Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Hide the veggies

 My daughters have always loved vegetables. In fact, sometimes we will do a total meal of just veggies--roasted finger potatoes with garlic and rosemary, sauted carrots and parsnips with fresh dill, fresh shaved brussels sprouts with dried cranberries and walnuts. I know, I've been blessed.

But a few of my friends aren't quite so lucky, and are always asking me for new ideas on how to get vegetables into their picky eaters. The most recent issue of Cooking Light magazine contains a truly novel idea for creating a healthy macaroni and cheese. Instead of the traditional buttery, heavy béchamel sauce we typically use to create the base, they turned to an unlikely hero for a boost: butternut squash. Combined with nonfat milk and Greek yogurt, the squash adds a rich, nutty flavor, sneaks in some vegetable, and brilliantly mimics the color and creaminess of cheddar sauce. Here's how they did it.

Cooking Light Creamy, Light Macaroni and Cheese
  • 3 cups cubed peeled butternut squash (about 1 [1-pound] squash)
  • 1 1/4 cups fat-free, lower-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 cups fat-free milk
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons fat-free Greek yogurt
  • 1 1/4 cups (5 ounces) shredded Gruyère 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
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/2 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1. Preheat oven to 375°.

2. Combine squash, broth, milk, and garlic in a medium saucepan; bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer until squash is tender when pierced with a fork, about 25 minutes. Remove from heat.

(NOTE: the instructions from Cooking Light do not specify whether or not to cover the saucepan. Some reviewers complained that the finished casserole was dry--not creamy enough. In my opinion, if you do not cover, you will lose a great deal of liquid due to evaporation. Perhaps that's what went wrong. I covered my saucepan and turned the heat to low).

3. Place the hot squash mixture in a blender. Add salt, pepper, and Greek yogurt. Remove the center piece of blender lid (to allow steam to escape); secure blender lid on blender. Place a clean towel over opening in blender lid (to avoid splatters). Blend until smooth. Place blended squash mixture in a bowl; stir in Gruyère, pecorino Romano, and 2 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano. Stir until combined.

4. Cook pasta according to package directions, omitting salt and fat; drain well. Add pasta to squash mixture, and stir until combined. Spread mixture evenly into a 13 x 9-inch glass or ceramic baking dish coated with cooking spray.

5. 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 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Sprinkle evenly over the hot pasta mixture. Lightly coat topping with cooking spray.

6. Bake at 375° for 25 minutes or until bubbly. Sprinkle with parsley, and serve immediately.

NOTE: I'll be honest--this version of macaroni and cheese looked amazing, and no one could guess the "secret ingredient." That said, it just wasn't my cup of tea. The taste was a bit too sweet. But I also need to confess that I didn't use the expensive cheeses listed in Cooking Light's recipe. I used mostly sharp cheddar and about 1/2 cup of romano. Perhaps if I had used the more assertive cheeses suggested by the author I would have been happier with the end-result. If you try this recipe, please share your comments with me.

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