Saturday, March 10, 2007

Cheesy Gooey Carbtastic Goodness

I don’t know the last time I had pasta – I don’t cook it as a rule. I’m the kind of person who has ONE meal with pasta and gains 10 pounds. It’s not that I’m anti-carb, I believe deeply and profoundly in their comforting qualities. For my own health purposes, I have to avoid them unless it’s an emergency. By “carb” I mean pasta, rice, four, sugar, fruits – most things yummy. The problem becomes one of self control. Given a box of cookies (in this example, Chocolate Covered Nutter Butters, the cruelest and most disasterous invention known to this woman), I will close my office door, and covertly, with a mug of milk, consume the entire box in one delicious, self-induced stomach-aching, fell swoop. Fruit? Why stop at a couple slices of pineapple? It is so juicy and sweet, I might as well eat the whole thing - stomache ache from the high-acid content be damned. (Am I the only person who feels the need to "hide" while I do this? Who am I hiding from? Maybe I've just revealed far too much about my own psyche...) For this reason, you will see most of my recipes on this site being of the high-protein and savory variety. Mallow is a genius with the sweets – she has self control, and the treats can make it over-night in her house so she can take them to work. A batch of cookies in my house means dinner, or a snack.
However, when I saw this dish being made on the Food Network, I felt an inspired need to re-acquaint myself with the comfort only certain foods like pasta can induce.
I decided to vary the recipe a bit, making it a little healthier, but maintain its integrity. I used whole-wheat macaroni, and I happened to have some extra veggies in the house, so I threw them into the mix. The end result was hearty and healthy, full of cheesy goodness. Macaroni and cheese purists would probably miss the creamy cheese sauce of the more traditional recipes, but in the end – this is just a different use of the Americanized pasta.
The best part? If you have kids who hate eating their greens, this is the best way to hide them. They’ll have no idea that they’re eating a veritable smorgasbord of antioxidants and vitamins. The cheese will trick ‘em.
Oh, and make sure you ask for help if you need it when draining the pasta from the heavy pan. I tried to be brave and strong, and my I Love Lucy moment of the day meant spilling a quarter of the pan of boiling water onto my bare-feet. Ouch.

Hearty Healthy Spicy Baked Macaroni and Veg
1 pound whole-wheat organic elbow macaroni pasta
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ pound mushrooms (I used button mushrooms)
½ cup chopped white onion
1 medium sized red bell pepper, chopped
1 small zucchini, chopped
2 cloves chopped garlic, minced
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes (make sure you buy a brand that doesn’t add sugar)
1 (10 oz.) package frozen spinach, thawed and drained (I squeezed the moisture out)
½ teaspoon of red pepper flakes (more if you like spicy; this amount yields pretty mild kid-friendly amount of spice)
½ cup bread crumbs
¼ cup grated Parmesan (plus 1/3 cup)
¼ cup grated Pecorino Romano (plus 1/3 cup)
2 tablespoons softened butter
12 ounces mozzarella cubed (about 2 cups, one standard sized package)
¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. About 8-10 minutes. Drain.
In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the mushrooms, onion, garlic and red bell pepper. Cook until tender – about 7 minutes. Add tomatoes, spinach, zucchini and red pepper flakes. Stir until combined and cook until heated through, about 5 minutes.
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In a small bowl, combine the bread crumbs, ¼ c. Parmesan, and ¼ c. Romano. Spray the bottom and sides of a 9 x 13 inch baking dish with cooking spray, and sprinkle half the mixture inside the dish to coat.
In a large mixing bowl combine the vegetable mixture with the cooked macaroni, cubed mozzarella and the remaining Parmesan and Romano cheeses.
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Add nutmeg. Stir until combined, and the mozzarella is evenly distributed and beginning to melt.
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Spoon entire mixture into the prepared baking dish, and top with the remaining bread crumb mixture. Dot the top with the softened butter, cut into quarters.
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Bake until the top is golden brown, about 30-40 minutes. Great as a side or main dish!


tennille said...

yummy. I should come over for dinner every day!

And thanks for thinking I"m adorable...I cook a lot more healthy now, I promise. growing up in Montana a meal isn't a meal unless it consists of mostly meat and I just didn't know anything else...

Ethan said...

Damn, that looks good! Maybe add some pulled chicken breast meat or low-fat sausage for some flair -- mmm, chorizo?

Nina Roux: The Sweet, The Savory and The Sass said...

Thanks guys! Tennille, you have totally evolved in the culinary world - I am still working with adding more images, including the one that Ethan took of your cheese plate! To which I plan on giving my adorable former room mate credit for.
Ethan - I am definitely going to cook something with loads of color and flavor...wish my kitchen had more light...