Comfort food at it's best, macaroni and cheese isn't a meal generally thought of as lean and healthy, never mind interesting. But, with a few adaptations it's easy to take this dish to a new level without complicating things. This recipe was inspired by one I found on Vegetarian Times, but I wanted to add some more flavour and up the greens aspect even more. How much spinach are we talking about here? Almost an entire box of fresh spinach (about 280 g) which when measured was about 16 cups. I had used some the night before so in this instance I used about 10 cups of uncooked spinach.
I added a significant amount of seasoning - which you could easily personalize. My choices were oregano, basil, nutmeg and roasted garlic. This was my third round on this recipe, and I'm still working on the process, getting the preparation time down - but I would say you could pull it together in about a half hour. We find this will last us two meals as a main course, with very generous servings, but if you serve it with something else you could stretch it further. Last night I served it with chicken breasts sprinkled with paprika, garlic and pepper, and about 2 tablespoons of fresh lemon rind.
- 1 1/4 cups (300 ml) 1% or 2% milk
- 3 tablespoons (45 ml) all-purpose flour
- 2 cups (500 ml) grated cheddar cheese (medium or aged)
- 1 cup (250 ml) 1% or 2% cottage cheese
- 1/4 teaspoon (1 ml) salt, or to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon (2 ml) pepper, or to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon (2 ml) ground nutmeg
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) dried basil
- 4 to 6 cloves, garlic, roasted (slice the top off of the bulb, drizzle with olive oil, wrap in foil and bake at 400⁰ F (200⁰ C) for about 30 minutes or until soft)
- 10 to 15 cups fresh spinach, rinsed well (and stemmed if you have time)
- 1 cup (250 ml) plain, dry bread crumbs
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) olive oil
- 1 teaspoon (5 ml) paprika
- 2 cups dry elbow macaroni (try whole wheat or vegetable)
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to boil. Preheat oven to 400⁰ F (200⁰ C). Coat 8-inch square or other suitable baking dish with oil. I prefer to sprinkle several drops of olive or vegetable oil into the dish and spread with a small piece of paper towel.
Whisk 1/4 cup of the milk and the flour together in a small bowl or measuring cup. You will end up with a fairly thick, smooth mixture.
In a heavy-bottomed saucepan heat the rest of the milk (1 1/2 cups) over medium heat, until steaming. Stir frequently. Add the flour milk mixture and stir or whisk as it thickens. This will take 3 to 5 minutes approximately. Remove the saucepan from the heat and add the grated cheddar cheese. Stir until melted. Add the cottage cheese, stir until melted. Add the salt, pepper, oregano, basil and nutmeg. Stir.
In another pot or steamer, cook the spinach until just wilted. Stir the spinach so it evenly steams. Remove from heat after 2 to 3 minutes. Drain, rinse with cold water and drain again. Press out excess moisture and transfer to a cutting surface. Chop and set aside.
In a small bowl, mix together bread crumbs, oil and paprika.
Add macaroni to boiling water, stirring to prevent it from sticking. Cook, stirring frequently for 4 to 5 minutes. Drain, rinse with cold water and drain again.
Remove 4 to 6 garlic cloves from the roasted garlic. (squeeze out or lift out with the tip of a knife). Chop the garlic.
Add the macaroni to the saucepan with the cheese mixture if the saucepan is large enough. Otherwise mix the macaroni and the cheese mixture in a large bowl. Add the chopped roasted garlic to this mixture. Use a spatula to mix evenly and thoroughly.
Spread half of the macaroni cheese mixture evenly in the baking dish. Spread the chopped spinach on top of the layer of macaroni and cheese. Add the second half of the macaroni cheese mixture. Sprinkle the paprika breadcrumb mixture on top.
At this point you could cover and refrigerate the dish overnight or for a day.
Cover the baking dish with a lid or foil and place in the center of the preheated oven. Bake for 40 minutes. Uncover and bake for a further 5 minutes, until the bread crumb mixture is crispy. You may want to adjust the timing according to your preference to have the dish more liquidy or drier. Remove from oven and serve.