It’s been an interesting month. A month filled with comfort food to help distract me from certain stressors that’ve been on my mind constantly. In the last 30-ish days, I decided to move out of New York and in with a boy (ew, gross). I feared not being able to keep my job due to this move (but, thank goodness, I am!). I apartment-hunted via Skype with said boy. We chose an apartment. I took a weekend trip to help him move in. We picked out (and fought about) furniture. And I set a moving date for myself (April 26th!) and started packing my apartment. That’s a lot of decisions in very little time for someone who hates being decisive. It’s been unbelievably stressful, but also overwhelmingly exciting. And I couldn’t have made any of these decisions without my (very patient) friends and parents. Oh, and maybe that boy.
While this recipe (and photos) is actually over a year old, it’s basically the same thing I’ve been throwing together regularly over the last month: A healthier take on classic comfort food. Sometimes that’s been stovetop mac n’ cheese with veggies (yes, I used Velveeta — deal with it), sometimes it’s been chicken-quinoa meatballs with homemade tomato sauce, and sometimes classic rice and beans. Those are all great things to throw together in 30-minutes after work, but this one… this one’s more special. Perfect to make on a Sunday afternoon. The cheese sauce is made from scratch (but is simplified, and super easy), your choice of fresh vegetables take center stage, and you can use whole-wheat or whole-grain pasta for added fiber (super important).
Veggie Mac n’ Cheese
What You’ll Need:
1 cup broccoli
1 1/2 cups spinach
1 cup tomatoes
1/2 cup frozen peas, defrosted
1 1/2 cups nonfat milk
1 cup chicken stock (homemade is best!)
1 pound small pasta (I used gluten-free shells, but you could use any gluten-free whole-grain, or whole-wheat short pasta)
1 1/2 cups extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 cup part-skim ricotta
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 pinch of cayenne pepper
Fresh ground black pepper
What to Do:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly coat a medium baking dish with olive oil.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and add a healthy pinch of salt. Add noodles, and cook until al dente (according to package instructions), about 8–10 minutes. Drain, and set aside.
In a medium frying pan, prep your veggies. Heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Once hot, add broccoli and spinach to pan. Sautée until broccoli begins to tenderize. Add tomatoes and peas and continue cooking until heated through. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan, warm milk and chicken stock over medium-high eat. Once simmering, reduce heat to medium. Add one handful of cheddar at a time, stirring to melt in between additions. Once all cheddar is added, add ricotta and Parmesan and stir until melted. Remove from heat.
Add veggies and pasta to the cheese sauce, and stir until everything is evenly combined. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish and cover with foil. Bake for 20 minutes. remove foil, and bake for an additional 20-30 minutes, or until top is lightly browned and edges are bubbling.