Macaroni and cheese is the queen of comfort food on a gloomy day (or even a not-so-gloomy one). Eating Well’s healthy update takes advantage of extra-sharp Cheddar balanced with creamy low-fat cottage cheese and tucks a layer of spinach into the middle, which may help picky eaters down their vegetables. Whole-wheat pasta adds robust flavor and extra fiber.
3 tablespoons plain dry breadcrumbs
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1 bunch steamed spinach
1 3/4 cups 1 percent milk, divided
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups grated extra-sharp Cheddar cheese (6 ounces)
1 cup low-fat (1 percent) cottage cheese
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Freshly ground pepper to taste
8 ounces (2 cups) whole-wheat elbow macaroni or penne
1. Put a large pot of water on to boil. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Lightly coat an 8-inch-square (2-quart) baking dish with olive oil.
2. Mix breadcrumbs, oil and paprika in a small bowl. Place spinach in a fine-mesh strainer and press out excess moisture.
3. Heat 1 1/2 cups milk in a large heavy saucepan over medium-high heat until steaming. Whisk remaining 1/4 cup milk and flour in a small bowl until smooth; add to the hot milk and cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce simmers and thickens, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in Cheddar until melted. Stir in cottage cheese, nutmeg, salt and pepper.
4. Cook pasta for 4 minutes, or until not quite tender. (It will continue to cook during baking.) Drain and add to the cheese sauce; mix well. Spread half the pasta mixture in the prepared baking dish. Spoon the spinach on top. Top with the remaining pasta; sprinkle with the breadcrumb mixture.
5. Bake the casserole until bubbly and golden, 25 to 30 minutes.
Tip: To make fresh breadcrumbs, trim crusts from whole-wheat bread. Tear bread into pieces and process in a food processor until coarse crumbs form. One slice of bread makes about 1/2 cup fresh crumbs. For dry breadcrumbs, spread the fresh crumbs on a baking sheet and bake at 250 degrees until crispy, about 15 minutes. One slice of fresh bread makes about 1/3 cup dry crumbs. Or use prepared coarse dry breadcrumbs. We like Ian�s brand labeled “Panko breadcrumbs.” Find them in the natural-foods section of large supermarkets.
Makes four servings. Per serving: 576 calories; 22 g fat (11 g saturated fat, 2g mono unsaturated fat); 69 mg cholesterol; 63 g carbohydrates; 37 g protein; 9 g fiber; 917 mg sodium; 403 mg potassium. Nutrition Bonus: Vitamin A (290% daily value), Calcium (70% dv), Folate (37% dv), Iron (15% dv). 3 1/2 Carbohydrate Servings. Exchanges: 3 starch, 1 vegetable, 3 1/2 medium-fat meat.
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