Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Macaroni and Cheese with Sweet Potatoes

So, how are those New Year’s resolutions going? Not so well? Don’t worry. Most folks will ditch theirs in the next couple weeks if they haven’t already.
But the publishers of cooking magazines are counting on your optimism when they put their January issues on the newsstands. They also seem to be counting on the fact that many of us are resolving to eat healthier in the coming year. That’s why you find things like macaroni and cheese with dubious substitutions or hidden vegetables among the recipes printed for the beginning of a fresh new year.

This particular variation on that theme, which I found in Eating Well magazine, just kind of sounded good. I wasn’t really aiming to fool myself (or my husband) by forcing sweet potatoes to masquerade as cheese sauce. There’s actually still a good amount of cheese in this casserole. I just thought it wouldn’t be so bad to eat more vegetables, especially after a holiday mini-binge. I also thought it might not be so bad to bump up the average healthiness of a meal by adding ingredients with more vitamins and fiber. Above all, however, I was really curious about how good macaroni and cheese laced with mashed sweet potatoes would taste.

I have to say, I really liked the taste. I also thought the texture was good, perhaps not as indulgently creamy and gooey as a standard homemade mac and cheese, but certainly nice nonetheless. The original recipe called for peas to be added as well, but I replaced those with green onions (aka scallions), which add a flavor I love. I used whole wheat penne pasta, but you could use whatever short-cut noodles you like. Of course, if you’re trying this to replace some indulgent meals with healthier dishes, you might want to go ahead with whole grain pasta.
Sadly, this Macaroni and Cheese with Sweet Potatoes and Green Onions was a supper meal and therefore virtually un-photograph-able in my home under early evening conditions. This means I really didn’t get a nice picture. I got lots of nice flavors and textures and a boost of healthfulness from this dish, however, and that’s pretty great.

Macaroni and Cheese with Sweet Potatoes and Green Onions
Adapted from Eating Well Magazine

I did not make this with a traditional buttery breadcrumb topping. You could add one if you like, like the one in this post.

12 ounces sweet potato (about 2 medium or 1 large)
8 ounces whole wheat penne pasta
2 tablespoons butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 ¼ cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
½ cup chopped green onions (scallions)

1. Prick the skin of the sweet potatoes in several places with a knife. Cook the sweet potatoes in the microwave on High power until very tender, about 6-10 minutes. Set aside until cool enough to handle.

2. When the sweet potatoes can be handled, remove the peel and mash until smooth. Set aside.

3. Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until just a little more firm than you would like to eat it. (It will cook a little more in the oven later.) Drain and return to the cooking pot. Set aside. Preheat oven to 350 F.  Spray a 2 quart casserole dish (or similarly sized baking dish) with cooking spray or grease it as you prefer.
4. In a medium size saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook about 1 minute, stirring constantly. Whisk in the flour and stir well to form a paste with the butter. Cook, stirring constantly for about 30 seconds. Stir in the milk.

5. Continue to heat the milk mixture, stirring frequently and scraping the bottom of the pan to prevent scorching until the mixture comes to a boil. You want this to heat slowly, so it could take up to 20 minutes to boil. Boil gently for about 1 minute or until the mixture thickens. Remove from the heat.

6. Stir in the salt, crushed red pepper flakes, and Dijon mustard. Whisk in the mashed sweet potatoes until the mixture is smooth. Stir in the cheese and continue stirring until the cheese melts.

7. Add the cheese mixture to the cooked pasta. Stir to coat the pasta. Stir in the green onions. Transfer the pasta mixture to the prepared casserole dish.

8. Bake at 350 F for 15-20 minutes or until bubbly. Let stand 5-10 minutes before serving.

Makes about 4-6 servings.

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