Ooey-Gooey Wholesome Weeknight Mac and Cheese

This is the foundation version—the Mother Mac and Cheese from which all others have come. This is what I deserve to eat after a long wearying day of shopping with a teenage daughter; the version I serve to diet-conscious friends; and this is the Mac and Cheese that saved my son from a lifetime of junk-food addiction.

Serves:  8
Ingredients:
  • 14-16 ounces elbow shaped pasta
  • 1/3 cup flour
  • 2 1/2 cups low fat milk, divided
  • 14-ounces grated Kerrygold Reduced Fat Aged Cheddar or Reduced Fat Dubliner Cheese(about 4 1/4 cups)
Directions:

1. Cook elbows according to package directions in plenty of lightly salted boiling water. Drain but do not rinse.

2. Meanwhile, whisk the flour with 1/2 cup of the milk in a saucepan off the heat until the mixture is smooth. Whisk in the remaining milk and place over medium high. Cook, whisking occasionally for the first 4 minutes; and frequently until the mixture begins to thicken. Once it is the thickness of whole milk—it will leave a thin coating on the spoon– whisk constantly until it is slightly thicker than heavy cream. (The entire process can take from 8 to 12 minutes). Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the cheese until smooth.

3. Toss the sauce with the pasta and serve.

Nutritional analysis for each serving: 384 calories, 25 g protein, 50 g carbohydrates, 2g fiber, 9 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 416 mg sodium

Hints:

  • To make the Mac and Cheese in advance and reheat, stir in a couple of tablespoons of milk before reheating on the stove or in the microwave. This loosens the sauce, which thickens as it stands.
  • Make a whole grain version. While I am not a fan of 100% whole wheat pasta, I like the whole grain pastas made out of mixed grain and legume flours. (You’ll find some terrific choices on your grocery store shelf.) You can also substitute whole wheat flour for the all-purpose flour in the sauce.
  • In a blind taste-testing, no one could tell the difference when skim, 1% or 2% milk was used.
  • Freeze leftovers in individual portion-sized containers for an instant lunch or after-school snack.

Variations and Extras:

  • Irresistible Buttery Breadcrumb Topping: transfer cooked macaroni and cheese to an 11 x 7 baking dish coated with cooking spray. Combine 2 ounces melted butter with 1 1/2 cups panko breadcrumbs and 1 cup grated Kerrygold Vintage Dubliner Cheese. Bake at 400 degrees F until the top is golden, about 5-7 minutes.
  • Hearty meatless Tex- Mex meal: Toss the cooked pasta with a can of drained, rinsed beans and prepared salsa, add the cheese sauce and top with chopped cilantro.
  • Veggie Love (two-ways): Add leftover cooked broccoli, green beans, cauliflower or whatever other vegetables you have on hand to the prepared mac and cheese. No leftover vegetables? No problem– in the last 4 minutes of cooking the pasta, add cut-up vegetables into the pot with the elbows. This works equally well with fresh and frozen veggies. (Follow package directions for cooking time on frozen vegetables).
  • Make a superfast, super-easy one-pot meal: Add leftover chopped chicken, turkey, beef or pork and a matching fresh or frozen vegetable, such as peas, broccoli, spinach, carrots, etc. Cook the vegetables with the pasta (as described above); the meat will get warm when tossed with the mac and cheese.
  • Special Occasion Mac and Cheese with Bacon and Roasted Tomato: Halve a pint of cherry tomatoes, toss with one tablespoon of olive oil and roast on a baking sheet pan at 350 until wilted, about 30-35 minutes. Meanwhile, cook bacon in a saucepan; set bacon aside and pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat. Stir in 1/4 cup of flour and 1/4 cup milk until smooth. Proceed with recipe above but substitute 1/2 cup of the remaining milk with cream and using Kerrygold Aged Cheddar. Toss the cooked pasta and sauce with the crumbled bacon and roasted tomatoes; top with Buttery Breadcrumb Toppingabove.

 

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