Quick & easy stove top macaroni and cheese is a must have weeknight recipe. A combo of cheese makes this healthier mac & cheese over-the-top delicious!
- A simple method for making pasta hugging cheese sauce with less calories.
- An easy dinner or side dish recipe that cooks nearly as fast as boxed boxed mac n’ cheese.
- Add leftover chicken or tuna to make this a one-pot-meal in minutes
When eating healthy is your goal it is important to have a handful of easy dinner ideas that use ingredients you always have on hand. This cheesy pasta with vegetables is one of our family’s favorites. I whip it up on days when I get to 5:30 and realize there is no dinner plan – or as I call them,”I would rather be on the red wine and popcorn diet but these darn kids need to eat” nights. I learned the basic sauce technique from my mom. Like me she was juggling kids, work, home, and the desire to cancel dinner and just serve wine and popcorn.
My sister and I liked to order Alfredo when we ate out so she tried to give us kids a healthier version at home. Mom’s intentions were very good I frequently emulate her intensions in my approach to family meals. She followed most of the steps I outline in the recipe but her ingredients were not quite right. In an effort to make our dinner healthier, she stretched the sauce base by adding a lot of skim milk and often skipped the cheese – don’t skip the cheese. The extra milk meant the sauce washed over the noodles and puddled at the bottom of the serving bowl instead of hugging the pasta the way it did at the restaurant.
For a long time I didn’t try to make white sauce myself because I didn’t want to end up with a milky noodle soup. But, I also didn’t want to eat the powdered cheese food sauce mix that comes in boxed versions. Fortunately, it turns out, cheesy cream sauce is very simple and you can make it light without sacrificing the texture. You will need some fat to get a pasta-hugging sauce but, it doesn’t have to be heaving with butter and cream.
My trick for a rich creamy sauce is a bit of soft chèvre or goat’s cheese. Just before adding the sauce to the pasta mix a few lumps naturally creamy goat cheese and a bit of shredded mozzarella. When the sauce is velvety smooth, there should be just enough cheesy goodness to coat your pasta and vegetables.
Extra Cheese Tip: Goat cheese often comes in 4 ounce packages. Use half to make this sauce and use the remaining cheese as a spread for crackers or dot on top of a homemade pizza for a light alternative to shredded cheese.
Yes I said vegetables! Adding vegetables to pasta is a great way to feel like the meal is more indulgent. At this point I rarely make pasta without a few generous handfuls of frozen vegetables in the water. This maneuver is also a great way to tempt non-veggie eaters into facing their culinary nemesis. I love watching the conflict on a non-veggie eater’s face while they decide if the cheesy sauce is worth consuming the offensive vegetables!
You can make this, already easy dinner recipe into a quick no-bake casserole by adding two cans of tuna (water packed and drained) to the pasta before covering with the sauce. However, I like to serve it as is along side a fresh salad and some backed chicken thighs or legs.
Easy Dinner Tip: Start the chicken baking at 375F before beginning the pasta and it should all be done at the same time.
So there you have it! An easy dinner idea that proves – food fast does not need to be fast food.
- 1 cup 1% milk (see recipe instructions)
- ½ lb (8 oz) dry multigrain pasta – try macaroni, bow-tie, little shells, or spirals
- 2 cups frozen mixed vegetables
- 1 TB unsalted butter
- 1½ tsp all purpose flour
- 2 oz plain chèvre (soft goat cheese)
- ½ cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese (divided)
- 1 tsp dried Italian herb blend
- ⅛ tsp Kosher salt (plus more for seasoning the pasta water)
- ¼ tsp black pepper
- Prepare the pasta: Fill a 4 quart or larger pot with water. Add a couple of big pinches of salt to the water to enhance the pasta flavor. Cover and bring the water to a boil. Add the dry pasta and cook uncovered for 7 minutes then add the frozen vegetables. Return the water to a boil and cook for 5 more minutes or until the pasta is tender (pleasant to chew). Drain the water from the pasta but keep a tiny bit of water at the bottom of the pot - about 1 tablespoon. Return the pasta and vegetables to the pot.
- While the pasta cooks: - place a medium sauce pan over medium heat and melt the butter in the pan. Whisk the flour into the melted butter and let it toast for about 1 minute. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in the milk until there are no lumps of flour. Return the pan to the heat add the herbs, salt, and pepper. Use a wooden spoon to gently stir the sauce until it coats the back of the spoon - should take about 3 minutes. Stir in the chèvre and ¼ cup of mozzarella until they have fully incorporated into the sauce.
- Fold the finished sauce into the pasta and vegetables and top with the remaining shredded cheese. Allow the finished dish to sit for 3-5 minutes before serving. The sauce will continue to thicken as it cools.
It is possible to make the sauce with olive oil in place of the butter but the consistency will be less creamy.
Make this a full meal by adding two, drained, cans of water packed tuna to the pasta before adding the sauce.
*Compare this recipe to the the “blue box” mac n’ cheese nutrition. According to the Kraft website, at the time of publishing, the nutrition for one (1 cup) serving of original mac n’ cheese, prepared as directed with 2% milk and margarine, is as follows: 400 calories, 18 g fat, 720 mg sodium, 49 g carbohydrates, 1 g fiber, 8 g sugar, 10 g protein