As I mentioned, mac and cheese is a cultural favorite, but in my family, it was mainly enjoyed during the holidays. Although it’s delicious, it’s also rich and obviously not something that’s healthy to eat every day.
You see, I grew up in a fairly health-minded home, where we mainly enjoyed a diet of fresh vegetables from Dad’s beautiful and prolific garden. Also, raisin bran was the only cereal I was normally allowed to eat with the exception of when I stayed with my grandma on a Saturday night. Then, much to my 7-year-old delight, I got to go down to Winn-Dixie in Bedford to pick out one of those sugary cereals full of artificial colors and flavors. My favorites were Lucky Charms, because, you know, they’re magically delicious; and, of course, Fruit Loops. BUT, I digress—back to the recipe!
Not too long ago, I ran across a cookbook called, Lighten Up, Y’all—Classic Southern Recipes made Healthy & Wholesome by Virginia Willis. Well, the title alone stopped me in my tracks. I thought,”What’s this?” Diet Southern food? My heart did a little pitter-patter as I excitedly flipped through the crisp pages and fatefully landed on a recipe for a lighter version of….wait for it….macaroni and cheese! That was it! I snapped the book shut and headed to the cash register to make my purchase. The recipe is titled, Makeover Broccoli Mac and Cheese, and instead of making a béchamel, it calls for whisking flour into low-fat milk and substituting low-fat cheddar and cottage cheese for the standard, full-fat cheeses.
So, recently, I decided to make this new and exciting version of a Southern classic. I walked around my local grocery store, full of enthusiasm for low calorie cheddar and cottage cheese, but alas, I couldn’t find any—or maybe, I just didn’t look hard enough. Anyway, this mac and cheese has broccoli in it, and I was using low-fat milk—I figured that was healthy enough. After all, I AM a Southerner, and I wanted to give this new mac and cheese every opportunity to taste like home.
Well, I have to say, I was happy with my decision regarding the use of regular, full-fat cheddar and cottage cheese, because this dish turned out GREAT! During dinner, I stopped a number of times to gush, “This is SO good!” It was delightful—really creamy and delicious, and the cottage cheese added a nice texture. Also, the broccoli relieved my guilt…just a little bit. I would definitely make this mac and cheese again, especially since the holidays are coming up soon!
While I kinda followed the cookbook’s recipe for a healthier version of mac and cheese, I didn’t follow it exactly since I used regular, full-fat cheddar and cottage cheeses—sacrificing healthiness for taste.
Here’s the thing: If you plan to have this dish once in a blue moon, then for heaven’s sake, enjoy your mac and cheese the way God intended—with full-fat cheeses and all that creamy goodness. But, if you’re planning to have it every other Tuesday, then you might want to consider the lighter, healthier version or something in between. Anyway, I loved my modification of this recipe, especially because it tasted…just like home.
Makeover Broccoli Mac and Cheese
Use organic ingredients whenever possible.
–1 cup shredded 50% reduced-fat extra-sharp Cheddar cheese (4 ounces)
–3/4 cup shredded 75% reduced-fat extra-sharp Cheddar cheese (3 ounces)
**Special Note: I used 1 1/4 cup of full-fat extra-sharp cheddar cheese, mainly because I couldn’t find organic.
–2 tablespoons panko (Japanese) bread crumbs
–1/2 teaspoons paprika
–1 3/4 cups 2 percent milk
–3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
–1 cup low-fat cottage cheese
**Special Note: I used regular cottage cheese–organic wasn’t available.
–1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
–Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
–Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
–8 ounces (2 cups) whole wheat elbow macaroni
*Special Note: Yeah, I didn’t use wheat elbow macaroni–just the regular kind.
Like I mentioned earlier, I wanted this dish to be healthy–er, while still sorta looking and tasting like my childhood memory.
–12 ounces (4 cups) broccoli florets and stems
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Combine the two low-fat cheeses (If that’s the version you’re making). Mix 1/4 cup of the cheese, breadcrumbs, and paprika in a small bowl. Set aside.
To make the cheese sauce, heat 1 1/2 cups of milk in a large, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat until simmering. Whisk remaining 1/4 cup milk and the flour in a small bowl until smooth; add to the hot milk and cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce simmers and thickens, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the remaining 1 1/2 cups of the cheese mixture and cottage cheese until melted. Stir in the dry mustard and nutmeg. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Cook pasta according to package directions. In the last 3 minutes of cooking, add the broccoli florets. Drain well and add to the cheese sauce; mix well.
Coat an 8-inch-square (2 quart) baking dish with cooking spray, or a vintage Corelle dish, if you have one. 😉 Spread the pasta-broccoli combination in the prepared baking dish; sprinkle with the bread crumb mixture. Bake until bubbly and golden brown, about 20 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool slightly. Serve warm. Enjoy!!
Fat: 4 grams
Protein: 14 grams
Carbs: 24 grams
Fiber: 3 grams
Who knows…but YUM!