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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, December 27, 2006

TASTE
Nutritious macaroni and cheese still comfort food

 •  Sparking holiday

By J.M. Hirsch
Associated Press

Stovetop macaroni and cheese gets a healthy kick from broccoli florets and whole-wheat pasta.

LARRY CROWE | Associated Press

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Macaroni and cheese shouldn't have to come from a box to be quick, or from an oven to be good. And no matter how it's made, it doesn't have to be a total wash nutritionally.

But would a macaroni and cheese that met all three speedy, stovetop and at least a little healthy still be worth eating?

To find out, I started by rethinking the pasta. While some people object to the heartier taste and texture of whole-grain pastas, they work well with thick sauces, which tend to obscure the differences that bother some people.

To that end, I also ditched the more traditional elbow macaroni. On the assumption that more cheese per noodle is better, I opted for spirals because the coils better trap sauces, especially gooey, cheesy ones.

Because I obviously had no plans to skimp on the cheese sauce (after all, this is supposed to be comfort food), I wanted to add some greens to help balance the nutritional karma.

For this, I went for broccoli florets. Like pasta spirals, broccoli is great for trapping cheese sauces. A quick bath in boiling water before adding to the dish served as the perfect tenderizer.

That's where the healthy part ends.

Making the cheese sauce on the stove required a base that while thick, still could be poured over and mixed through the pasta. Creme fraiche, which looks and taste like a cross between sour cream and cream cheese, was perfect.

In a saucepan over medium heat, creme fraiche (sold in the cheese section of some grocers) melts quickly into a smooth and creamy sauce. To this, I added cheddar cheese and a bit of red pepper flakes (for just a touch of heat). If you can't find creme fraiche, substitute 1 cup sour cream or yogurt.

Assembly is as simple as combining the parts the pasta, the broccoli and the sauce in a large bowl and giving them a quick toss. The result is perfect winter comfort food. Quick. On the stove. And just a little healthy.

STOVETOP MACARONI AND CHEESE

  • 10 ounces whole-wheat pasta spirals

  • 4 cups broccoli florets

  • 8-ounce container creme fraiche (or sour cream or yogurt)

  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)

  • 2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese

  • Freshly ground black pepper

    Bring two medium saucepans of water, one lightly salted, to a boil.

    In the salted water, cook the pasta according to package directions. Drain pasta, reserving 1/2 cup cooking water, and return pasta to the pot. Set aside.

    In the second saucepan, cook broccoli until bright green and just tender, about 4 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the florets to the pan with the cooked pasta. Toss lightly.

    Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over medium heat, whisk the creme fraiche and red pepper flakes until smooth, about 2 minutes; do not boil. Stir in the cheddar cheese until melted and very smooth. Mix in about half of the reserved pasta cooking water, or as needed to get desired consistency. Season with black pepper.

    To serve, either divide the pasta and florets between serving bowls and top with cheese sauce, or add cheese sauce to the pan with pasta and broccoli, toss to coat evenly, then divide.

    Makes 4 servings.

  • Per serving: 700 calories, 41 g fat, 25 g saturated fat, 135 mg cholesterol, 400 mg sodium, 59 g carbohydrate, 4 g fiber, 3 g sugar, 27 g protein