I'm someone who chooses recipes based on what's in the fridge. This seems completely logical to me, but I know others who simply don't feel the same way. Who cares what's in the fridge? I'm just going to go out and buy what I want, even if it's already in there! It is this attitude that results in two-and-a-half bunches of broccoli and four bunches of green onion (three of which are wilting) in the fridge, and it is my attitude that results in me going into my Reader to see what recipes I have tagged under "broccoli" when I invited B. and his sister over for Sunday dinner (both sets of our parents were out of town).
I ended up choosing a mac & cheese recipe from Serious Eats - a comforting, one-dish meal that was still decadent with its three cheese blend (cheddar, mascarpone and parmesan).
The three of us managed to polish most of the casserole in one night (plus some leftovers for B.), but now I had lots of leftover cheese (and breadcrumbs from toasting too much stale bread)! This only meant one thing - I had to make the recipe again! I didn't have any broccoli or chicken left, so I found a bag of Brussels sprouts in the fridge, and went and bought some ham (because ham and cheese go together, right?)
My favourite part in making this recipe is actually making the bechamel sauce. There is something that's just so... empowering (for lack of a better word) about being able to get the proportion of flour and butter just right so that the milk you pour into the saucepan turns into a smooth, creamy sauce. I had some buttermilk on hand from another recipe for my second go-around - same amount of calories as 1% milk (if you buy 1% buttermilk, natch), but just a bit more sodium for a richer-tasting sauce.
And for those who crinkled their noses at the idea of having Brussels sprouts in your mac & cheese, you must try it. As long as you don't overcook them, the sprouts at a bit of sweetness to the dish with just a touch of bitterness. So good.
My siblings disagreed with my addition of the ham, saying that it overwhelmed the dish (not true) and that I could have diced the ham more finely (ok, I can give them that) Of course, they only told me that my mac & cheese was "not good" after they'd finished most of the pan!
Now, just in case you're complaining that I've only been making unhealthy stuff lately (sorry!) Here are some ideas for healthier tweaks:
- The cheese sauce is rich enough that you can probably do without the mascarpone, but if you insist, I think ricotta or quark would be appropriate lower fat options.
- Obviously choosing chicken breast over ham will save you calories, fat and sodium - try juggling around the vegetable-to-meat ratio as well, like add an extra head of broccoli and take away a cup of meat.
- Instead of making a casserole, just make it a pasta bowl and skip the parmesan and breadcrumb topping - this will save you about 30 calories and 80 mg of sodium.
- I called this dish "cruciferous vegetables" and "meat" for a reason - don't just limit yourself to broccoli, Brussels sprouts, chicken and ham. Try cauliflower florets or chopped kale for the vegetables, and other types of meat depending on how healthy you're feeling (yes, even weiners!)
- Portion control! The original recipe says it serves 6 to 8 - I can easily squeeze out eight servings from the recipe, and if you have other sides, you can probably get even more!
Mac & Cheese with Cruciferous Vegetables and MeatAdapted from Serious EatsServes 8
- 2 stalks broccoli, chopped, or 10 oz (300 g) Brussels sprouts, halved
- 6 oz (170 g) whole wheat macaroni, or other short pasta
- 3 tbsp (45 mL/42 g) butter
- 1 shallot, minced
- ⅛ tsp (1 mL) cayenne pepper
- 3 tbsp (45 mL) flour
- 2½ cups (625 mL) milk, or buttermilk
- 1 cup (250 mL) grated cheddar cheese
- ½ cup (125 mL) mascarpone cheese
- 2 cups (500 mL) shredded, cooked chicken, or cubed ham
- ¼ cup (60 mL) bread crumbs
- ⅓ cup (85 mL) parmesan cheese, grated
Nutrition Info (per 4½ x 3¼" piece, made with 1% milk, broccoli and chicken): 369 calories, 17 g fat (11 g saturated), 75 mg cholesterol, 28 g carbohydrates (3 g fibre, 5 g sugar), 24 g protein, 291 mg sodium. An excellent source of folate (vitamin B4), vitamin B12, vitamin C, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, manganese and selenium. A good source of all remaining B vitamins and potassium. (Per 4½ x 3¼" piece, made with 1% buttermilk, Brussels sprouts and ham): 391 calories, 21 g fat (12 g saturated), 63 mg cholesterol, 28 g carbohydrates (3 g fibre, 5 g sugar), 21 g protein, 754 mg sodium. An excellent source of thiamin (vitamin B1), folate (vitamin B4), vitamin B12), vitamin C, vitamin E, phosphorus, zinc and manganese. A good source of riboflavin (vitamin B2), vitamin B6, calcium, magnesium, potassium and selenium.
- Butter a 9 x 13" baking dish and set aside. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and par-cook the broccoli for three minutes (five minutes for Brussels sprouts). Plunge into an ice bath, and reserve.
- Preheat the oven to 400°F (205˚C); bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Cook the pasta for about 4 minutes, or slightly before the pasta becomes al dente. (The pasta will finish cooking as the casserole bakes.)
- While the pasta is cooking, make the cheese sauce by melting the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. When the butter is melted, add the shallot and cayenne, and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Add the flour, and cook another minute. Slowly pour in the milk or buttermilk, whisking constantly, until the mixture is smooth. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook for another few minutes, until it is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Remove from heat, and stir in the cheddar and mascarpone, whisking until smooth.
- Toss the pasta and sauce to combine, and stir in the broccoli and chicken or ham. Pour everything into the prepared baking dish, and top with the bread crumbs and grated Parmesan cheese. Bake for about 20 minutes, until the pasta is bubbling and the top is lightly golden brown.