healthy recipe.  The Mac & Cheese (with Squash!) is yummy, and I love the Broccoli Mac & Cheese, but I have to admit pre-cooking pasta and making a cheese sauce is a bit of a pain.  It’s not complicated, but inevitably requires lots of time and creates lots of dishwashing!  I had tried a recipe once before which didn’t call for cooking the pasta or making a cheese sauce and it was pretty disappointing (greasy instead of creamy), but when my friend who is an excellent cook passed on a similar recipe, I was intrigued enough to try again.  As it turns out, the main differences in the recipes is that the new one called for 1/4 the amount of cheddar (!) and adding a bread crumb topping.  Less cheese could certainly solve the greasiness problem, but would it be good??

The first time I tried the recipe, I listened to her advice to just throw in an entire small onion instead of measuring 1/4 cup – big mistake!  I’m not sure if she really does this, but I found the resulting dish WAY too oniony (and I love onion!).  Plus, I thought I’d throw in some broccoli, which just complicated the results even more.  I decided to give it another try with no onion or broccoli so I could get a good baseline for the basic recipe.

The result is a dish which is really tasty, although not particularly cheesy.  I’m not a fan of cottage cheese but couldn’t detect it at all, and it really couldn’t have been more simple to make.  The whole family gobbled it up as a great side dish to hot dogs (well, the munchkin had it as a side dish to her hot dog bun, but let’s not split hairs!).  Next time I’m going to start playing with it again, possibly adding more cheddar since there’s really not that much and I don’t need the recipe to be quite THAT healthy!  A happy medium of 1:1 ratio cheddar to pasta might be right, instead of double or half.  Also might add in broccoli again (since the broccoli mac and cheese is the only way the munchkin will eat broccoli).  I will keep you posted on the variations, but in the mean time if you’re looking for an easy and super healthy mac & cheese recipe, definitely give this one a try, and let me know if you make any changes that work (or not)!

(apologies, no pic again this time; we have gotten really bad at remembering to get out the camera while the food still looks good!  I promise an update at some point in the future! 🙂

 

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Simplest Mac & Cheese
adapted from my friend

1½ cups cottage cheese (low fat or whole)
1½ cups milk (skim, low fat, or whole) or buttermilk
1 teaspoon dried mustard or 1 tablespoon prepared mustard
Pinch of cayenne
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ cup grated onions (optional; I left this out and didn’t miss it)
1 cup grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese (4 oz), or more if you want to experiment
½ pound uncooked elbow macaroni (I used whole wheat)
2 tablespoons finely grated pecorino or parmesan cheese
¼ cup bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 375. Prepare a 9×13 baking dish with a light coating of cooking spray or oil (this makes a very shallow mac & cheese…you could also use a smaller dish , or double the recipe in the 9×13).

In a blender or food processor, combine the cottage cheese, skim milk or buttermilk, mustard, cayenne, nutmeg, salt and pepper and puree until smooth.

In a large bowl, combine the pureed mixture with onions (if using; or, if you use a food processor you can process them right in with the milk mixture and not pre-grate), cheddar cheese, and uncooked macaroni. Stir well.  Pour the mixture into the baking pan.

Combine the grated pecorino or parmesan cheese and the bread crumbs and sprinkle over the top.  Bake for about 45 minutes until the top is browned and the center is firm.

Makes 6-8 side dish servings

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