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Healthy Comfort Foods: Mac and Cheese

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Plump pasta, creamy sharp cheese, and a crispy bread crumb topping. A bowl of baked mac and cheese is just about the definition of comfort food. For our healthy version, we cut the saturated fat and upped the vegetable content. Rather than combining milk, butter, and handfuls of grated cheese, we’ve created a velvety sauce without any dairy. The addition of cayenne and paprika give the sauce a kick and folding in veggies and whole-grain pasta keeps the nutrition content and flavor factor high. Finally, we’ve topped the casserole with sage-flavored “bread” crumbs–sans bread–that you’ll want to eat by the fistful. Bon appetit!

Yield: 6 servings
Prep time: 20 minutes
Total time:  1 hour

Recipe Ingredients
For the pasta and sauce:
8 ounces whole-grain macaroni or shells
2 red bell peppers
2 carrots
1 red potato (about a half pound)
2 cups frozen or fresh peas
1/2 cup raw cashews
1/3 cup nutritional yeast
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon mustard
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon cayenne

For the bread crumbs:
1/2 cup walnuts
3 tablespoons nutritional yeast
1 teaspoon dried sage
1/2 teaspoon salt

Recipe Preparation

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.Cook the pasta according to package directions in a large pot of salted water. Dice 1 carrot and 1 bell pepper and add to the pasta water 4 minutes before the pasta is finished cooking. Pasta and veggies should be al dente. Drain both and place in a large bowl.

pasta

2. In a food processor, pulse the walnuts and dried sage until finely ground. Mix in the nutritional yeast and salt. Set mixture aside.

bread crumbs

3. Coarsely chop the potato along with the remaining carrot and bell pepper and place in a pot with 2 cups of water. Boil until the potato is tender. Do not drain. Pour the veggies, potato, and water into a food processor or heavy-duty blender. Add the cashews, garlic, mustard, lemon juice, nutritional yeast, cayenne, paprika, and salt and blend until smooth. This is your cream sauce.

sauce

4. Pour the sauce into the bowl with the pasta, bell pepper, and carrot. Add the peas and whisk together until everything is well-combined. Pour the mixture into an 8″ x 8″ baking dish. Sprinkle the “bread” crumbs over the top of the casserole.

pan

5. Bake for 30 minutes. The casserole should be bubbling and firm to the touch. Turn up the heat to 375 degrees and bake an additional 10 minutes to brown the top. Serve with a large leafy salad.

plated mac and cheese

Recipe Notes

  • There are many great whole-grain pastas on the market these days. We especially like brown rice pasta and quinoa corn pasta, both of which have just the right amount of chew and a milder flavor than whole wheat. Tip: After draining, wash the pasta in several changes of cold water to stop the cooking process; this will also help keep the pasta al dente.
  • To increase the nutritional value (and save some time), keep the skin on all the veggies, including the potato.

Photo Credit: Sam Kimbrel

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