Wednesday, February 11, 2015

No-Boil "Mac" n' Cheese

I don't make lunch. Like ever. We are leftover-eating-lunch people to the max and so when my daughter entering Kindergarten and needed to pack a lunch every freaking day, I was sent spiraling. What made matters worse was when I found out the lunch room DIDN'T EVEN HAVE A MICROWAVE!! How are the to students reheat their Sweet Corn Pancakes and Kung Pao Chicken leftovers?!!  Unfortunately I didn't realize that the school was microwave-less until my eldest came home with an untouched Tupperware of meaty chili. Apparently beef that has turned gelatinous overnight and cold beans where not her cup of tea. It was at this point when she asked if I could please send her with "something else." Whoops. Total mom fail on the lunch-packing front.
But I digress. I tell you all this not because the recipe I am about to share with you is a great option for packing away in kids' lunches. Actually, it's not (unless of course you have a microwave and then it's great!!!!) Kids do love it but I tell you this because I wanted the world to know, HEY! I actually made lunch the other day! Lunch is hands down my least favorite meal of the day but every once in a while I will get inspired and whip something up.
This recipe is a keeper because of these two words: NO BOIL. I dunno. I will make gnocchi from scratch. Heck, sometimes I even make pasta from scratch. Call me lazy, but when I am making a sauce from scratch for a pasta bake, there is something about the extra step of also boiling the pasta that just pushes me over the edge. They invented those no-boil lasagna noodles for people like me who would otherwise deprive their families of the Italian delicacy. So, when I saw this recipe that would result in homemade macaroni and cheese without ever boiling water, I was sold!
I've never really been a huge fan of homemade mac n' cheese, mostly because nothing ever measured up to the bright orange Kraft variety, the control group to which every kid compares. And if I'm honest, this recipe really doesn't compare. But maybe that's a good thing? I've adapted the recipe to make it healthier by reducing the amount of butter it calls for, substituting whole wheat pasta, and throwing in some spinach for good measure. It's really, really yummy and, not surprisingly, the kids are huge fans. I recommend using Beecher's cheddar cheese (the best!) and really any old small whole wheat pasta will do if you can't find macaroni (I used fusilli in the picture). This recipe is perfect for play dates or last minute lunch guests or simply for regular Mondays when you are suddenly overcome with a desire to actually make lunch.
No-Boil "Mac" n' Cheese
(adapted from Bon Appetit Magazine)
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, divided 
1/4 cup all-purpose flour 
3 cups low-fat milk 
3 cups water
3 cups fresh spinach
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt plus more
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper plus more 
1 pound whole wheat elbow macaroni, or some other small whole wheat pasta
2 cups grated white cheddar cheese, divided 
2 garlic cloves, chopped 
1 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) 
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley 

Preheat oven to 400°. Melt 1/4 cup butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add flour; cook, whisking constantly, for 1 minute. Whisk in milk and 3 cups water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook, whisking often, until a very thin, glossy sauce forms, about 10 minutes. Stir in spinach, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Remove sauce from heat.

Toss pasta and 1 1/2 cups cheese in a 13x9x2-inch or other shallow 3-quart baking dish. Pour sauce over (pasta should be submerged; do not stir) and cover with foil. Bake until pasta is almost tender, about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt remaining 2 Tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, panko, and parsley and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper.

Remove foil from dish. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup cheese, then panko mixture. Bake until pasta is tender, edges are bubbling, and top is golden brown, about 10 minutes longer. Let sit 10 minutes before serving.
Serves 8

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posted by kelsie