Mac and Cheese, with its irresistible combination of pasta with a tasty cheese sauce, is one of the ultimate comfort food dishes.
As tasty as it is, it can also be a bit on the heavier side, so I usually prefer to make it once the weather gets a bit colder. I also try to make it less heavy, by using moderate amount of cheese in the sauce, and by “cutting” the fat with all kinds of added ingredients. This time, I chose to add steamed broccoli florets to it, which added freshness and color to the dish, and some cubed cooked ham, for more flavor and extra protein.
For the cheeses, I chose to combine aged cheddar, spicy Pepper Jack, Parmesan, and Gruyère cheeses, each bringing their special flavor and texture to the sauce, to which I also added a bit of mustard, a favorite ingredient of mine, to enhance and balance the flavors.
For the pasta, I prefer to use Tri-Color Rotini pasta, instead of the traditional elbow pasta, as this shape holds the sauce better, and the colors make the dish more interesting.
Sprinkling a bit of crispy Panko breadcrumbs on top, and broiling it a bit, added a nice crunchiness to the dish, which was very tasty and fragrant. Served with a green salad on the side, it was perfect for serving as a light dinner. Try it and enjoy.
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes
2½ cups uncooked Tri-Color Rotini pasta
2 cups small cut fresh broccoli florets
3 oz (85 grams) aged cheddar cheese, cut into medium cubes
3 oz (85 grams) Pepper Jack cheese, cut into medium cubes
2 oz (55 grams) Parmesan cheese, cut into medium cubes
2 oz (55 grams) Gruyère cheese, cut into medium cubes
¼ cup flour
½ stick (55 grams) butter, soft
1½ cups whole milk, at room temperature
2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 tsp salt
¼ tsp freshly ground four peppers mix
¼ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
3.5 oz (100 grams) cooked boneless ham, diced
¼ cup Panko breadcrumbs
1. Cook the pasta according to the package instructions. Drains and set aside.
2. Place the broccoli in a pan, sprinkle with a bit of salt and add ¼ cup water. Cover and steam for 3-4 minutes. (Or in the microwave for 2 minutes). Drain and set aside.
3. Place the cheeses and flour in a food processor bowl, fitted with the metal blade, and process coarsely.
4. Line an 8×8” (20×20 cm) baking pan with foil and baking paper.
5. Melt the butter in a wide pot, over medium-high heat. Add the milk, cheese-flour mixture, mustard, salt and pepper, and cook, mixing constantly, until the cheese melts and the sauce is smooth and thick. Taste and adjust seasoning.
6. Mix in the broccoli and ham, then add the pasta and mix again gently. Transfer to the pan and sprinkle the Panko breadcrumbs on top.
7. Turn the broiler on, and place the pan under it for 1-2 minutes, just until the breadcrumbs brown a bit. Serve immediately.