January is a funny month. We’re all motivated to lose weight and get healthy and eat light foods. But the weather is gray and cold and makes us want casseroles and mac & cheese and hot chocolate. I’ve posted some lighter recipes in the past two weeks, but now it’s time for Pesto Mac.
Cheesy, carb-y Pesto Mac.
Yes, the same Pesto Mac I put in my What I Ate This Week last month. Except it’s not the same, because that version was a disaster. I didn’t measure my ingredients when I was making the sauce and it turned out way way WAAAAY too thick. Oops! But now I’ve perfected the recipe. And between working on this Pesto Mac and another mac & cheese recipe for a project I’m doing, I’ve learned a lot about making macaroni & cheese. Like:
Broccoli is probably the most obvious vegetable to add. (They even sell boxed mac & cheese with little bits of dehydrated broccoli!) I also really like adding mushrooms, greens (like kale or spinach), roasted jalapenos or poblanos, cauliflower… anything that goes with the cheese you’re using, really. I mentioned this trick in my Vegetable Baked Ziti recipe–when you add a lot of veggies, you can get more servings out of the recipe. Which a high calorie dish like mac & cheese, this is a good thing!
I know, this is kind of an unpopular opinion. I’ve posted a roux-less mac & cheese recipe on my blog before and I regularly make cheese sauces without butter. Now, some people say when you skip the roux, your sauce ends up tasting like flour. My opinion is that if you use a good, quality cheese, that’s not true. I like leaving the butter out sometimes to save calories. (This Pesto Mac recipe does start with a roux, though.)
I have done a lot of experimenting with mac & cheese in the past month, with both bagged pre-shredded cheese and cheese shredded the old-fashioned way–by hand, by me. I think the results are better with cheese I shred myself. Pre-shredded cheese has an anti-caking ingredient added to it and I really think it makes the resulting sauce a little bit off. I’m still using the bagged parmesan shreds in my mac & cheese, but for the softer cheese, I’ve switched to using the blocks of cheese and shredding them myself.
Full disclosure: I have not frozen this Pesto Mac, so I can’t say for sure that this recipe is freezer-friendly, but I can’t see why it wouldn’t be. But in general, mac & cheese is a great dish for making in advance and freezing. Here’s how:
Toast some panko in a small skillet and sprinkle it on your stovetop mac & cheese. Or top your mac & cheese with some additional shredded cheese, then sprinkle on the toasted panko. That way you get the creamy goodness (and immediate gratification!) of stovetop mac & cheese with the yummy crispy topping of baked mac & cheese. Win-win, right?
So tell me, how do you like your mac & cheese?
Go to Stovetop Pesto Mac recipe
Toasted Panko Topping (Optional)
Toasted Panko Topping
To make this Pesto Mac into a casserole, after pasta and broccoli have been incorporated into the cheese sauce, transfer Pesto Mac to small (about 9 x 9) casserole dish. Top with panko and additional shredded cheese; bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. If top is not browned, broil for about 5 more minutes.
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