I am not trying to start a mac n cheese revolution. My posting of this (delectable and sophisticated) grown-up mac n cheese recipe is not, by any means, an attempt to dethrone that pinnacle of mac n cheese dinner perfection, the one that stands sentry in any respectable pantry, cloaked in its midnight blue box, a constant, comforting presence when you need carbs and cheese and you need it now (of course I’m talking about Kraft Spirals). Oh no, I wouldn’t dare dream of suggesting a recipe to replace that monarch of macaroni. If you’re like me, Kraft Spirals holds too dear a place in your heart to ever be replaced. Kraft Spirals means Friday night dinners with Dad and Sister when Mom was at work, splitting the box between three brightly-colored plastic bowls and stamping each with a smiley face drawn in ketchup, followed by a swim at the YMCA and a couple of 7-11 Slurpees, as big as our heads (clearly, my Friday nights reached their zenith in 1997). So if you think I’m proposing a usurper to good ol’ boxed mac n cheese, think again.
This recipe serves a very different purpose. It’s for when you’re jonesing for carbs and cheese but you have some dinner guests to impress. Or you saw a particularly gorgeous bag of spinach at the farmers market and you want to use it for something slightly less healthy than a salad. Or you simply have some extra time on your hands for dinner prep, and you’d like to treat yourself in a way that feels both grown-up and kid-like (because really, who doesn’t feel both grown-up and kid-like all the time?).
I used green garlic for the punch of flavor because I was lucky enough to stumble across some at the market, but garlic scapes, a couple shallots, a yellow onion, or just plain ol’ garlic would also do the trick. As for cheese, this recipe uses the pride of the Netherlands, Gouda (you ain’t much if you ain’t Dutch, baby), but if you really want to go crazy, I bet smoked Gouda would be phenomenal.
grown-up mac n cheese
Adapted from The Easy Vegetarian Kitchen
6 ounces whole wheat pasta elbows
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup (5-6 stalks) green garlic, chopped
salt & pepper
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups milk (2% or whole)
1 cup shredded Gouda
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
2 cups (packed) spinach, shredded
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Cook pasta until just tender, about 6-7 minutes. Drain and set aside.
In a saucepan, melt the butter and add the green garlic, salt and pepper. Cook 5-6 minutes, then add flour and cook for another minute to create the roux. Stir in milk and heat–stirring often–until the sauce has thickened, about 6 minutes. Remove from heat and add half of the cheese, stirring to combine.
In an 8 x 8 baking dish (or something similar), combine the pasta, shredded spinach and cheese sauce.
Top with the remaining cheese. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the cheese on top is golden brown and bubbling. Serve immediately!
Note: This dish can be prepared earlier in the day and refrigerated until you’re ready to bake it. Easy peasy.
I served this mac n cheese to one of my favorite little fams, the Kishbaughs, who were recently in Bloomington for a visit. You may remember them from their Sprout Diaries debut back in 2012. Since then, two has become three with the addition of the sweetest blonde one-year-old you could imagine, Charlotte. Let the record show that Charlotte loved the mac n cheese just as much as the grown-ups!