June 25, 2011

Comfort Food: Baked Macaroni & Cheese with Broccoli

It was a long week... a week that left me craving some comfort food, more specifically: baked macaroni and cheese.

My grandmother made delicious baked macaroni and cheese, a family favorite for years.  I remember the gooey richness of the cheese sauce and the salty crispness of the topping, (made of crushed Ritz crackers, sauteed in butter).  Her version of baked macaroni and cheese may be among the quintessential comfort foods, but I wanted to try to make up my own... and perhaps make it a little less decadent. That way, I wouldn't feel bad about indulging on a more regular basis.

Along with my craving for baked macaroni and cheese, I had an inexplicable craving for broccoli. So, I decided to combine the two into a more complete meal.

Baked Macaroni & Cheese with Broccoli (serves 6-8)

1 head of fresh broccoli
1 box (13.5oz) of whole wheat penne
2 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 tbsp. all purpose flour
2 1/2 cups 1% milk
8oz. sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
4oz. monterey jack cheese, shredded
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/3 cup panko bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Spray 13x9 inch baking dish with cooking spray.
Cut broccoli into small florets, steam until crisp-tender. Set aside in large bowl.
Cook pasta per package instructions until al-dente. Strain and add to broccoli florets.

For cheese sauce:
Melt 2 tbsp. unsalted butter in medium saucepan over medium heat.  Add 2 tbsp. flour, whisk continuously and cook for 2 minutes, or until flour mixture, (or roux) is golden brown.  Slowly add milk, and cook about 5 minutes, stirring constantly.  Stir in all of the monterey jack cheese, and 1/2 of the cheddar.  Add the salt and black pepper to the sauce.  Pour the cheese sauce over the penne and broccoli, stir until coated.  Add in half of the remaining cheddar cheese.
Pour the macaroni mixture into baking dish.  Sprinkle top with remaining cheese and breadcrumbs.
Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. Let rest 5 minutes before serving.

I hope that you find this recipe as delicious as I do!  The cheese sauce turned out to be very satisfying without being too heavy, and the topping was perfectly light and crispy.  The best part: the whole wheat pasta and broccoli make this indulgence slightly healthier... a comfort that you can feel a little better about enjoying.

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