Baked Mac & Cheese

October 13, 2018

Mac & cheese can be a true comfort on a cold day, and the healthy update takes advantage of the cheddar cheese balanced with creamy low-fat cottage cheese and tucks a layer of spinach into the middle, which may help picky eaters down their vegetables. Whole-wheat pasta adds robust flavor and extra fiber.



  • 6 tablespoons plain dry breadcrumbs, (see Tip)

  • 2 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

  • ½ teaspoon paprika

  • 2 16-ounce or 10-ounce package frozen spinach, thawed

  • 3½ cups low-fat milk, divided

  • 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour

  • 4 cups shredded extra-sharp Cheddar cheese

  • 2 cup low-fat cottage cheese

  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg

  • ½ teaspoon salt

  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste

  • 16 ounces (4 cups) whole-wheat elbow macaroni, or penne



Put a large pot of water on to boil. Preheat oven to 450°F. Coat an 8-inch-square (2-quart) baking dish with cooking spray.


Mix breadcrumbs, oil and paprika in a small bowl. Place spinach in a fine-mesh strainer and press out excess moisture.


Heat 1 1/2 cups milk in a large heavy saucepan over medium-high heat until steaming. Whisk remaining 1/4 cup milk and flour in a small bowl until smooth; add to the hot milk and cook, whisking constantly, until the sauce simmers and thickens, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in Cheddar until melted. Stir in cottage cheese, nutmeg, salt and pepper.


Cook pasta for 4 minutes, or until not quite tender. (It will continue to cook during baking.) Drain and add to the cheese sauce; mix well. Spread half the pasta mixture in the prepared baking dish. Spoon the spinach on top. Top with the remaining pasta; sprinkle with the breadcrumb mixture.


Bake the casserole until bubbly and golden, 25 to 30 minutes.


*Tip: To make fresh breadcrumbs, trim crusts from whole-wheat bread. Tear bread into pieces and process in a food processor until coarse crumbs form. One slice of bread makes about 1/2 cup fresh crumbs. For dry breadcrumbs, spread the fresh crumbs on a baking sheet and bake at 250°F until crispy, about 15 minutes. One slice of fresh bread makes about 1/3 cup dry crumbs. Or use prepared coarse dry breadcrumbs. Find them in the natural-foods section of large supermarkets.

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