Rooted Mac & Cheese

Macaroni and cheese, or mac and cheese has been around for quite some time. According Wikipedia it’s been around since the fourteenth century. And of course there are numerous versions. I’ve never been a fan of the boxed version that is often served to children, but I’ve had some pretty good ‘from scratch’ versions. Mac and cheese seems to be comfort food for many in this country, some people are just crazy for the stuff. Refined wheat pasta and cheese sauce are not high on my list of healthy foods, so I’ve been experimenting with a more plant-based version. Since I’m crazy about root vegetables (beets, turnips, carrots, etc.), I decided to incorporate them into the recipe without changing the overall structure of the mac and cheese. Rather than traditional pastas, made from refined wheat, I stock my pantry with pasta made from beans, and/or whole grains.

Rooted Mac & Cheese

1 package short pasta noodles made from beans or whole grains – I used penne made from red lentils
Cook the pasta almost according to package directions, leave it al dente, so it doesn’t overcook in the oven. Drain the pasta and toss it under cool water to keep it from sticking to itself, set it aside to continue draining.

For the cheese sauce, begin with a béchamel sauce.
4 Tbs butter or oil based spread
4 Tbs flour
2-4 cups milk
dash white pepper

4-6 cups grated cheese

Melt the butter and then cook the flour in the butter for a few minutes, but don’t let it brown. You can preheat your milk (microwave/stove), or go with a more nontraditional approach and add it a bit at a time to the flour mixture, whisking to fully incorporate the addition each time. Let the sauce return to a simmer before adding more milk each time. You won’t see how thick your sauce is until it’s fully heated, so don’t just dump all of the milk in at once. Add your freshly ground white pepper, and a pinch of finely ground nutmeg if you like. I don’t add salt to this when it’s going to be a cheese sauce.

Add several cups of grated cheese, like sharp cheddar, a cup at a time. Continue whisking and let the cheese melt completely after each addition. Taste and add more cheese or seasoning if needed. Combinations of cheese varieties are fine!

Prepare your root vegetables
1 large beet, peeled, thinly sliced, slices cut into half circles
1 large turnip, peeled, thinly sliced, slices cut into half circles
1 sweet potato, peeled, thinly sliced, slices cut into half circles
Substitute any other vegetables you like – quartered mushrooms, kohlrabi, fennel, hot peppers, etc.

Now it’s time to assemble!
Put the pasta in an large casserole dish, or several small ones. Put the root vegetable slices up on end, in a decorative fashion, around the edges, or along one side. Pour the cheese sauce over the pasta and vegetables. Grate a little Parmesan cheese on top and sprinkle the top with freshly ground black pepper and smoked paprika. Bake the dish in a preheated 350 F oven until it is bubbly and beginning to brown. Remove it from the oven, let it cool and consume! No one needs to know it’s got a little more nutrition that the traditional mac and cheese!

Release YOUR Bon Vivant and Savor Your Life!

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