Back in 2005 I baby sat my friend April’s kids often. While the 6 month old toddler, Sophie, absolutely loved eating Kichadi, the older one, Maddie often demanded Mac and Cheese. This was my introduction to this classic American comfort food. I am not a fan of packaged food, so I asked around for a recipe to get started. Traditionally this American dish is made using 3 simple ingredients: Macaroni, cheese (preferably sharp Cheddar) and butter. These are layered and then baked in a hot oven. However, I always sneaked in a serving of vegetables along with it.
Over the years I kept experimenting with various combinations of cheese, type of pasta and vegetables.
Pasta and cheese casseroles, Pasta al forno (pasta baked in an oven) have been an integral part of Italian cuisine for centuries. In addition there is an English version by Elizabeth Raffald which uses Béchamel sauce along with Cheddar cheese, mixed with cooked Macaroni, topped with grated parmesan then baked into gooey goodness. So there was plenty of inspiration out there to help me find the perfect balance of gooeyness, goodness and a little bit of nutrition (in that order!).
My cheese preference:
- Smoked Gouda for the smokiness and the earthy flavor.
- Swiss for its nutty sweet flavor.
- Gruyere for the grainy texture and saltiness.
- Cheddar for its sharpness.
For moisture I like using Alfredo sauce, because it just brings together the flavors of the cheeses. For a recipe click here.
Time for Prep: 20 mins Time to Cook: 20-30 mins Yield: 6 servings Level: Easy
- 8oz of uncooked Penne
- 1 cup of frozen or fresh green peas, Cooked
- 1/2 cup baby kale, chopped
- 1/2 cup baby spinach, chopped
- 1/2 cup red bell peppers, chopped
- 1/2 Alfredo sauce
- 1/4 cup grated gruyere cheese
- 1/4 cup grated cheddar cheese
- 1/4 cup grated swiss cheese
- 1/4 cup grated smoked gouda
- 2 tbsp grated parmesan
- 2 tbsp bread crumbs
- Pre-heat oven to 400°F.
- Cook the pasta in well salted water as you normally would, but drain the pasta while it is still slightly underdone.
- Pour drained pasta in a large bowl.
- Add the Alfredo Sauce and mix well.
- Add the green peas, spinach, kale and red bell peppers, fold in.
- Now add gruyere, cheddar, swiss and smoked gouda cheese, gently fold them in.
- In a separate bowl mix in the grated parmesan and bread crumbs.
- Transfer to a greased baking dish or smaller baking dishes for individual servings.
- Top it with the parmesan and bread crumb mixture and bake for 20-30 mins (Reduce time if doing individual servings) or until the top is nice and brown and the pasta is hot and bubbly.
- Any type of pasta can be used, however I had more success using shorter, tabular pastas like Penne, Rigatoni, Ziti or Macaroni.
- The proportions here are just indicative you can always add more Alfredo sauce or milk or water if you want it to be more moist, more cheese for creamier texture and cooked meat for some protein.