This baked pasta and cheese has no less than five vegetables in it (cauliflower, broccoli, carrot, spinach and onion), and if prepared in this way you will likely get away with explaining to your picky eaters that any “green” bits are merely parsley, mwaa haa haa…
Another great way to encourage adoption of a new recipe is to make it fun to eat; there’s no reason why you can’t bake these in jumbo muffin tins. Just be sure to grease each cup (or use fun paper liners) before adding the pasta, place the tins on a baking sheet to reduce the risk of burning the bottoms, and reduce the cooking time by 5 minutes.
Sneaky Veggie Baked Mac and Cheese
Yield: 6 servings (pan) or 10-12 servings (jumbo muffin tin) | Prep: 20 mins | Cook: 20 mins
- 4 cups/500g short pasta (such as macaroni, mini penne, orecchiette, farfalle, ditalini, tubetti, etc.)
- 1 tsp/5g canola or vegetable oil
- 1 large carrot, peeled and diced
- ½ medium head cauliflower, chopped into florets
- ½ medium head broccoli, chopped into florets
- 1 cup/45g breadcrumbs (Panko is best)
- 2 tbsp/30mL canola or vegetable oil
- ¼ cup/25g Parmesan cheese
- 2 tbsp/1g dried parsley
- 1 tbsp/15g butter, salted
- 1 tbsp/8g all-purpose flour
- ½ red onion, diced small
- 2 cups/500mL 2% or whole milk, warmed
- Pinch nutmeg
- 1 clove garlic, minced finely
- 1 tbsp/15mL Dijon or prepared mustard
- ½ tsp/3g salt
- ¼ tsp/0.6g ground white pepper
- 2 cups/220g sharp yellow cheddar
- ½ cup/116g cream cheese
- 1 cup/30g baby spinach, fresh, minced
- 2 tbsp/14g cooked bacon bits (optional)
- Pre-heat oven to 425°F, placing rack in middle. Lightly grease 9×13” baking dish with butter or pan spray. Set aside.
- Cook pasta in a lot of well-salted boiling water according to package directions, but just short of cooked through (about 2 minutes less cooking time). Drain pasta well, toss with oil to prevent sticking, and set aside.
- Meanwhile, steam or boil diced carrot with the cauliflower and broccoli florets until tender, about 8-10 minutes; drain. Finely mince half of the cooked vegetables and set the second half aside.
- In a small bowl, mix together breadcrumbs, olive oil, parmesan cheese, dried parsley, and the finely minced steamed vegetables; season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside.
- Whisk together butter and flour in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat until bubbles subside, and roux is cream-coloured; add onion and cook over medium heat for 3-5 mins.
- Whisk in warmed milk, a little at a time; let cook until mixture starts to thicken and coats the back of a wooden spoon, about 5-7 minutes.
- Add nutmeg, garlic, mustard, salt and pepper, and whisk until well combined. Add cheese a handful at a time, stirring until previous handful has melted. Stir in the cream cheese until melted.
- Add the cauliflower and broccoli, then remove from heat and puree until smooth with an immersion blender (caution: sauce will be very hot!). Stir chopped fresh baby spinach into sauce until well-combined and heated through.
- Add cooked noodles to sauce and taste for seasoning before pouring into prepared casserole dish.
- Sprinkle prepared breadcrumb mixture and bacon bits evenly over the noodles and sauce then bake for 15-20 minutes or until topping turns golden brown. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes before serving.