Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Tale of Two (Mac and) Cheeses...

I recently received the newest issue of Cooking Light Magazine in the mail and the cover photo was a dish of delicious-looking macaroni and cheese, ooey and gooey with a crispy breadcrumb topping.  I wondered to myself, "Who in the world would think this was a good idea, mac and cheese on the cover of Cooking Light?  No way..." So I immediately flipped to the page to find out exactly how they planned to sell me "light" macaroni and cheese.

A little backstory, first, though.  I love macaroni and cheese.  I love pasta and I love cheese, so it's a natural fit.  Box-made or home-made, I love it all.  Over the years, I've tried to find the perfect Mac and Cheese recipe.  I've tried a lot, thought most were just ok, but I have found a few that I fall back on, time and time again.   All of these recipes involve cream, butter, a flour-based roux, and about a million calories, which is good, but sometimes I want mac and cheese and not feel like I have to change into my "fat-pants" before I eat it.

Ok, back to the original story.  So I immediately flipped to the page to find out exactly how they planned to sell me "light" macaroni and cheese.  The secret ingredient..... butternut squash!  This secret weapon not only cuts over 500 calories, 400 milligrams of sodium and 30 grams of saturated fat, but it helps the dish retain its creaminess and classic color, while sneaking in a healthy serving of vegetable that is chock full of vitamins!  I made this for dinner, and it did not disappoint!  I could tell that it wasn't the real deal, but it was creamy, cheesy and provided that comfort-quality I was looking for!  I will definitely keep this recipe!

For comparison sake, I am providing another mac and cheese recipe that I use frequently, if you are looking for something to splurge on.  Enjoy!

Creamy and Light Macaroni and Cheese (adapted from a Cooking Light recipe)

2 12-oz boxes frozen winter squash
1 1/4 cups fat-free, low-sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 cups fat-free milk
2 cloves garlic
1 t salt
1/2 t pepper
2 T fat-free Greek yogurt
1 1/4 cups (5 ounces) shredded Gruyere cheese
1 cup (4 ounces) grated pecorino Romano cheese
1/4 cup (1 ounce) finely grated fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided
1 pound uncooked cavatappi pasta
cooking spray
1 t olive oil
1/2 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Combine the frozen squash, broth, milk, and garlic in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer until squash is complete incorporated with the liquids.  Remove from heat.  Place the hot squash mixture in a blender (or leave in saucepan if using an immersion blender).  Add salt, pepper, and Greek yogurt.  (Remove the center piece of the blender lid and cover hole with a towel to avoid splatter.)  Blend until smooth. Add in Gruyere, pecorino Romano, and 2 T of the Parmigiano-Reggiano.  Stir until combined.  Cook pasta according to package directions.  Add pasta to squash mixture, and stir until combined. Spread mixture into a 13 x 9-inch class or ceramic baking dish coated with cooking spray.  Heat oil in a medium skillet over medium heat.  Add panko, and cook for 2 minutes or until golden brown.  Remove from heat; stir in remaining 2 T Parmigiano-Reggiano.  Sprinkle evenly over the hot pasta mixture and lightly coat topping with cooking spray.  Bake at 375 for 25 minutes or until bubbly.  Serve immediately

Classic Baked Macaroni and Cheese

1 pound macaroni,
2 T butter
2 T all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
1/2 t salt
1/2 t fresh ground black pepper
1 8-oz block sharp Cheddar cheese, shredded and divided
1 T butter
1/2 cup bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Prepare pasta according to package directions.  Meanwhile, melt butter in a large saucepan over medium-low heat; whisk in flour until smooth.  Cook, whisking constantly, 2 minutes.  Gradually whisk in milk, and cook, whisking constantly, 5 minutes or until thickened.  Remove from heat.  Stir in salt and pepper, 1 cup shredded cheese and cooked pasta.  Spoon mixture into a lightly greased 2-qt baking dish; top with remaining 1 cup cheese. Melt butter in a small sauce pan and add in bread crumbs, saute until lightly browned.  Top pasta mixture with bread crumbs, bake at 400 for 20 minutes or until bubbly.  Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.