Recipe: Healthier Veggie Mac & Cheese

Recipe: Healthier Veggie Mac & Cheese

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Jenn Fillenworth
Apr 19, 2018
(Image credit: Maria Siriano)

What would some of our favorite comfort food classics looks like if we asked a nutritionist to give them a makeover? In this series of recipes, you see how smart choices around vegetables, meats, and cheese make for a lighter, more nutritious take on everything from mac and cheese to meatloaf without ever compromising the flavor.

When it comes to making over your mac and cheese, think of it as an opportunity to keep what's delicious while also loading it up with good-for-you vegetables that give it a flavor boost. I'm pretty sure I had my first green pea in a macaroni and cheese dish, it was all history from there.

We're skipping the peas in this rendition of the comfort food classic and going with a colorful blend of broccoli and roasted red pepper, all tied together with a tangy goat cheese sauce.

Giving Mac and Cheese a Nutritionist's Makeover

The goal when lightening up mac and cheese is to make sure it still looks and tastes like mac and cheese. Those super-rich and delicious mac and cheese dishes we order at restaurants or even make for the holidays contain a lot of saturated fat from the butter and cheese, but making a better-for-you cheese sauce can help reduce saturated fat immediately.

The Sauce

This delicious twist on the comfort classic features a Greek yogurt-based sauce with goat cheese swirled into the mix. Using Greek yogurt helps to thicken the sauce and provides a tangy flavor similar to the goat cheese. As the Greek yogurt is incorporated into the sauce, you will see it thicken up and become a luscious addition to the noodles and veggies. The addition of basil to the yogurt cheese sauce reminds me of eating a margherita pizza loaded with melty cheese and pops of basil.

(Image credit: Maria Siriano)

Vegetables are always a nice addition to any type of macaroni and cheese not only because they provide another element of flavor and texture, but also because they pack in plenty of health benefits. The roasted broccoli has an enticing crisp-yet-tender texture that provides this dish with some additional crunch, while the roasted red peppers are slightly sweet and soft. The roasted red peppers really blend well with the tangy yogurt and cheese sauce and help to balance out the earthiness of the roasted broccoli.

All of these ingredients really come together for a delicious flavor profile. This recipe is great for feeding a hungry family on busy weeknights because most of it can be done quickly on the stovetop while the broccoli is roasting in the oven. Leftovers can easily be reheated in the microwave, making it the perfect packable lunch.

Healthier Veggie Mac & Cheese

Serves 8

  • 4 cups

    broccoli florets (about 20 ounces), cut into 1-inch pieces

  • 1 tablespoon

    olive oil

  • Kosher salt

  • Freshly ground black pepper

  • 1 pound

    dried pasta shells

  • 8 tablespoons

    (1 stick) unsalted butter

  • 4

    cloves garlic, minced

  • 1/2 cup

    all-purpose flour

  • 2 cups

    2% milk

  • 5 1/2 ounces

    fresh goat cheese

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    dried basil

  • 2 cups

    low-fat plain Greek yogurt

  • 1

    (12-ounce) jar roasted red peppers, drained and coarsely chopped

  • 1/2 cup

    seasoned dried breadcrumbs

  • Thinly sliced fresh basil leaves, for serving

Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 400°F. Place the broccoli on a rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with the oil, season with salt and pepper, and toss to combine. Spread into an even layer and roast until fork-tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Meanwhile, cook the pasta.

Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions until tender. Drain and transfer the pasta to a 9x13-inch baking dish; set aside.

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Whisk in the flour and cook for 1 minute. While whisking continuously, slowly pour in the milk and whisk until smooth. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally. Add the goat cheese and dried basil and whisk until smooth. Remove from the heat, add the yogurt, and stir until well-combined. Stir in the roasted red peppers.

Increase the oven temperature to broil. Place the roasted broccoli evenly over the pasta. Pour the cheese sauce evenly over the pasta and broccoli. Sprinkle evenly with the breadcrumbs and broil until browned and toasted on top, about 5 minutes (check halfway through). Sprinkle with the fresh basil before serving.

Recipe Notes

Storage: Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Reheating: This recipe reheats very nicely in the microwave but will dry out in the oven.

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