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Knowing where to cut the fat is key to great macaroni and cheese

Healthy Plate

This recipe for a lighter macaroni and cheese dish is every bit as satisfying as the original. (AP photo)

This recipe for a lighter macaroni and cheese dish is every bit as satisfying as the original. (AP photo)

There’s nothing quite as comforting as homemade macaroni and cheese, all creamy inside and crunchy on top.

Of course, traditional versions of this classic usually call for at least two cups of cheese, a stick of butter and whole milk or cream. That might be comforting, but it’s hardly healthy.

This recipe for a lighter mac and cheese is every bit as satisfying, with just about a third of the fat. Making that work is all a matter of knowing where to cut the fat, and where to keep it.

The sauce, for example, begins with a base of fat-free milk (rather than whole) mixed with flour.

But for the cheese, we stick with full-fat extra-sharp cheddar, which has tons more flavor than reduced-fat varieties and preserves the “cheesiness” of the dish. The quantity of cheese is cut in half.

A few teaspoons of Dijon mustard and a pinch ground ancho chili pepper are added to further intensify the flavor and make up for reducing the cheese and other fats.

Ancho chili works nicely because it has a sweet, paprika-like flavor and moderate heat, but you can substitute cayenne or any other ground chili pepper if you prefer.

To add some creaminess while cutting the fat even further, the rest of the cheese and all of the butter in the sauce are replaced with 2 percent cottage cheese that has been pureed in a blender or food processor.

Using a little oil, instead of butter, combined with plain dry breadcrumbs and a flavorful grated cheese makes a much lighter crunchy topping. Using a high quality hard cheese such a Parmesan or Grana Padano will give you more flavor for your money (and calories).

Finally, whole-grain elbow macaroni adds important fiber and other nutrients.
Macaroni And
Cheese Light
Start to finish: 1 hour 10 minutes
(25 minutes active)
Servings: 4
8 ounces whole-grain elbow
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 cup fat-free milk (divided)
1 cup grated extra-sharp cheddar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground
black pepper
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground ancho
chili pepper
1 1/2 cups 2 percent cottage
3 tablespoons unseasoned
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive
3 tablespoons grated
Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375 F. Coat an 8-inch square baking dish with cooking spray.

Bring a large saucepan of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the macaroni and cook according to package instructions. Drain and rinse with cold water, then set aside.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together flour and 2 tablespoons of the milk. In a large saucepan, heat the remaining milk over medium heat until steaming.

Gradually whisk a few tablespoons of the hot milk into the milk-flour mixture, then whisk this mixture back into the saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the sauce is smooth and slightly thickened, 1 minute.

Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in cheddar cheese, mustard, salt, black pepper, ancho chili pepper and nutmeg. Set aside.

In a food processor or blender, puree the cottage cheese until very smooth. Stir into the sauce. Stir in the cooked macaroni and spoon the mixture into the prepared baking dish.

In a small bowl, stir together breadcrumbs and olive oil until well blended. Stir in the Parmesan and sprinkle the mixture over the macaroni and cheese. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until browned on top and bubbling.

Nutrition information per serving: 465 calories; 15 g fat (8 g saturated); 37 mg cholesterol; 55 g carbohydrate; 31 g protein; 5 g fiber; 896 mg sodium.

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