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Friday, December 17, 2010

Baked Vegetable Mac and Cheese

It still surprises me that I find cooking relaxing. In fact, I think people who know me in person are probably also surprised by this! But after a long week at work and an overwhelmingly busy weekend, I breathed a sigh of relief when I set out to prepare this dinner on a Sunday evening. During the week, I rush home from work and prefer to cook meals that require minimal preparation. On the weekends, however, I don't mind spending a little extra time in the kitchen, chopping and stirring and tending to various pots on the stove. Meals like this are especially nice because they give you time to do the dishes while they bake, meaning you can immediately leave the kitchen after eating. I love that!

Julia, Ryan, and I all really liked this mac and cheese, each of us going back for seconds. It definitely isn't the stuff from the blue box, nor is it ultra-rich and cheesy noodles. Instead, it's a baked pasta lightly coated with a cheese sauce and stuffed with roasted vegetables. Julia and Ryan weren't too sure about the apple addition in this, so if you're hesitant feel free to omit. Feel free to switch up the vegetables too; I bet sweet potatoes would be good in here!
Baked Vegetable Mac and Cheese

-1 box whole wheat macaroni (I used a box of Barilla plus, minus a bit of pasta that was used for my butternut squash and kale minestrone)
-1 small butternut squash, peeled and chopped into small chunks
-1 large green apple, chopped into cubes
-1 head of broccoli, chopped
-1/2 large onion, chopped
-2 cups brussels sprouts, chopped
-2 tbsp olive oil
-1/2 tsp nutmeg
-1 tbsp butter
-1 tbsp flour
-1 1/2 cups milk
-8 oz grated cheese (I mostly used sharp cheddar and a little bit of an Italian blend)
-1/4 cup bread crumbs

1. Preheat oven to 400F. In a large bowl, toss squash, broccoli, and apple pieces with 1 tbsp olive oil. Lay out on 1-2 baking sheets and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Roast for 25 minutes, flipping once halfway through.
2. While squash is roasting, heat 1 tbsp of olive oil in a large skillet and add onions and brussels sprouts. Allow to pan roast for 8-10 minutes, tossing frequently with a large spoon.
3. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil and add pasta, cooking according to the directions on the box. Once pasta is cooked, drain and set aside.
4. In a medium saucepan, heat 1 tbsp butter and add 1 tbsp flour, whisking to create a roux. Add milk and cheese in batches, stirring frequently to allow cheese to melt and sauce to thicken. Continue to whisk until sauce is thickened slightly (mine was still pretty runny when I finished and it was okay).
5. Once vegetables and apple are finished roasting, place with a large bowl with broccoli and onions. Add pasta and mix well to combine everything. Place mixture in a greased 9 x 13 pan. Pour cheese sauce over mixture and carefully mix with a spoon to blend. Sprinkle additional cheese on top (if desired) and top with breadcrumbs.
6. Bake at 350F for 25-30 minutes.