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Enlightened Cheesy Mac with a Twist

Enlightened Cheesy Mac with a Twist
by Patty Schell

I love food. I love to shop for it, prepare it, and eat it. My daughter who also likes food, calls us recreational cooks. We do it for relaxation as well as for creativity. The only downfall of enjoying this activity the way we do is unwanted weight gain.

Recently, I had to make the decision to do something about it, so I joined Weight Watchers. I have used the program before with great results and I anticipate the same this time. The beauty of this particular way of eating is everything is still permissible. Nothing is eliminated. I can continue to enjoy creating wonderful things to eat. And that’s exactly what I plan to do.

So, the party is STILL on in my kitchen.

(Oh, by-the-way, I’ve lost sixteen pounds so far.)

Here is something I tried recently that was very delicious and great for any gathering. It works for anyone who loves the comfort of Mac and Cheese.  (Except, maybe, those who only like the kind that comes in the box.)

Enlightened Cheesy Mac with a Twist
Serves Main Dish 4; Side 8

Ingredients
• 1 teaspoon olive oil, or your choice
• 1/3 cup breadcrumbs, I used panko
• 1 20-ounce package of peeled and cut-up butternut squash
• ¾ cup vegetable broth
• 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese, I used reduced-fat
• 2 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
• 2 tablespoons cream cheese, I used light cream cheese
• 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
• 4-ounces medium pasta shells, 1 ¼ cups
• 2 cups small cauliflower florets

Directions 

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Spray 8-inch baking pan with nonstick spray.
2. Bring a medium saucepan of water to boil.
3. In a medium skillet over medium heat, heat oil and add breadcrumbs. Toast until lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Set aside.
4. Add squash to boiling water. Cover and return to boil. Cook uncovered until squash is very tender, about 10 minutes.
5. While squash is cooking, combine broth, cheddar, pecorino, cream cheese, mustard, salt and cayenne in blender. When squash is very tender, use slotted spoon to transfer it to blender. Purée. (Leave water in pan.)
6. Bring water bake to a boil. Add pasta and cook ½ the time called for in cooking instructions on package.
7. Add cauliflower to pasta during last minute of cooking time.
8. Drain pasta and cauliflower and return to pot.
9. Stir purée into pasta/cauliflower mixture. Toss to coat.
10. Spread pasta mixture in prepared pan. Sprinkle with toasted panko breadcrumbs. Spray with nonstick spray.
11. Bake until top is golden, and casserole is bubbling—about 25 minutes.

Note: Herbs, such as fresh thyme, can be added to the breadcrumbs during the toasting. Also, a little drizzle of truffle oil just before baking can elevate the yumminess of this dish. Enjoy!

Recipe inspired by Weight Watchers. 1 ¼ cup serving equals 7 Smart points when using reduced-fat cheeses.

I think that the butternut/cheese purée could be used for a variety of recipes that include a cheese sauce. I am thinking of trying it with a Chicken and Broccoli Casserole or even a Broccoli Cheddar Soup. Do you have any suggestions? I would love to hear them.

Cooking is all about people. Food is maybe the only universal thing that really has the power to bring everyone together. No matter what culture, everywhere around the world, people get together to eat.
Guy Fieri

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