Grown Up Mac And Cheese Florentine: The Ultimate Comfort Food
When it comes to comfort food, it’s hard to beat macaroni and cheese. Typically a favorite from childhood, there are few bad moods that this concoction can’t cure. It’s a big enough food group all on its own that Houston has a mac and cheese only restaurant and I’m sure other cities have similar eateries.
I decided it was time to do a little digging about mac and cheese. I mean, is it really Italian? Turns out that is questionable. It’s possible that a meal of parmesan and pasta was introduced to England via an Italian, but the first recorded recipe for mac and cheese appeared in an English cookbook, The Forme of Cury, written in the 14th century. The dish was essentially a casserole of baked layers of pasta, butter and cheese. Yum. Now I want some.
Here’s another tidbit about macaroni and cheese that I learned recently – traditionally mac and cheese is always baked. Sooooo, that means the blue box, you know what I’m talking about, isn’t “technically” mac and cheese. It can’t be since it’s cooked entirely on the stove. I’m not saying there’s a darn thing wrong with it, after all it was a source of sustenance for me in my college years. There is something about that packaged, powdered cheese that hooked me once upon a time.
The thing about mac and cheese is that I feel really guilty when I eat it. That could be because I like to eat full vats of it. I like it best as a meal unto itself although I know that normal and rational people use it as a side dish. It’s a great side with so very many things, so I should probably try that.
So what better way to make mac and cheese NOT feel like it’s not a “healthy” food than to add some green to it? WAIT! I promise, this was really good – don’t abandon me just based on the addition of green. In fact, the addition of spinach to this mac and cheese recipe did a couple of things. 1- It made my serving of mac and cheese go further, adding some filling bulk and 2- it allowed me to say I’d eaten a vegetable with dinner, despite serving the mac and cheese as an entree.
The spinach can be tasted, but just like creamed spinach, it isn’t an overwhelming flavor and complements the cheese oh so well. You still get the great texture of baked mac and cheese and all the cheesy pasta-ness that your craving requires. This was a hit with the weeone as well who ate it up as if there was a stack of bacon hiding beneath it. So the next time you’re having a craving for comfort food, try this version of mac and cheese and don’t feel one bit of remorse for your indulgence.
- Serves: 8 as a side
- Serving size: 1 cup
- Calories: 298
- Fat: 9.8g
- Saturated fat: 5.4g
- Unsaturated fat: 1.1g
- Carbohydrates: 38.3g
- Sugar: 5g
- Sodium: 471mg
- Fiber: 3.7g
- Protein: 18.7g
- Cholesterol: 27mg
- 12 oz elbows or cavatappi (preferably Barilla Plus or other high fiber pasta)
- 2 tbsp light butter
- ¼ cup flour
- ⅓ cup very finely diced onion
- 2 cups skim milk
- 1 cup fat free, low sodium chicken stock
- salt and pepper
- 8 oz 2% mild cheddar, shredded
- 4 cups fresh baby spinach
- ⅛ cup grated parmesan cheese
- ¼ cup whole wheat bread crumbs
- cooking spray
- Cook the pasta according to package directions, cooking to al dente and not beyond.
- Spray an oven safe dish with cooking spray and preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
- In a skillet over low heat, melt the butter. Whisk in the flour cooking over low for 1-2 minutes. Then add the onion and cook for another 2-3 minutes.
- Increase the heat to medium-high and add milk and chicken broth, whisking to blend with the roux. Bring the mixture to a boil and continue cooking until it starts thickening. Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Remove the sauce from heat and add the cheddar cheese, mixing until it is completely melted.
- Add the cooked pasta and the baby spinach to the sauce and blend thoroughly. Pour it all into the baking dish and top with grated parmesan and the breadcrumbs. Spray lightly with cooking spray.
- Bake for 15-20 minutes then broil for 2-3 minutes or until the breadcrumbs are golden.
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